Parametrics in Urban Design: A Bridge to Cross the Gap Between Urban Designer and Urban Dweller?

Nicolai Steinø, Esben Obeling

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapport/konference proceedingKonferenceartikel i proceedingForskning


The design of urban space has always been contested. Whether imposed by autocratic rulers, emerged as a result of market forces, or implemented as a result of democratic planning processes, urban space design shapes the lives of urban dwellers. Yet rarely does the average urban dweller have any real influence on the process of urban space design. This is due to a number of factors.

Lots of money, influence and power is vested in the design of urban space. The classical definition of urban planning as the question of regulating who gets what, where, why, when and how, states this very clearly. Therefore, the design of urban space happens in a space of power. And this is something which traditionally the average urban dweller does not have.

Urban designers communicate about urban space design in a professional language and through graphics which are not always intelligible to laypersons. Additionally, the process of urban design is such that while the design is still open in the early phases, the level of detailing is low and hence the implications of the design may be difficult to comprehend for the ordinary man. But when the level of detailing increases, thus allowing for a better understanding of the design, the design is closed and can no longer be changed.

Finally, communicative processes take time. If communicative urban design processes should be meaningful, they must allow time for presentation, discussion, and revision of design scenarios. And often this is not feasible within the given time and resource limits. And again, the lay person, whether she is a resident, a local business person, or a NGO representative, is left with little influence, when it comes to the design of urban space.

With the advent of parametric design tools, this need no longer be the case. Rather than making one-off designs which need to be redesigned from the ground up in case of changes, parametric design tools make it possible keep the design open while at the same time allowing for a level of detailing which is high enough to facilitate an understanding of the generic qualities of proposed designs.

As such, they potentially offer themselves as communication tools. This may happen in the format of public urban design workshops such as design charrettes, future workshops, urban forums and the like). But online interaction and communication – the democratizing power of which has been demonstrated by the “Twitter revolution” and other social media phenomena in recent years – may also form the basis of this approach, adding a different reach to it.

While different parametric design tools have different strengths and weaknesses, the CityEngine software programme is dedicated to parametric simulation of cities. While having previously been put to use mainly in the movie and computer game industries, it offers a logic which is very promising, yet poorly explored, for urban design and planning.

On the basis of an initial test case, this paper presents some first perspectives for a parametric approach to urban space design as a communication tool in the urban design process. Three aspects of this work will be addressed. First, the basic notion of parametric urban design is explained and why it is potentially powerful as a communication tool and democratizing agent. Second, an example of its implementation by means of CityEngine is given and discussed with respect to it pros and cons. And finally, the potential implications of this approach are touched as an outline for further research.
TitelSubtle Revolutions : Proceedings of the 2nd International Hybrid City Conference
Antal sider7
Publikationsdatomaj 2013
StatusUdgivet - maj 2013
BegivenhedHybrid City Conference 2013: Subtle rEvolutions - National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Grækenland
Varighed: 23 maj 201325 maj 2013
Konferencens nummer: 2


KonferenceHybrid City Conference 2013
LokationNational and Kapodistrian University of Athens