Parametric Design at MATA Architects / by Taylan Tahir

Parametric design is a process that allows the user/designer to control the design through the manipulation of a number of specified rules and variables. For us, parametric design is an extension of our working process. We use a plugin called Grasshopper for the 3D virtual modelling software Rhinoceros, allowing us the freedom to explore and produce much more complex geometry than traditional 2D CAD and 3D modelling techniques.

Benefits of Parametric Design

  • Improved efficiency as multiple iterations of a design can be tested and evaluated very quickly
  •  Minimise modelling time since once a script has been formulated, complex 3D geometry can be generated more quickly.
  • Improved design accuracy because all elements locations, dimensions and relationships are based on input parameters dictated by the script
  • Improved reaction to design changes since the script allows immediate computation of the physical output for any alterations to input variables or processes
  • Improved coordination across design fields especially between architects and engineers when all designing parametrically since clear understanding of input variables and the script processes and relationships.

Why do we use Grasshopper?

Parametric design is often associated with giant stadia and tall tower design however it can also be implemented at much smaller scales as a way to test, iterate and evaluate designs, as well as streamline the design process.

Using Grasshopper, we utilise parametric design processes at early stages of design to allow us to experiment with our proposals at concept design stage to quickly generate and appraise multiple iterations of a design concept.

Example of Grasshopper script used in the development of our Westminster Synagogue scroll display.

We have implemented parametric design on a variety of projects as an efficient tool to optimise our designs, through testing rhythms, geometries and movement:

Rhythm

Our project in Belsize Park Mews involved redesigning the existing façade to provide more natural light and views onto the street while maintaining privacy and security. Our proposal for a band of full height Corten steel louvres along the ground floor façade allows light to penetrate into the living spaces through full height glazing behind. During concept design, the variables we wanted to test were:

  • Spacing between louvres
  • Orientation of louvres
  • Depth and thickness of louvres
  • Height of louvres

Two design iterations for louvre spacing, depth and orientation in Belsize Park Mews.

We developed a script to allow us to manipulate these variables and quickly create a number of design iterations. From here we were able to critically evaluate the different options before presenting the client with the optimum design in terms of light, privacy and aesthetic.

  Finished renders using Grasshopper modelling and rendering tools

Finished renders using Grasshopper modelling and rendering tools

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Geometry

We were commissioned by Westminster Synagogue to design a new display stand to house a historic Jewish scroll in one of their function rooms.

We began by developing the initial concept through hand drawings and sketch models.  We then created a script in Grasshopper to generate the 3D form specifying the parameters of height, width and depth of structural members and other variables in relation to the size and orientation of the geometry.

Iterations of batten width testing at 50,75,100 and 125mm

After evaluating the options and choosing our preferred form, we proceeded to construct a physical scale model to present to the client. Through the development of the physical model we concluded that larger widths of timber would improve both the form and ease of construction. Utilising our Grasshopper script allowed us to efficiently alter the design by adjusting the main input parameter “batten width” in seconds rather than remodel the entire proposal.

  Evolution of the physical model and finished photographs

Evolution of the physical model and finished photographs

Movement

Our residential project Battishill Street proposed a stained timber cladding around a new first storey extension featuring  two sets of openable shutters the allow varying degrees of light and privacy to the internal space.

  Views of rear extension at Battishill Street.

Views of rear extension at Battishill Street.

The opening mechanism for the shutters was designed in conjunction with specialist fabricator, Old School Fabrications. To ensure there were no clashes between the movement of the shutters and the glazing, we combined the details of the mechanism provided by the specialist fabricators, the window dimensions and the cladding design to create a parametric model. The adjustable ‘rotation’ parameter allowed us to simulate the opening and closing motion of the shutter system in 3D and ensure coordination during the detailed design stage before moving to construction.

The opening mechanism for the shutters is animated and tested using the parametric Grasshopper script.

Example of Grasshopper script used in the development of the shutters at Battishill Street.

We will continue to seek opportunities to utilise parametric modelling in our future projects to improve design efficiency, and challenge ourselves and our design proposals. The introduction of BIM modelling systems into MATA Architects has also allowed us to implement a different type of parametric design into the latter stages of projects; detailed and technical design.

If you want to understand more about the way we utilise parametric design in our process and see how we might be able to use these tools on your next project get in touch with us.