June 18, 2007
Free Form Architectural with Rhino
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Free Form Architectural with Rhino

by Susan Smith

click to enlarge [

Images courtesy of
Corus Building Systems
using Kalzip cladding system
McNeel & Associates introduced its Rhinoceros manufacturing 3D surface modeling technology many years ago, yet in May held an international gathering about the future of architecture at the Delft Technical University Faculty of Architecture in Delft, the Netherlands.

Founder Bob McNeel said that many architects have been using the product to create sculptural buildings with complex forms. In fact, back when they shipped the first product, the first person who called in with an order was somebody in Frank Gehry’s office with Frank’s credit card number.

“I think we noticed it (architecture) on the radar about a two-three years ago, as so many architects starting using it,” said McNeel. “We had some special cases, like the guys who do the geometry work on the Sagrada Familia, for example. They were one of the very early adopters. We’ve been working with them for ten years or so.”

There’s not another one of those buildings around, McNeel noted, adding, “This isn’t a market space you spend a lot of time thinking about.”

Images courtesy of
Corus Building Systems
using Kalzip cladding system

However, it was at around that time that larger architecture firms began to ask McNeel to help with various challenges on projects. Scott Davidson, marketing manager added that “once the build out became popular and famous, we’re finding a lot more clients willing to pay for these types of buildings.”

Coming from the manufacturing and engineering perspective, Rhino naturally leans toward manufacturing in that it creates, analyzes, translates NURBs curves, surfaces and solids in Windows of any complexity or size. Most architectural products come from the 2D drawing and rendering perspective, according to McNeel. Traditionally 2D software vendors offering 3D architectural modeling software grapple with the issue of “moving” architects to 3D. Architects still have the issue of getting accustomed to modeling in 3D with Rhino, however, the information they gather in the modeling process can be used by the fabricator and others throughout the building process.

In spite of the growing interest in Rhino for architecture, the product has not really changed to suit architects. “We came into this space supporting the marine industry originally. What’s been most intriguing is when you get into those shapes that the architects want to build, they’re very similar to the problems we had to solve for the marine industry. In fact, many of the contractors now are the same people, for example, the guys cutting the steel for the structural stuff are also the guys cutting the material for the boatyards in the marine space.”

“We’ve added macros and some features on, but they were not so focused on architecture, for example, flattening surfaces. When you get into these wild shapes these things are cut out in pieces that are flat, and you have to build all the paneling for that. We’ve written core technology that was needed for the marine industry for that, and it has made it possible for architects to skin buildings as well.”

Rhino may be viewed as a modeling or conceptual design product, yet it is used across the process all the way through manufacturing and out on the shop floor. The modeler is very precise and can handle very complex shapes and forms.

According to Davidson, the Rhino process looks an “awful lot like BIM when it gets finished.”

“You start with a design, you break it down into componentry, which all gets tagged, numbered and staged,” added McNeel. “They track it all the way through the process of cutting out the parts and staging them on the job site, and assembling them depending on what types of materials are being used, where they’re actually fabricated. Large components have to be trucked in and in other cases they have parts and pieces they have to track.”

“There are a lot fewer 2D drawings because the parts are coming out and being assembled all together,” Davidson pointed out, adding that you can’t describe these buildings with enough 2D drawings so that anyone can actually build them. The 3D data set travels all the way through the process all the way out to the field.

Building buildings like the Sagrada Familia relies largely on componentry, but each piece is unique. “Yes, there are some panels that repeat themselves or some parts that repeat themselves, but they aren’t tied together in the same way as you think of a normal mechanical model ,” said McNeel. “The way they’re fabricated is almost like they’re custom pieces, so a lot of the form work is cut out by an CNC machine or in the case of marble, they are cut out by plasma or water jet cutters.”

Rhino reads and writes many different file formats, and publishes their own file formats as well as the libraries to read and write them. This makes it possible for a lot of software to just read and write Rhino files directly.

“We can reference in a lot of different files like AutoCAD drawings and DGN files, etc. into the Rhino model space without having to convert them, so there isn’t any reason for a user to go through a big conversion process, plus the files become part of the space they’re working in,” said Davidson.

In the past two years, McNeel said they have seen an “explosion” of architectural projects come online. Three years ago, the AIA began with gathering three or four firms to show off what they were doing with free form architecture, and since then other groups have formed to demonstrate what they could do. “We had no idea what people were using the software for, it was mind boggling.”

Rhino 4.0 is currently shipping.


Trimble and privately-held Locata Corporation of Canberra, Australia announced that they have signed a development and distribution agreement for the integration of Locata technology with Trimble products for the construction market. Trimble and Locata will cooperate to develop an integrated Global Positioning System (GPS)-Locata receiver specifically designed for applications in the heavy and highway construction market and the building construction market. Under the terms of the agreement, Trimble will have worldwide rights to use Locata's new terrestrial positioning technology to integrate and manufacture products for these defined markets.


Bentley Systems, Incorporated announced that BE Conference 2007, which took place 29 April-3 May at the Los Angeles Convention Center in California, and BE Conference Europe, being held this week in the Hilton London Metropole, attracted a combined total of more than 3000 attendees. Moreover, though attendee evaluations have yet to be tallied for BE Conference Europe, BE Conference 2007 maintained the 99 percent attendee satisfaction rating achieved at the 2004, 2005, and 2006 BE Conferences.

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