Parametric Design: An Untapped Resource for Indian Architecture

After completing bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Masters in Science program in Sustainable Environmental Design Sachin gained impeccable expertise in passive and low energy solutions for high rise residential buildings and works for sustainable approach in construction for augmented built environment.

For centuries now, mathematical and scientific tools have enabled architects to create distinct architectural vocabularies, balancing sacred geometry with engineering logic to engender both aesthetics and functionality within our built environment. Today, it is critical to revisit the past, and apply new methods and ways of thinking and to derive forms that respond to the increasing complexity and dynamism of modern societies. The tools at our disposal now allow us to reinterpret old methods and learn new ones to plan and design better buildings. Parametric design (also referred to as computational design) and modern software, while still relatively untapped, have opened new horizons for architects and designers. How can we realize the true potential of parametric design to improve building performance? Can such tools be employed beyond form-finding experiments, to address complex issues in the AEC industry? How can parametric design be integrated with the Indian vernacular and respond to climatic and contextual concerns?

The term ‘parametricism’ introduced in 2008 by Patrick Schumacher, refers to a design approach derived from parametric equations. This includes the use of certain input factors or codes, that can be modulated to alter the result of an equation and conceive an architectural design solution. The tangible nature of the output assumes critical relevance and can impact the built environment and the society at large.

In this regard, parametricism is not only a new approach or design methodology that is generative in nature; it lays the foundation for a different way of thinking and learning - a new kind of intelligence.

From a broader perspective, while parametric design continues to be explored, its merit lies in its ability to exist as a problem-solving tool. Conventional design processes call for addressing a multitude of determinants or considerations and arriving at a solution by applying the human mind. The challenges of such a process lie in addressing a host of constraints efficiently within the required time. Parametric tools can be harnessed in the AEC industry to address varied perspectives and provide innovative architectural solutions from 3D modelling and iterative design development to space syntax, structural design and environmental analysis. These tools can be employed for instance, to understand the growth cycle of a tree and consequently, aid in biomimicry to derive a building structure that adopts the same cell pattern.

Hence, the ability to manipulate and encode the design intent to create a design response constitutes operational flexibility, saves process time, and helps in refinement of the solution.

While the vernacular will continue to echo the identity of Indian architecture, adapting such techniques alone may not be able to deliver efficient long-lasting and resilient solutions to suit the diverse needs of the present and the future

We can leverage the power of parametricism as an environmental analysis tool to design sustainable buildings. Through preliminary studies and analyses, energy requirements for a building including loads such as the heat and electrical loads, etc. are calculated. The building is then designed to minimize its environmental impact by factoring in observations and inferences from studies backed by computational analyses; the inputs or parameters are encoded and modulated to dictate the form, orientation, space layout and façade. Further, the design, size and orientation of openings, including window shading devices, and maintaining effective wall-to-window-ratios, are arrived at through solar radiation studies. Thus, the use of parametric design serves as an apparatus in providing flexibility and efficiency to achieve an appropriate architectural design solution.

Rhino, Grasshopper and Ladybug (parametric design software based on algorithmic inputs that define design rules) aid in analysing areas, fenestration designs, thermal mass, solar radiation and other such considerations. To develop the façade, the radiation value of each grid cell of the vertical surface becomes the input for rotation angles of the brick in front of it. This reduces direct and diffused radiations by a significant amount on the principal façade and further prevents heat gain beyond the brick screen within the interiors.
In recent times, the parametric approach is slowly gaining ground in the Indian landscape and has begun echoing the theme of the country’s architectural language.

To design for the India of today, we must understand what constitutes this ‘Indian-ness’ within the built environment. For several decades now, the identity of Indian architecture has gotten misplaced due to an inclination towards western ideals of Modernism. Thus, there is an imminent need to redefine what is ‘Indian’ to us, which is undeniably subjective from one practitioner to the other and must originate from what was Indian.

If we think about it, our country’s architecture has for centuries employed design mechanisms for energy efficiency. The vernacular constitutes the local or regional architecture, incorporating indigenous traditions, construction techniques and materials in response to the region’s climatic conditions.

We see the use of elements such as jaalis (latticed screens), chajjas (sloping eaves and canopies) and jharok has (overhanging balconies), particularly in India’s northern regions that addressed needs for lighting and ventilation while protecting occupants from harsh, glare-free sunlight. Aangansor courtyards have always been a defining feature of Indian architecture, facilitating air circulation and bringing light into the interior spaces. Similarly, thick walls were constructed to act as thermal buffers and reduce heat gain through the building envelope. These features remind us that we need only look to our past to create design frameworks for our present and future needs.

While the vernacular will continue to echo the identity of Indian architecture, adapting such techniques alone may not be able to deliver efficient long-lasting and resilient solutions to suit the diverse needs of the present and the future. Thus, reinterpreting principles from the vernacular to guide design, through modern and innovative tools such as parametric design holds the key for creating environmentally compatible and economically viable buildings an approach deeply rooted in and native to the Indian context.

The modern vernacular can be explored through computational tools across diverse scales and typologies within the built environment. For example, we can develop a pigmented hollow block façade modified from the previously developed façade that spans the building and the efficiency of the previously built façade can be analysed in terms of thermal mass, solar radiations etc. through computational software, which then accordingly guides the rotational angles of the blocks for the new proposed façade. In this sense, parametric tools not only help in developing a new design but also illustrated earlier shortcomings.

As we move towards a heterogeneous future - one that demands adaptability and flexibility in prioritising each individual user’s needs, we must design in a way that powers such dynamism and yet upholds the culture and identity of its corresponding context. The modern vernacular through the lens of parametric architecture must not be mistaken for an architectural style that will bring about an overhaul, but instead, exist as an interdisciplinary approach to design, as a valuable resource with endless prospects for the future of design and construction.