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From parametric design to supporting micro-economies through design, these projects achieve social good through design.

1 When Digital Technology and Rudimentary Construction Meet
Not long ago, parametric design was the exclusive playground of starchitects, reserved for big-budget airports and attention-grabbing concert halls. But as its tools become more ubiquitous, sophisticated digital design is showing up even in smaller projects, enhancing vernacular architecture with better performance and fascinating visual effects.

In Brazil, traditional staggered-brick screens, called cobogo, are used to filter sunlight and to add thermal mass, preventing hot outside air from heating up the interior. In São Paulo, local firm SUBdV shaded the full-height windows of a factory and office complex behind just such a screen, adding a unique twist: Using parametric design, the architects devised a pattern of subtly rotated blocks for a gradated effect that precisely controls light and shadow inside.

Dubbed CoBLOgó, the screen exemplifies what SUBdV calls its “tropicalized digital aesthetic.” Using Rhino software, the team used a digital model to generate multiple configurations of the rotated concrete blocks. Then they studied the effects of each one on lighting and heat gain. The final pattern, says architect Guilherme Giantini, “was chosen for its combination of providing 300 to 500 lux of daylight – ideal for an office – while allowing for natural ventilation, and aesthetic value.”

To translate the model into reality, SUBdV devised a system of CNC’d plywood tracks that hold guides laser-cut from corrugated cardboard. Local bricklayers installing the screen needed only to set up the tracks, place the cardboard guides in position, and align the blocks before laying them as usual. “We used standard three-chamber concrete blocks, which gave us more flexibility in the alignment,” says Giantini. “The ability to rotate each brick, combined with a range of differently sized openings, lets this second skin protect the interior from direct sunlight.

“Parametric design allowed us to try out variations instantly. To conduct these kinds of fitness tests and find the best configuration would have been much more time-consuming without the software, if not impossible.”

2 Building Communities and Micro-Economies Through Design
Stephen Burks has built his Brooklyn-based practice over the past decade by partnering with traditional artisans from around the globe, developing ongoing relationships and micro-economies in locations as far flung as Senegal, Colombia and India. Most of his objects, including outdoor seating for Dedon and Roche Bobois, use weaving techniques that go back centuries. But Burks has brought a contemporary language to the art, transcending the basketness of baskets by introducing new interpretations – along with new markets – to ancient techniques. “I’m not really the kind of designer who just sends in drawings,” he says. “I believe the closer a designer gets to the act of making, the more potential there is for innovation.” His latest collection, called The Others, is a series of outdoor lamps for Dedon, woven in the Philippines at what he calls “hand factories,” because the end product, made by skilled artisans, is just as reliable in consistency and quality as goods manufactured industrially.

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