Patrik Schumacher – Parametric Semiology

As a follow up to my series of posts regarding a responsive architecture, here is Patrik Schumacher’s lecture on Parametric Semiology presented at Sci-Arc: (Be forewarned,  it is 2hrs and 30min long)

SciArc Installation


I see Schumacher’s studies as a way to design cities that allow for informative decision making rather than forced action.

Many seem to take an opposed stance to Parametric Urbanism explaining that it is borderline totalitarian in how it asks everyone to do the same thing and act in the same manner. It portrays a city that is devoid of uniqueness. While this view on parametric urbanism is difficult to overcome, I believe there may be some worthwhile points being overlooked due to the rush for a dismissal of such a design approach. What I believe Schumacher is calling for, is a way of life where everything resonates with everything else. The result being a highly interactive society where the movement of knowledge is constant and understood.

Schumacher receives much criticism because he studies human behavior as if all humans behave the same, in which case, a purely parametric system would work. Although it is clear that all humans do not behave in the same manner, it may still be beneficial to understand why so many of us do in fact make many of the same everyday decisions. Take a look at the average person’s daily commute to work; why do so many of us sit in traffic day in and day out without a thought about it? How many of us get on a train with hundreds of others on our way to work without considering the potential degree to which we could be interacting with so many different people? By studying these behaviors that seem so common between multiple individuals, Schumacher presents the ability to inform us on how to take advantage of these situations.

His process work shows studies of how people move through space based on changing environmental conditions in hopes of understanding the best rout to take. The problem here is that not everyone will agree on what the best rout is simply because no human is the same. Many believe that Schumacher is saying there is only one path to follow and we all must follow it. What if, rather than forcing, the design is informing? The potential of Schumacher’s research is that it could present to the human mind a higher understanding of the choices it is about to make, so it can therefore make the best decision based on the individual’s unique condition. This allows the decision making to stay within the hands of the individual. In this type of scenario, individual thought is allowed to thrive.

Another criticism I come across is that because the design system is totalizing, if there is even just one minor fail, the whole system crashes. True, but is it not important to discover those moments of failure so long as the intention is to act upon it? This leads me to my overall point: Parametric Urbanism should not be used as a means to an end but rather a means to a beginning. It is the research that should be done so that as architects we have a more informed base to begin design from. Schumacher presents Parametric Urbanism as a final solution. If this is the case, then the architect is no longer needed as it does not take an architect to write code. But it does take an architect to interpret these given parameters into a possible design solution.


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