The Gormenghast Project

Place and Parametricism: Provocations for the Rethinking of Design

While both space and time are readily subject to quantitative analysis, place seems irreducibly qualitative. Yet place is surely a key element in design, and especially architectural design. How is the qualitative character of place to be incorporated into quantitative data that can be used in design practice?

The Gormenghast project will explore this and related issues by examining the fictional places of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels (Peake, 1946-1959).  Although as a place Gormenghast exists only in imagination, it incorporates the real places Peake drew on for his work, and reflects the way actual places are understood, experienced and assimilated.  This blend of places real and unreal along with experiences of place, allows wide scope for creative variation in potential design approaches and outcomes.

Project design

Gormenghast’s settings contain strong qualitative elements: narrative, emotional and sensory.  These elements are a challenge for parametric design (that is, altering design parameters in digital design computing to create a new design).  The project will use a creative research approach in a collaboration from a range of disciplines.  The result will integrate research outcomes from biological, physical, social and economic systems into practical design toolkits that can advance the understanding and design of places.

 Three stages of The Gormenghast Project

 Stage 1: Place Framework.  In Stage one, a collaborative working typology of place will be developed with input from client groups and professional practice, writers, artists, scientists, engineers, philosophers, futurists, data analysts, architects, urban designers, planners, government and leaders from the corporate sector.  The typology will be used as the base to the research studios in Stage 2, and the resulting exhibits.

Stage 2 – Model Places.  In Stage 2, the Gormenghast novels will be used as templates to identify contrasting ‘types’ that exemplify concepts of place, which are then examined in research studios.

  • Studio A: Lives of Buildings will examine objects and spaces that are characterised by connections, fluidity and overlaps.
  • Studio B: Corpses of Thought aims to understand physical and emotional phenomena through a transdisciplinary design research.
  • Studio C: Crisis of Imagination will explore removal from place as a geographic location, linking the research to networked lives and modernity.

Stage 3: Place-oriented design toolkit.  Different stakeholders will be brought into one working space to develop imagery, models and languages that can be applied to computer technologies, and test whether and how universalising, data-driven approaches can help place design.  The resulting toolkits will effectively redesign the design process.

Scope, outcomes and benefits

The project explores the connection between two ideas: that close attention to place is central to good design and that good design is furthered by parametric approaches.  For example, issues of sustainability and environmental change actually draw together questions of design with questions of place in a way that includes residential, commercial, and public architecture, urban and landscape planning, infrastructure management and construction.

Project team:

  • Prof. Mark Burry (Swinburne University of Technology)
  • Prof Jeff Malpas (University of Tasmania)
  • Prof Gini Lee (University of Melbourne)
  • Dr Stanislav Roudavski (University of Melbourne)
  • Prof Mark Taylor (Newcastle University, NSW)

PhD Candidate(s)

  • Jules Rutten

Please follow this link for a more comprehensive project overview…

Project generously supported by the Australian Research Council 2017-2020


16 August 2017

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