Posts Tagged ‘Grasshopper’

From Top Down to Bottom Up

Generative design tools flip the script of architectural thinking

by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media

“Some might view computational design is just making some weird or crazy form,” says architectural designer Woo Jae Sung.  The 3D shapes may look arbitrary, but the method behind them is not.  “Contrary to the misconception, generative modeling is based on rationalism.  Our newly developed parametric tools were based on the needs of bottom-up design thinking.”

Designers have two different starting points when conceiving new structural forms, top-down and bottom-up.  Top-down is the classical, Cartesian-center technique of picking the overall shape first and then filling in the parts.  Bottom-up, as the name implies, is the opposite: it starts with geometric components as the initial building blocks.  Through repetition and variation according to logical rules, they grow to define larger systems.

Bottom-up conceptual approaches are found throughout other art disciplines, but it is still rare in architecture.  But Sung sees bottom-up as up and coming.  Sung recently taught a workshop at Cornell, where architectural students experiment with generating highly complex 3D forms by automatically repeating patterns of components.  The workshop uses the newly released application Grasshopper, a parametric plug-in for Rhinoceros’ 3D NURBS modeler.

“In my perspective, the generative design process is not a sub-discipline in architecture, but rather another paradigm,” says Sung.  “Traditional design tools prohibited us from thinking bottom-up, while parametric or generative tools are broadening our design perspective.”

Sung publishes his own Grasshopper Tutorial, a primer of getting started in the program, for Rhino users everywhere.  The tutorials are free on his blog,  Sung says the tutorial content comes out of his own experiments in the software, where he tests his bottom-up theories and learns how to translate them into fully realized computer models.

“Before the advent of parametric and generative tools, doing bottom-up design was a time-consuming, painful, and rigorous process,” says Sung.   “Changes in parameters or relationships between objects meant that entire model should be done manually from the scratch.” He cites works by Eduardo Arroyo or Ciro Najle as examples of bottom-up processes without computer aid.

But with generative digital tools that can easily program geometric patterns, Sung and other a bottom-up artists now have a clearer opportunity to flip the script, so to speak, on the dominant paradigm of top-down thinking.

Housing Block ? Construction of Unite d’habitation in 1945. Le Corbusier’s housing layouts were heavily prescribed by a top?down Cartesian framework.

Housing Block: Construction of Unite d’habitation in 1945. Le Corbusier’s housing layouts were heavily prescribed by a top-down Cartesian framework.

Escaping from the grid

Tradition design tools, construction methods, and habit of mind have reinforced top-down thinking.  Look around at the environments where we live and work, and it is obvious that most of them began life as T-squared outlines on the drawing board.

Sung is starting to see generative output enter into real-world projects, although their application seems to be limited to textural additives, in the form of “crazy” contemporary ornamental patterns on wall panels of a building that was otherwise produced through top-down processes.


Ground rules– Woo Jae Sung’s bottom-up apartment alternative begins with a group of circles nest inside an acute angle. The circles can be rearranged within this boundary in different configurations. A wider angle grows the area of the circles.

Sung demonstrates that bottom-up design can go quite a bit deeper, to the point of defining the entire building form.  Recently, Sung explored the design of the Unite D’habitation, Marseille by Le Corbusier.  Considered iconic in modern architectural history, the 1945 housing block became a template of today’s urban living.

“My research revealed that unit types were not based on typology but heavily influenced by the rigid grid system,” says Sung, who re-organized the basic amenities of the complex by using bottom-up processes, which avoid the regimented repetition of the original Marseilles building while adding greater flexibility to the sizes and layouts of individual units.  “I wanted to propose an alternative way of making architecture based on the internal logic of the relationships, rather than the grid.”

The cylindrical re-conception allows for varied room configurations based on a set of basic geometric rules.  Like cross-sections of a tree, the roughly circular building floor plans resemble one another, but are also each unique.  As the floor layouts vary in form, the vertical supports of the cylinder gently curve back and forth, giving varied character to both the interior and the exterior.  Sung found the optimal solution for ten different floor plans in Grasshopper.

“I think this shows a different application of the parametric tool on architecture other than just wall patterns or mullions,” says Sung.  “Here the parametric tool is playing active role in generating form.

Various angle-circle configurations are assembled as a ring.  Since the <a href=

Natural Transformations

One of the appeals of a layered bottom-up process is that it is closer to that of natural organic growth, and so are the results.  Biological complexity is all bottom-up:  from molecules to cells, cells to tissues, and tissues to organisms.

