8 Lesser-Known 3D Modelling Tools for Architects

Issue #24

I’m Vignesh Kaushik. I curate and write articles on Thank God It’s Computational to help architects, designers, and urban planners leverage cutting-edge technologies on AEC projects.

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Visual programming languages enable architects to create algorithms by manipulating graphical elements rather than by entering textual code. When visual programming is applied to design, it results in a modelling approach that we refer to as Visual Dataflow Modelling (VDM). Recently, VDM is becoming increasingly popular within the design community, as it can accelerate the iterative design process, thereby allowing larger numbers of design possibilities to be explored. Modelling in a VDM environment is a bit different compared to explicit modelling. VDM consists of creating dataflow networks using nodes and links. Each node can be thought of as a function performing an action and a link is used to connect the output of one function to the input of another function.

A number of CAD systems now provide VDM interfaces, allowing designers to define form generating procedures without having to resort to scripting or programming. Some of the more popular tools include Grasshopper for Rhino, Dynamo for Revit and my all-time favorite SideFX Houdini.

In this issue, let’s take a look at a few lesser-known VDM environments that architects can use for accelerated form exploration and data manipulation.

Standalone VDM Tools

Iogram • Accelerated 3D Modelling Using VDM

Iogram lets you easily create and explore thousands of prototypes during the early phases of your digital design project. It enables the tools that create these prototypes to evolve naturally with the project, potentially even maturing into robust products themselves. Iogram is built on a robust, open source, C++ core that leverages the power of the amazing Urho3D game engine. Iogram is fast, scriptable, extendable, and very feature rich. You can export your projects to Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS, Android, Raspberry PI and to the Web Browser without any sacrifices. You can even connect it to Revit using Flux; look at the example video below.

IOGRAM: Sketch To Revit - YouTube

IOGRAM: Sketch To Revit - YouTube

NodeBox 3 • Generative Art & Data Visualization Using VDM

NodeBox is a cross-platform and node-based software application for generative design and data visualization. It’s built from the ground up by designers to be easy-to-use, efficient, and fast. NodeBox is written in Python. Although it has a limited set of commands, NodeBox has full Python support, making it a useful tool for advanced Python programmers as well. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes fairly easy to build networks and hide lengthy procedures behind a subnetwork facade.

VDM on the Browser

Mobius • Parametric Modelling In Your Browser

Möbius is a visual programming environment for creating parametric models on the browser. Unlike other tools that lets you only visualize a parametric model, Mobius allows you to create complex parametric procedures (with encapsulation, looping etc.) in the browser itself. This makes a man like me very happy since I don’t have to deal with the Spaghetti code of Grasshopper. Mobius is being developed by Dr.Patrick Janssen & Team in NUS, Singapore.

The geometry you see in the image is generated using only 4 nodes!

The geometry you see in the image is generated using only 4 nodes!

VDM Plugins

Marionette • Algorithmic Design Within Vectorworks

Marionette is a new Visual Dataflow Modelling tool for Vectorworks. It is the first and only cross-platform graphical scripting (or “visual programming”) environment available in a BIM authoring software for the AEC, Entertainment and Landscape industries. It enables a user with few or no programming knowledge and skills to create custom application algorithms to explore designs, build interactive objects and streamline complex workflows that may also include functions of the operating system and internet.

Vectorworks Marionette - Random Cube - YouTube

Vectorworks Marionette - Random Cube - YouTube

Viz • Basic Parametric Modeling For SketchUp

Viz adds parametric modeling capabilities to SketchUp. All your modeling history is retained, you won’t need to redo all the work anymore in case of any changes. Updating your complex model will turn out to be a matter of tweaking a few sliders.

Parametric terrain generation

Parametric terrain generation

Max Creation Graph (MCG) • A VDM Plugin For 3ds Max

The Max Creation Graph (MCG) feature uses a node-based editor to build graphs that produce 3ds Max commands and other functionality. It provides a wide variety of modules for use in graphs, tools for wiring them into graphs, and facilities for testing and packaging your graphs. Tools built with MCG are scripted plug-ins, just like any other. You can customize and extend a tool by adding MAXScript to its Custom UI property. This allows your MCG tool do anything that a scripted plug-in can do. You can share a tool that you created using MCG with other users as a single file and also easily install an MCG tool created and packaged by someone else.

3ds max 2016 - My First MCG Tool - YouTube

3ds max 2016 - My First MCG Tool - YouTube

Sverchok • Procedural Modelling Addon For Blender

Sverchok is a tool that allows you to generate parametric and procedural forms and geometry in Blender using nodes, without having to know any programming or scripting languages. It is however not a complete node-based redesign of Blender’s UI. It does not yet support node based particles, lighting etc. Sverchok is a bit like Houdini VOP. It is also similar to Softimage ICE, and a bit like Maya Point SOuP node. However, it is truly unique in itself allowing you to model quite advance abstract parametric design in a very intuitive visual kind of way.

Sverchok blender addon - YouTube

Sverchok blender addon - YouTube

Archimatix • Parametric Modelling Plugin For Unity

Archimatix is a powerful node-based parametric modeler extension for Unity. Archimatix’s purpose is to enable artists and game developers to quickly create rich, coherent worlds using intuitive “smart models” capable of generating hundreds of unique architectural forms and typologies from simple geometric primitives. Archimatix features a library of 2D & 3D ParametricObjects to make your modeling more efficient. You can choose an item from the library and it will be added to your project complete with interactive handles and inter-related parameters. You can alter these ParametricObjects by modifying their parameters, replacing materials, or using them as a starting point for a completely new ParametricObject.

Desert Spaceport in Archimatix on Vimeo

Desert Spaceport in Archimatix on Vimeo