Author Archive for Kai Gutschow


Parametricism: Style of the 21st Century?

Patrik Schumacher, a partner in the office of Zaha Hadid, and Co-director of London’s A.A. Design Research Lab, has been steadily making a case that “Parametricism” is the most important theoretical position in architecture since modernism.   Espousing many of the same ideas that Thom Mayne talked to us about, Schumacher proposed a Parametricist Manifesto in 2008 that states:

“[Parametric design is] penetrating into all corners of the discipline. Systematic, adaptive variation, continuous differentiation (rather than mere variety), and dynamic, parametric figuration concerns all design tasks from urbanism to the level of tectonic detail, interior furnishings and the world of products… Architecture finds itself at the mid-point of an ongoing cycle of innovative adaptation – retooling the discipline and adapting the architectural and urban environment to the socio-economic era of post-fordism. The mass society that was characterized by a single, nearly universal consumption standard has evolved into the heterogenous society of the multitude.  The key issues that avant-garde architecture and urbanism should be addressing can be summarized in the slogan: organising and articulating the increased complexity of post-fordist society. The task is to develop an architectural and urban repertoire that is geared up to create complex, polycentric urban and architectural fields which are densely layered and continuously differentiated.”

This week, he continues his argument in The Architect’s Journal:

“In my Parametricist Manifesto of 2008 I first communicated that a new, profound style has been maturing within the avant-garde segment of architecture during the last 10 years.  The term ‘parametricism’ has since been gathering momentum within architectural discourse and its critical questioning has strengthened it.  So far, knowledge of the new style has remained largely confined within architecture, but I suspect news will spread quickly once it is picked up by the mass media.  Outside architectural circles, ‘style’ is virtually the only category through which architecture is observed and recognized. A named style needs to be put forward in order to stake its claim to act in the name of architecture.”

Parametricism, he claims,  “finally offers a credible, sustainable answer to the drawn-out crisis of modernism that resulted in 25 years of stylistic searching.”

Do you agree?   Can we ignore parametricism?  What are legitimate alternatives to parametric design we ought to be working with?  Why?


Thom Mayne Lecture

What did you all think of the Thom Mayne lecture last night?

He had some valuable insights into all aspects of our profession and the architecture education system.   I hope it provokes discussion, and not blind acceptance, complacency, resignation, or denial.   His ideas on an architecture of complex systems and idiosyncratic notes was intriguing.

The theory of a design “growing” (thus the reference to the biological paradigm) or being generated through a process based on pre-scripted (prescriptive?) parameters, with an outcome unknown at the beginning, is noteworthy.  But I think there are many possible variations on this idea: truly good design has always embodied aspects of this idea.  It’s only novices or amateurs that preconceive of an idea and then just execute it.  But the method, process, and techniques through which one arrives at conclusions are numerous and very subjective: difficult to learn, define, or teach categorically.  He did not talk much about that ultimately subjective part of his process: which parameters to foreground, or how to chose between the many variations that a computer can generate.

What did you think about his views of the profession and its future?   Are you all willing to work only as a small part of a giant team?  Are you as pessimistic as he?

How about the issue of scale and complexity?  Will “architecture” be limited to these kinds of mega-projects only?  What do we make of the arguments by someone like Jane Jacobs who argued that (1960s) megastructures are by definition inhuman.  Anything designed by one person, or even one large team of sophisticated thinkers, is bound to be monolithic and determinative.  What about the proverbial “kitchen addition” and the more humble “buildings” (as opposed to “architecture”) that makes up the majority of our built environment?   Will those be generated using the same paradigms?  Are they even part of Mayne’s definition of architecture?

How about what Mayne said about the role of drawing in architecture?  It’s fun to think that Mayne was at one time most famous for the amazing drawings he produced, and now he is rejecting it entirely.  What should be the role of drawing at CMU or in architecture education?  Can we learn all there is to know about architecture through the keyboard?  How does one build up to, or become educated to generate the kind of sophisticated modeling Mayne showed us?

Certainly his projects can’t be “drawn” in the conventional sense.  Are the visual images he showed us always so different though?  Should all architecture be merely the 3D digital output of scripts and parameters?  Silvetti’s article “The Muses are Not Amused: Pandemonium in the House of Architecture” warned about these kind of auto-generated substitutes for good design skills.  What is the role of personal expression and individual creative gestures?  Should architecture really be like a “tricked out BMW,” as Mayne claimed?

What about the role of craft, construction, and the resistance of materials?  Is all architecture to be merely “fabrication” of a-priori digital data?  Can “making” be so objective that we can leave it to computers?

Mayne, ever intent on rattling the establishment and the academy, has been saying these things for years.  See his ultimatum “Change or Perish” to the AIA from 2005.


CMU2014 Blog

As most of you likely know, the CMU2014 blog is going strong.

Check it out:

Perhaps there’s a way we can encourage more inter-class communication and interaction through the blogs, comments on posts, etc.  Try commenting on their posts to move the discussion beyond your class.

I guess you’ll soon need to change the title on your blog header to 2013 or 3rd year…


Raimund Abraham, Architect With Vision, Dies at 76

For those of you who do not know the work of Raimund Abraham, his passing (see NYTimes) offers a good chance to look back at an amazing career.  A real thinker, intent on promoting the discipline of architecture, as opposed to mere construction or building, a functionalist who did not always feel the need to build.  He made his career with drawings, not unlike Lebbeus Woods, his long-time colleague at Cooper Union.  His drawings are dark and inspired; his buildings come from a spirit of making.  He spoke a few years ago at Carnegie Mellon, wonderful stuff.  His most famous building is the Austrian cultural institute in NYC.

Some links to his work:


Bruce Nauman: Can You Hear the Space?

A review in the NY Times of the Bruce Nauman exhibit at the Philly art museum recalls the light transformer, artist research, and musuem projects, architecture as experience, museums…

Happy Holidays! – Kai


The Year 2009 in Architecture

At the end of the year, I always enjoy thinking back upon the year, what were the notable moments of the year architecturally.  Paul Goldberger, the former critic for the NY Times, and now critic for The New Yorker, recently created a “Top 10” list.  They included the High Line, Cooper Union, Alice Tully Hall, the Guggenheim, and Piano’s addition to the Chicago A.I., all of which we discussed on the blog at some point, but also others that were not mentioned.  Are there other candidates for events, buildings, and plans around the world you’d nominate? What will 2009 be remembered for in history classes years from now, if anything? Are there other “best of” lists you can recommend?

Goldberger’s articles for The New Yorker have just come out in an anthology Building up and Tearing Down: Reflections on the Age of Architecture (2009).  It complements his recent book Why Architecture Matters (2009).  Both are well worth reading in your month off.  The late Herbert Muschamp’s articles for the NY Times have also just come out as an anthology called Hearts of the City (2009), edited by Nicholai Ouroussouf, the current critic of the NY Times (an article on Architect Magazine offers an honest review).  The NY Times newspaper, through the voice of it’s architecture critic, and the city as a whole, continue to weild extraordinary power in the world architectural scene.  It’s always worthwhile to keep an eye on current events there, and to read these critics, not just their day-to-day musings, but the larger “projects” which they are working on through their writing.

Congrats on finishing the semester: enjoy the holidays, and the upcoming semester(s).



Make Concepts Buildable

Inspiration and overview for the final push: a great slogan from the SHoP Architects site, an advertisement for Dupont, for a software company, and images from the Stanford Art Department’s front page.

July 2018
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