Berkeley professor Christopher Alexander has literally filled volumes with good examples of form from nature and vernacular architecture, and bad examples from contemporary buildings in his book series, “The Nature of Order.”  He argues that top-down architecture, rooted as it is in abstract images and Cartesian grids, ends up lacking some hard-to-articulate quality.  “Soul” might be a way to put it.  In terms of experience, spaces created by top-down structures of mass-produced components can feel impersonal, cold, or “dead,” while buildings made through more organic generative methods seem to resonate as friendly, warm, and vitalizing.

These benefits may be subjective, but Sung’s attraction to the new design strategy originates more from the latitude it gives the designer when the grid no longer rules form.  “For me, bottom-up design process means control over power, flexibility over rigidity, and possibility over stability.”

Building Differently

A series of transformations within Grasshopper turns each angle into apartment units. A Voronoi algorithm turns the circles into room shapes; each ring design represents a unique high-rise floor plan.


Generative modeling tools like Grasshopper has opened the door to bottom-up design in architectural studios, but the remaining shift in perspective lies in construction site.  Concrete and steel – the cast-mold and frame-surface systems that now dominate construction – keep architects snapped into the grid.

“To build parametric-driven models, you need a mass-customization process, which requires construction paradigm change from cast-mold and frame-surface to sculpturing-modeling,” explains Sung.  “In the fields outside of architecture, we can see this happening.”

In making the quintessential top-down structure of Unite d’habitation, Le Corbusier drew inspiration for its structural system from ocean liners.  In what might be the future trend in 21st century architecture, bottom-up designers might look to the jet.  Aerospace parts exhibit strong, complex forms without the use of cast or frame systems.

“Considering that architecture has fallen behind other fields in adopting new ideas or methods,” says Sung, “sooner or later, the new paradigm will be more actively applied to architecture, and so will the application of generative modeling.”

Bottoms Up - The alternative housing complex model fleshed out in Rhinoceros after form-generation in Grasshopper. The slight variation in floor plans leads to organic curvatures to interior and exterior structural elements and a housing “block” where no two units are the same.

About Woo Jae Sung
Architect Woo Jae Sung is a graduate of Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, and Cornell University’s School of Architecture in New York.  For more of Woo Jae Sung’s architectural examples and the latest edition of his Grasshopper tutorial, visit:

About Grasshopper
For designers who are exploring new shapes using generative algorithms, Grasshopper™ is a graphical algorithm editor tightly integrated with Rhino’s 3-D modeling tools. Unlike RhinoScript, Grasshopper requires no knowledge of programming or scripting, but still allows designers to build form generators from the simple to the awe-inspiring.  For more information, please visit:

Stadium Elastique

Breathing Room: The gill-like openings of this stadium development model are adjustable within Grasshopper, as well as the slopes of its roofline and walls. Using parametric modeling <a href=

Studio Mode discovers working model flexibility in Grasshopper

by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media

Populous, a New York-based firm specializing in stadium design, recently entered its development phase on its winning concept for a soccer stadium in Monterrey, Mexico. Because of the continuous curves of the stadium, even minor adjustments in the form demanded a wholemonterrey02m1 series of changes throughout the model.  For example, a re-articulation of the exterior roof line might also affect the width of the gill-like openings on the sides.   With over a hundred slits, it’s a lot of tweaks.

“If they decided that the width of all the gill openings needed to be just slightly wider, they would have to spend four days revising the model,” explains Ronnie Parsons, principal at Brooklyn’s Studio Mode, a computational design firm that consulted with Populous on the project. “At this schematic stage they were experiencing a lot of design changes.  They wanted to be able review to refine the model, but not have the overhead of rebuilding the whole thing.”

With over a decade of combined experience in advanced scripting, Parsons and his partner, Gil Akos, have found their niche where digital design and programming intersect.Many of their clients are other architects who need to automate some of their processes to allow for more time to design. Their solution for the Monterrey stadium was to build parametric features into a NURBS model.In Mode’s parametric concept model, the user can make one modeling action and create global changes throughout the design.Raise the stadium dome, and it ripples with varying curve differentials; extend or compress the skin, and all the gills breathe in and out, all at the same time.

“At that point there were a range of acceptable solutions for the stadium’s form,” explains Akos.“We weren’t enlisted to make a final model, rather to develop a custom design tool.”

Akos and Parsons employed a new strategy on the Monterrey project that is proving to make project-specific design tools more effective and easier to use than ever before.

Tweak Machine:   By varying a few values in Grasshopper, architects at Populous can manage subtle changes to the articulation of the stadium’s curves.

Tweak machine

Ordinarily, Akos and Parsons could achieve a flexible Rhinoceros model through programming alone.  This time, however, they tested out the newly released parametric module for Rhinoceros called Grasshopper.

