THOUGHTS: Parametrics, Performance and (Pre)Fabrication

Parameters                   (The factors that determine a range of variations; that restrict what is possible or what results.)

Over the last decade there has been extraordinary progress made in the development of digital tools intended to assist designers and engineers in the conception, analysis, and construction of forms and space.  Parametric and Building Information Modeling (BIM) software have provided designers with fluid modeling environments where constraints and variables can quickly adapt and reconfigure geometries. Simulation and Analysis softwares allow designers to understand and evaluate the quantitative and qualitative performance-based aspects of their work. Computer numerically controlled (CNC) technologies have fostered an integrated and collaborative relationship between the process of design and the act of making.  Although extremely powerful when used as stand-alone tools, digital design, simulation, and fabrication technologies can extend their values when used in conjunction with each other. When engaged interactively, these tools offer architects and their designs a great range of possible variations, thus forcing them to focus in on the parameters and constraints which are necessary to develop their work more fully.  With these tools, architects are rethinking design methodologies / practices and how they can extend into the “design of construction” itself.

Performance      (The manner in which or the efficiency with which something reacts or fulfills its intended purpose.)

Concurrently, a philosophical dialogue about the effects of the built environment on our natural environment has moved to the forefront. Sustainable Design is quickly becoming a “mantra” in the architectural profession as it is integrated into design guidelines for everyone from the federal government to private industry.  A number of voluntary “green” building standards have been created which allows architects to measure and evaluate the “green-ness” of their built proposals.  However, as good intentioned as these evaluation criteria are, they often fall short of engaging and evaluating the architect’s work at the extreme ends of their involvement in a building’s design; the design methodologies employed and the construction practices necessary to realize the building. However, given the previously mentioned advent of new technologies, the ability to respond to these often-considered opposing ends more efficiently and effectively now exists. The performance of the process, the architecture and the environment can now become the guiding core principal of an architects work – at all phases.

(Pre) Fabrication                             (The process of fabricating or constructing beforehand.)

Prefabrication has been utilized for decades. Despite it’s often-critiqued social, economic and aesthetic failings, a renewed interest in prefabrication as a method of construction today. It’s abilities to reduce construction times, improve quality control, utilize a varied skilled labor forces, minimize environmental effects due to on-site construction and generate less construction waste suggests that it is inherently a sustainable practice.   Conversely, some argue that prefabrication process produces the similar amounts of waste as its stick-built counterpart, is over-engineered and requires more materials to construct, and produces larger carbon footprints in the transportation stages.  Nonetheless, as we begin integrate design / production technologies and performative principals into our methodologies, all work will inherently become “prefabricated”, albeit in a virtual environment. Can prefabrication become an “embedded practice” exploited in both the digital and analog worlds in order to address the performative and sustainable concerns of the future?


reform, llc continues to be interested in these notions. As such, reform. llc investigated these ideas in a graduate design / build studio at a The Catholic University of America, School of Architecture and Planning. The studio examined the assimilation of the digital design, simulation and fabrication technologies into a more relevant architectural discourse which critically questions their roles in the design and production of a sustainablly (pre)fabricated architecture.

In doing so, the studio sought to extend sustainable design principles into the digital and analog environments via the notions of Parametrics, Performance and Prefabrication.  The studio required that quantitative and qualitative metrics be considered in tandem with the tools and technologies utilized during the design and fabrication processes as a means of generating an intelligent logic and methodology which addresses sustainable design principals. As a result, the notion of sustainability turns away from merely the application of high-technologies (i.e. solar arrays, geothermal systems, etc) and the specification of green materials, to a process of identifying new opportunities that generate a wider spectrum of variations and performative values.