Architecture has changed because of the computer; designers can do complicated parametric forms that would have been difficult to draw by hand and impossible to build. There were a few architects who could do parametric designs before computers; Gaudi could do it in Barcelona, and Eladio Dieste could do it in Uruguay, but they also had access to skilled masons who could read their drawings and models and pull it off. Those are hard to find these days.
But here is an interesting example of parametric recycling: Archi-Union Architects were renovating and enlarging an exhibition space in Shanghai. For the facade they designed a complex curvy brick wall “to convey the vitality of both the exhibition space and the wider neighborhood.”
They took the old grey-green bricks from the existing building and had a robot do the bricklaying. They tell ArchDaily in greater detail:
…in order to complete such a masonry process that cannot be precisely achieved by traditional technology, we applied the robotic masonry fabrication technique by Fab-Union, which accomplishes the first endeavor to utilize the advanced digital fabrication technology to construct on site. The external walls of Chi She were built by the recycled grey green bricks from the old building and constructed with the help of the advanced technology of mechanical arm, which generates a cambered surface morphology.
A cambered surface morphology is nice, but wise use of resources is nicer. Here, they have reused the old brick in an interesting way, making it much more than a flat wall. They have used what they had at hand and turned it into something better.
Sixty years ago, Eladio Dieste used curving brick walls because they were stronger and thinner. He wrote:
The resistant virtues of the structure that we make depend on their form; it is through their form that they are stable and not because of an awkward accumulation of materials. There is nothing more noble and elegant from an intellectual viewpoint than this; resistance through form.
I have never been fond of the work of Gehry and the late Zaha Hadid, who used parametric design just because they could. But I am really looking forward to architects using parametric design and robotic tools to make buildings that are stronger, using less material, while still being noble and elegant. And Resistance through form! might be our new rallying cry.