Book review: The Politics of Parametricism

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Book review: The Politics of Parametricism


Angela Yoo reviews The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture, edited by Matthew Poole and Manuel Shvartzberg.

World events in the past month have at times seemed like variations on a theme; a political debate over Apple’s encryption battle, the triumph of an artificial intelligence system over a human grandmaster in the ancient game of GO, and the premiere of ‘the next 100 years’ - a shape-shifting, autonomous, reptilian-like car from BMW, as the company celebrated its centenary.

Whether it’s a fight over the future of high-tech surveillance, or the debut of technologies poised to inflict the greatest change in the automotive industry since Henry Ford’s assembly line, the digital age is indisputably here, bringing with it a whole new set of political, ethical and moral as well as formal challenges.

Aligning itself with the digital age is Parametricism – perhaps the most ambitious, comprehensive and seemingly pertinent argument in architecture today. Coined and led by its strongest proponent Patrik Schumacher, it has permeated architectural culture – present in schools and practice around the world. With aims as grand as to establish a ‘global best practice’ in the form of a unified style and radical promises to change the profession on a fundamental level, it is timely, then, for an equally critical response to emerge from a range of architects and writers well versed in the tenets of this new avant-garde.

This anthology attempts a holistic critique targeting the actual conditions and techniques involved in Parametricism with a formidable line-up of writers. Teddy Cruz, Peggy Deamer and Neil Leach, among others, point to the assumptions and shortfalls of Parametricism with extreme clarity. The self-referential emphasis on form and technique, the overly reductive analogies to biology, and the ethical complications that arise from a genetic evolutionary process are but a few points raised to rigorously question the methods practised under the name of Parametricism.

All too often these critiques have been eclipsed by seductive aesthetics or the misleading gravitas of pseudo-logic. The writers go further to address the wider problems of the profession – the tacit acceptance of increased inequality and power relations, the persistence of a male-dominated architectural culture, and the shrinkage of the public domain in a neoliberal political climate. If this new avant-garde in architecture is indeed to radically reorder practice, it must abandon its apolitical status.

The contributors provoke Parametricism to join the more challenging task of inventing alternatives to the constraining forces of neoliberalism, instead of continuing to camouflage them in morphogenetic, smooth skins. The contributors are united in the belief that architecture must change to face the challenges of the digital age and the paradigmatic shifts that come with it, be they moral, legal, social or political.

The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture opens up Parametricism for serious critical debate, bringing both parlous weakness and unprecedented potential to the fore. 

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