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The rise of vertical integration in architecture

The process of vertical integration obtained through a pursuit of optimization has its own manifestation in the field of architecture. In the last few words of his book Digital Architecture Beyond Computers,5 Roberto Bottazzi recalls Frederick Kiesler’s lament regarding the need of seven different contractors to build one wall, due to its need for concrete structure, steel, brick, plaster, paint and wooden moldings. Kiesler gives evidence to the logistical complexities associated with the coordination of autonomous economic agents. Bottazzi echoes the pursuit of digital technologies for the last 30 years when he suggests that through a vision of synthesis afforded by digital workflows and a continuous notion of space, it will finally be possible to integrate architectural production in the hands of a single fabricator. His description aligns with one of the strands of computational thinking in architecture: the parametric agenda. The parametric agenda, as we will examine in the following paragraphs, has emerged from the capacity to synthesize data through the use of software, allowing mathematics and geometrical constructs to define the continuity of space between otherwise disparate materials. Bottazzi’s description,1' following the promises of the parametric agenda, implies a form of vertical integration in the field of architecture, advocating for single actors to acquire full control over a process that is otherwise in the hands of a diverse and competitive multi-actor economy. As demonstrated by Elon Musk’s Tesla Gigafactory, the economic efficiencies of vertical integration are undeniable, but they come with socioeconomic implications such as increasing the barrier of entry for new members into the market.

The parametric playbook, as it has grown out of the computational research since the early 1990s, defines only a portion of the design strategies that can be pursued with computational techniques. The task of identifying different ideologies within computational design thinking has become a challenge due to designers such as Patrik Schumacher who have argued that “Parametricism,” or most recently “Tectonism,” define epochal styles that encompass all computational design in an attempt to unify the field and generate a movement that could be compared to modernism.7 Schumacher’s ideas have provoked a strong disenfranchisement from a younger generation of designers who, while using computational techniques, do not align with the ideologies of parametric design. By defining a boundary and ideologies behind the use of parametric tools, we will be able to understand the design strategies and tools that live outside the parametricist umbrella. The objective of this analysis is to push back from a mindless pursuit of technological progress that generates social division through the concentration of power to just a few actors generating an asymmetric playing field and income inequality. The following chapters will present an opposition to the trend of vertical integration and its architectural manifestation in parametric thinking, understanding that an efficient society controlled by only a few individuals erodes democracy and ultimately hinders meaningful innovation that seeks prosperity.

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