Newsletter: Ben van Berkel / UNStudio - From Computer Baroque to Smart Geometry


"Parametric design is in itself not so interesting. It needs meaning. We need to combine the possibilities of the virtual with how we discipline the real in a new way."
Ben van Berkel


Since the 1990's computational design has proven to be anything but a fad; it has revolutionised architecture. Extensively developments over the past 20 years have brought about enormous changes in the design and construction of architecture, which Ben van Berkel – a strong believer in the digital future from the beginning - compares to the invention of concrete. In his practice, UNStudio, the drawing tables were removed from architectural offices one by one until not a single one remained. In their place computers were installed and architects trained in the use of ever more refined 3D modeling and scripting programmes.

Computer programmes are now an essential tool in every architecture practice and in each stage of the design-build process. Not only do they allow for greater innovation, creativity and experimentation and the construction of new, previously impossible geometries, but they also vastly improve communication on projects to such an extent that design and construction can be much more compact, accelerated and efficient than we could have imagined possible 20 years ago.

“In the 90’s we were fascinated with the potential of these emerging techniques and their ability to control geometry. However our interest was never solely focussed on the geometry, nor on the computational techniques themselves. Our interest lay largely in the possibility to carry out spatial experiments and to see how the resulting structures could actually be constructed.”
Ben van Berkel


Following 20 years of sustained interest in computational architecture - from the Erasmus Bridge through to the Mercedes-Benz Museum and now the Raffles City development in China - Ben van Berkel and UNStudio continue to research, apply and adapt the latest computational technologies and remain at the forefront of the exploration of new digital technologies and their potential for architecture in the future.

Current and upcoming related activities include:


Ben van Berkel - Keynote speaker at the upcoming Smart Geometries seminar in Copenhagen

Ben van Berkel will be presenting a lecture at the upcoming Smart Geometries seminar in Copenhagen on 2nd April 2011. The presentation will focus on the use of computational tools and parametric design in the work of UNStudio. Projects such as the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, the Raffles City mixed use development in Hangzhou and the Star Place Luxury Shopping Plaza in Kaohsiung will be discussed in order to illustrate UNStudio’s application of smart geometries.

"Now that we are aware that extremely complex forms can actually be built, there needs to be some reversed engineering introduced, so that we learn more from production techniques in order to make these complex forms, but also to discipline ourselves as architects when form making."
Ben van Berkel

Further information:


New monograph – ‘Van Berkel Digitale’

The Italian writer Andrea Solazzo has recently completed a monograph about Ben van Berkel and UNStudio as part of the Edil Stampa series ‘IT Revolution in Architecture’. The book focuses on the use of computational / parametric design in UNStudio projects since the very early years of the practice. Van Berkel Digitale is currently available in Italian, however an English version is scheduled for release in the very near future.

Available online soon through:


Introducing UNStudio’s Smart Parameters Platform – One of four research

communities within the studio focused on propelling design thinking and innovation

As one of UNStudio’s four ‘Crossing’ research platforms for the advance and exchange of knowledge, the Smart Paramaters Platform focuses on integrating the use of computational tools and processes into UNStudio’s design approach. It aims to intervene before a problem emerges, with the team continuously uploading new digital instruments to the UNStudio Intranet. It is the most dynamic and communicative of all UNStudio’s research Platforms.

“The role of the architect is constantly changing, with now more than ever before the synthesis of practical and research generated knowledge allowing for ever more creative solutions.” Ben van Berkel & Caroline Bos


UNStudio’s Knowledge Platforms were introduced in 2008 in order to gather and share information and knowledge, both within the studio and among our network of external advisors. Individually, the four platforms oversee research for different stages in the design-build process:

• The Innovative Organizations Platform (concept phase) investigates new architectural answers to new types of organisations and was created to collect new knowledge about how architecture is utilised for specific purposes.
• The Smart Parameters Platform (design phase) focuses on integrating the use of computational tools and processes into UNStudio’s design approach, continuously uploads new digital instruments to the Intranet and aims to intervene before a problem emerges. It is therefore the most dynamic and communicative of all the Platforms.
• The Inventive Materials Platform (build phase) researches custom-made material applications and makes every effort to build inspired and imaginative collaborations with other experts and with manufacturers in the construction industry to push for progress in the field of materials.
• The Architectural Sustainability Platform (all stages) interconnects with all other platforms and projects and is dedicated to advancing the sustainability of our architecture.


UNStudio’s four knowledge platforms function as self-organised groups, operating as interlinked platforms within the studio.

Instead of being organised as processes which run parallel to the design work, UNStudio’s knowledge platforms form an integrated part of the practice. Organising projects and knowledge platforms in an interactive, non-linear manner allows us to effectively combine research with practice, cross-fertilise innovative solutions and discover new approaches to architecture.


For further information or to obtain images for publishing please contact:

Karen Murphy
Email Contact
+31 (0)20 570 20 40


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