Spotlight on Morphosis Architects’ Kerenza Harris: Teaching the Value of Parametrics from Concept to FabricationBy Akio
Founded in 1972, Morphosis took its name from the Greek word meaning “to form or be in formation.” While the name alludes to the firm’s “dynamic and evolving practice,” today it might also apply to its innovative use of parametric design tools.
Since joining the firm in 2008, Kerenza Harris has been a key part of Morphosis’ development and integration of these new technologies into design work.
Today, she is helping Morphosis to develop automation systems and parametric tools that can be integrated from the earliest concept design stages through fabrication.
Owners, fabricators, and contractors are expecting highly specific information earlier than ever. “It is a bit of a challenge because it forces us to have more complex models earlier on,” Harris notes.
In addition, some owners are beginning to expect highly sophisticated models as a baseline for design presentations. While Harris notes that modeling makes it easier than ever to show owners precisely how a project will work, it is creating new expectations about the designer-owner relationship.
Lost in Translation
Embedding such sophistication into models so early can also prove challenging later in the process—should the model need to translated into another format.
“Every time we need to communicate with someone, be it a contractor, fabricator or client, there has to be a phase of translation,” Harris explains.
When this translation occurs, there is always the risk that embedded information could be lost in the shuffle. By bringing contractors and consultants onto the same software and encouraging closer collaboration, such shuffles can be reduced.
The Intelligence of Parametric Design
Having detailed information from the earliest stages is the beauty of parametric design, Harris notes. Using one program from the first line creates an intelligent model with a history.
“We go from simple geometry; a line, a surface, a plane, a solid, to architecture; a room, a building, a door, a window. As we move forward, the window, for example, becomes embedded with additional information: it has a certain size and uniform specification,” Harris says. “As the idea becomes more cemented, it becomes architecture.”
Along the way, models are imbued with an “intelligence” that can be linked to methods of fabrication, specific materials, assembly processes and so forth. This can prove especially valuable, Harris notes, when changes are necessary.
When information is imperfect or incomplete, it is possible to embed new information into the model without breaking down the entire system.
The Tools Make the Design
Tools such as CATIA have given Harris an edge in explaining the need for specificity to the students she taught in her former position at Texas Tech University, as well as in her lectures today.
Such software allows students to begin working with simple forms and shapes, and then develop those shapes into complex projects with specific materials and systems.
“We then have a model that has history, which allows us to add information without having to start over,” she points out. Having the right tools in the classroom also has helped Harris to emphasize the importance to students of moving from the “big idea” to the materiality of the future assembly.
“The idea has to be complete and you have to use these tools to develop it and make it a reality,” Harris says. She adds, “That’s how we’re able to have a lot of our projects built in the end: because we are very conscious of the materials and assemblies and reality of what these things are. If that can work with the big idea, that’s perfect for us.”
A Big Idea Realized
AIA seems to agree with Harris’ philosophy. Morphosis Architects won the AIA 2014 BIM Award in the categories of Stellar Architecture Using BIM and Delivery Process Innovation for its work on the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. Photo credit: Roland Halbe
Morphosis used parametrics in creating the museum’s façade, which is comprised of pre-cast concrete modules that are repeated and reorganized to form a highly complex geometrical pattern.
The software enabled the team to achieve an effect that appears random and unpredictable, but in actuality emerges from a rationalized, pre-fabricated system allowing for a more efficient construction and installation process.
The AIA jury noted that the project stood out “by how it leveraged BIM not just in design but in the shop drawing process, and in the fabrication and installation they achieved things in a time that would have been unimaginable otherwise. BIM assisted in fabrication, documentation, and implementation. The submitter had a willingness to share their digital files to better improve the project.”
In its submission, the project team revealed that the museum’s success depended on this integrated process. The accuracy of the early design allowed the team to share highly detailed 3D models with the owner, fabricators, and contractors who used them to develop shop drawings and even a framework for installation.
The result: a world-class museum delivered on budget and ahead of schedule.
3DEXPERIENCE Forum 2014