“Whatever we can do in Grasshopper we could have easily done in RhinoScript,” explains Akos.  “The difference is that Grasshopper now gives us something we didn’t have before.  Grasshopper is operating within a visual programming paradigm, where you can see the logic of the relationships all at once.  The speed and fluidity of engagement with Grasshopper becomes very interesting for a designer.  You have this quick visual feedback of each programming action that you don’t have with code.”

Insider's View: The visual interface in Grasshopper allows designers to change the model’s programming without knowledge of scripting.

Grasshopper creates a middle ground between the 3D model and the logical rules that describe it.  The Grasshopper interface, which resembles a 2D wiring diagram, displays each individual modeling action as an object (a flowchart-like rectangle), linked to other objects containing parameters, like widths, heights, and radii.  Users can change the shape of the 3D model by locating a parameter object in the diagram and typing in new numbers.  Or, as Mode did for Populous, a user can add in graphic sliders for a range of values, or toggle-switches between two fixed parameters.
Because of this interface, parametric features in Populous’ stadium design tool are intuitive to locate, understand, and operate.

“Most offices we work with professionally are already using Rhino, so we can bring them into an environment with which they are already very familiar,” says Parsons.  “Grasshopper is great for clients because it gives them multiple ways to interact with the metrics.They can choose tools in the 3D scene to change forms, or they can adjust values through the diagram.”
Just by spending a few minutes playing with the variable features, Populous’ designers were able to identify which objects controlled which curves on the stadium’s surface.  “They can see in real time how different changes are trickling down through the design and re-organizing other features.  They can sense the different relationships and associations in a very material way.”

A new approach to parametric modeling

There have been of course 3D software centered around parametrics.  A major problem with these parametric modelers was they didn’t particularly lend themselves to intuition.  If you did not build in the parametric controls yourself, it was hard to figure out which features were adjustable, and how to access them.  To make matters worse, if you wanted to adjust a feature that was outside the parametric scheme, you might lose the time-saving advantage by having to deconstruct and reconstruct the model.

With a visual layout of the parameters and more user-friendly controls, Grasshopper manages to sidestep these old problems, opening up new collaborative possibilities.

“Grasshopper allows access and a level of understandability that we have not found in any other software in our field,” says Parsons.“It is very different from much of the parametric software that is out there because of the visual programming environment.”


Custom design tools for development and analysis

According to Parsons and Akos, Populous has used their flexible concept model through four months of development work, varying the stadium’s form to match up against the matrix of real-world constraints.

“The stadium was the first application of Grasshopper on a real building-scale project.It was a bit of trial and error,” admits Akos.  Much of Mode’s time on the Monterrey project was not so much building the model, but assessing the needs of the client and determining what variable capabilities the model needed.  As the stadium development goes on, he sees even more potential for shortcuts than he did on the outset.

“Another useful application for the same model is to program it to generate drawings in real time,” he says.“For example there should be a section drawing at every rib; there are 72 ribs of the stadium roof, so if that could be automated, that would greatly simplify the job.”

Meanwhile, use of Grasshopper has entered into many other new Mode programming projects.

“One thing we are looking into now is actually building some analysis into a Grasshopper model so we can work through surface subdivision, planarization, analysis in terms of color shading, and such things as solar gain,” says Parsons.

Given the fact that the first draft of concept rarely is the one that is actually built, custom design tools may soon become a more common occurrence, now that there is an accessible platform to support them — and a design office that specializes in creating them.

About Studio Mode

Mode is a design office that leverages computational expertise through design research, teaching, and consulting.Mode utilizes diverse methodologies including code, associative and relational strategies, as well as digital fabrication in the production of material organizations and the formation of space.Mode is located in Brooklyn, New York.For more projects, please visit:

About Grasshopper

For designers who are exploring new shapes using generative algorithms, Grasshopper™ is a graphical algorithm editor tightly integrated with Rhino’s 3-D modeling tools. Unlike RhinoScript, Grasshopper requires no knowledge of programming or scripting, but still allows designers to build form generators from the simple to the awe-inspiring.For more information, please visit:

Remixing in Grasshopper

Noiz / Architecture pushes generative modeling to new heights

by Brett Duesing

One of Keisuke Toyoda’s recent experiments in generative modeling “samples” a work of another: the Beijing National Stadium by Herzog & de Meuron.  His rendering shows the Bird’s Nest of last year’s Olympics strapped down by what appear to be tens of thousands of steel cables, which shoot up to over twice the height of the stadium roof.

