Seeing the Possibilities: Integrated Workflows of Algorithmic Modeling and Real-Time Rendering

The integration of algorithmic modeling and real-time rendering opens the door to innovative ways of creating, visualizing, and evaluating design choices in Unity Reflect 

The pace and complexity of today’s building industry requires making increasingly difficult decisions faster than ever, putting pressure on the traditional design iteration method at its weakest point – efficiency. When incorporating design feedback requires the repeated production and reproduction of paper drawings, 3D digital models, and renderings output from those models, all created in separate siloed programs, the solution is often to make the pool of design options shallower to remain on schedule. We end up choosing what works alright instead of discovering what works better. At VIATechnik, we believe we should do the opposite. As designers and engineers, we have a responsibility to pursue as many design iterations as possible to deliver the best product to our clients. We have developed integrated workflows between parametric modeling software (Grasshopper and Rhino 3D) and real-time rendering engines (Unity Reflect) to allow enormous numbers of design iterations to be created, visualized, and evaluated in real-time across platforms. With connected devices like VR headsets, clients can more easily evaluate these options as they will appear in the finished building, assuring greater consensus across project stakeholders. 

The Power of Parametric Modeling

Design iteration is a call-and-response between goals and solutions, between “we need this” and “what about this?” This is traditionally done on paper, in CAD, or a 3D modeling program. Options are created, tested, adapted, or rejected based on how well they achieve our goals. This process is inherently slow – each change must be re-drawn, re-modeled, and re-visualized as individual steps. Even with a team member on each step working in tandem, they must complete the option before moving to the next one. Working on more than one option at a time means exponential increases in manpower and the associated loss of efficiency with managing a large team. 

(Creating iterations using Grasshopper + Rhino Workflow)

Parametric modeling through plugins like Grasshopper enables rapid real-time iteration of design options through user-generated algorithms. These algorithms are like a digital “team” large enough to test every option at the same time. Grasshopper requires no prior programming knowledge, instead relying on graphic representations of commands (array, divide, loft, etc.) and programming constructs (if-then, list, data trees, etc.) that can be assembled into a visual algorithm. The modules can be further customized with scripting languages like C# and Python. By adjusting a series of input parameters or referenced Rhino geometry, the user can instantly visualize a vast array of design options. Certain portions of this process can be automated or even programmed to “genetically” self-select based on best-fit criteria. Days-long design changes can now be achieved in a matter of seconds, freeing time and resources for other issues. Moreover, the sheer number of options possible through parametric modeling means we can discover new ways of tackling problems that traditional processes move too slow to see. 

Real-Time Rendering

Lots of design options are great, but we must also be able to see how they will appear in the final product. This is usually accomplished by modeling an idea, assigning materials, adjusting finicky environmental parameters, and waiting for a rendering to output. Today, real-time rendering engines like Unity Reflect allow the designer to view a photorealistic representation of the model without leaving the design software. These tools create a live-link to the respective modeling software – Revit, SketchUp or Rhino. Changes are automatically synchronized, eliminating the need to re-export models or even change windows. In this example, we use Reflect to achieve the complex work of preparing, federating, and transferring 3D model data behind the scenes. It does not require complex programming skills, and solves interoperability challenges that exist between 3D modeling softwares.  This means design feedback comes immediately, not days or weeks from the presentation. 

(Live-Linking the model from Rhino to Unity Reflect Workflow)

An enhanced workflow of using Rhino+Grasshopper with Reflect will optimize existing workflows and create new possibilities for real-time design exploration.  Designers using a live-linked model between Rhino and Reflect can get instant feedback from clients, make changes in the model and visualize them in real-time.  Design iteration can now become highly collaborative, even conversational: live-linking allows stakeholders to share ideas freely and discuss them through a shared visual platform. Design feedback is often hard to parse; Reflect provides a shared visual language that is easy to use, irrespective of technical know-how. The software also live-syncs to the cloud, making the rendered model viewable through virtual reality headsets, smartphones, personal computers and game consoles.  

(Visualizing Rhino geometry in Unity Reflect)

Future Possibilities

How quickly a building design moves forward comes down to how quickly we can make the right decisions. As the construction industry demands more complex buildings on tighter timelines, it is more important than ever that we develop workflows that not only help us efficiently pursue every possible design solution but also help us visualize those options as they will be built. Parametric modeling and real-time rendering allow us to do these things better, faster, and smarter, leading to a superior end product for our clients. An integrated workflow of Grasshopper, Rhino, and Reflect is a significant step forward in optimizing the traditional design iteration workflow, and as these technologies improve, we will see more innovation in the way we generate and evaluate design. 

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