Toyoda doubts that the architect would mind the re-appropriation as a creative exercise.  “In their early days, H&deM did a sort of similar thing, a photo collage of an addition on top of Tadao Ando’s building,” Toyoda recalls, “so I am sure they wouldn’t complain about us using their image for a remix.”
16Toyoda is one of the founding partners of the Toyko-based Noiz/Architecture, Design & Planning, a firm whose name also invites a comparison to the world of audio.   According Toyoda, the connotation was intentional. Bold debuts of musical styles, whether a ballet by Tchaikovsky or an album by Metallica, have always been called noise.  In the same spirit, the designers at Noiz look out for new 3D forms that challenge the conventions of its audience.

The remixed Bird’s Nest seems so novel — so noisy — because its textures are unfamiliar.  The word whiskery is not often ascribed to buildings.  The image is also an example of how a small conceptual shift in 3D modeling is now producing a mother lode of innovative forms for studios like Noiz in search of the unexpected.

Shapes of a new generation

Surprisingly, Toyoda only had to model one strand to generate the overwhelming intricacy seen in the remixed Bird’s Nest. This was achieved in Grasshopper, a new plug-in for the 3D NURBS modeler Rhinoceros.  Grasshopper splits the view of a 3D composition on to two different conceptual levels: the familiar 3D visual model next to a display of the logical model of the design.

This interactive history tree allows Toyoda to repeat modeling actions while varying them.  He can easily set up geometric changes according to one shape’s relationship to another.  For instance, he can instruct a strand to bow slightly when tilted in respect to a ground plane to mimic gravity.  He can replicate one strand over a dense grid of points to make a field of 25,000.    He can change this flat grid to rolling ground by plugging in a curvilinear surface.  “Originally, we tried out several 3D surfaces to vary the normals of the strands,” he says.  “I just thought it might be interesting if we use the Birds Nest and add in a realistic context.”gh-rgb1

This automation power has long been available to programmers, but scripting was a long and tedious affair that was too far removed from visual feedback.  With the Grasshopper interface, designers with no programming experience can play around with the logic just as easily they would the 3D model.  Composition then jumps up a structural meta-level – not just drawing shapes, but assigning behavior to shapes.

“This technology has a lot of undiscovered space to stroll around in,” Toyoda says.  “One of the advantages of the software is the ability to model on the fly without having to be a total techie. Since none of us is really a ‘computer person,’ Grasshopper’s interface fits really well for us.  It allows us to do programming with more intuitive understanding, without really writing a script.”

Molecular remix

The Birds’ Nest remix was the end point of that particular experiment, but others become the creative starting point in real architectural projects at Noiz.

Another experimental inspiration was the spirogyra, a kind of microscopic green algae known for its helical structure and luminous green color.  Not long after Noiz designers re-generated the form in Grasshopper as a modeling puzzle, the team found a home for it as a dominant motif for the Hongqiao Office Building (HOB).  Green-tinted spirogyra forms act as vertical supports and carriers of the ventilation system.

“The HOB is sited at the corner of an industrial park, so it had to fulfill the role of a landmark for the whole development and express the futuristic as well as environmental themes as much as possible,” Toyoda explains. “The spirogyra just seemed to fit this purpose.   And, because this site in a suburb of Shanghai tends is a dry and dusty atmosphere, the green color and organic forms add some natural vitality.”

Crucifix remix

The Noiz team developed another project, the exterior of the GoodTV headquarters, almost entirely in Grasshopper. At night, the Christian TV station and an urban church in Taipei, Taiwan, transforms into a four-dimensional light show.  The wall facing the highway features a field of glowing antennae of various lengths. A three-dimensional surface and the outline of the cross are slowly revealed to passing motorists.

“The overall presence of a cross is meant to be very vague and ethereal, like a mist in the air,” says Toyoda, who took influences from contemporary artists like Jim Campbell and Michal Rovner, whose images are kept intentionally blurry or ambiguous.

Chasing the unexpected is the standard course at Noiz, as generative modeling is fast becoming a permanent fixture in its process.  The design team now is in the habit of remixing of their initial ideas.

“Using Grasshopper, we can build a design-process model to produce what we need in actual design, then modify the process model to see what kind of variety we can get,” Jia-Shuan Tsai, Toyoda’s partner explains. “We try several options to see if there would be anything we didn’t expect originally. Sometimes this newly found path can lead you into a whole different area.”

About Noiz

New Forms of music in their infancy has often been taken as noise.  The name of Noiz / Architecture, Design & Planning takes its cue from developments in music history, as an everyday reminder of the firm’s commitment to unique and insightful design solutions.  Founded by Keisuke Toyoda and Jia-Shuan Tsai in 2006, Noiz brings together their joined experience in institutional, commercial, and residential design in Asia and the United States.  For more examples from Noiz, please visit: