hopific logo blue

The Best Software for Architectural Design – An Insider Guide

Best software for Architectural Design Featured Image
Quick links

Ever found yourself adrift in the expansive sea of architectural design software, pondering which one will elevate your creations? You’re on the right path: digital design tools serve as the critical bridge between your innovative concepts and revolutionary architectural designs. In this article, I’ll share experiences from my design architect journey at Snøhetta, revealing the processes and software that pave the way to exceptional architectural designs.

Let’s dive in!

The Pivotal Conceptual Stage

The architectural design process is so complex that no single software can guide a project from its nascent stages to construction. Different design stages necessitate varied approaches and, thus, different tools. The defining moments of architectural design lie in a project’s early phases: inception, conceptualization, concept design, and design development. Let’s explore the tools utilized in each stage!

Great architectural designs pivot around a robust architectural concept – it’s the heartbeat of design and sets the stage for formal expression. It’s the subtle “aha” moment that clicks with people, assuring them it’s the right fit for the site and program.

The conceptual stage of architectural design isn’t software-dependent. Superior ideas sprout from thorough research, inspiration, critical thinking, and most importantly, vibrant discussion. World-leading architecture practices design in teams not just to accomplish more but to ignite fruitful discussions, brainstorming, and ideation. When a few skilled designers talk over a design brief, good ideas come up and get sorted fast, leading to strong architectural concepts in sometimes just a few days.

The optimum tool for this ideation phase? A room, pen, and paper – first ideas often flourish without software!

Early Design and Modelling Stage

Once the design direction is set, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive into 3D modelling. Selecting the right design software is crucial here.

The early design stage is not about drawing walls or staircases; it’s about transforming the concept into a tangible mass and the initial architectural articulation. You need software that seamlessly transitions from freehand sketching, allowing designers to sketch uninhibitedly in 3D!

There are lots of 3D CAD software options, but are they significantly different? Yes, absolutely!

Rhinoceros 3D (Rhino) leads the pack at this design stage for a few key reasons. Firstly, it’s a “pure” modelling program, focusing exclusively on modelling without prematurely nudging you towards the next design phase, unlike Revit or ArchiCad. Secondly, Rhino doesn’t restrict your design shapes and can handle everything from rectangular forms to complex curved surfaces, thanks to its potent NURBS modelling technology. Finally, NURBS technology allows modelling with high precision.

Many leading architectural studios prioritize designers proficient in Rhino. Just see for yourself!

Job requirements by some of the world's leading architecture firms

Detailed Design Phase

Upon establishing the massing and the building’s general form, it’s time to delve deeper into defining both the interior and, arguably more crucially, the exterior – the facade. To assure that facades are innovative, it’s vital to design uninhibitedly, beyond the standardized limitations of industry-led sizes and standards. The best designs are creativity-led, challenging the construction industry to find appropriate solutions, which they often excel at due to a superior understanding of practicality and feasibility.

For this more detailed design phase, Grasshopper for Rhino is paramount. Grasshopper is a parametric design tool embedded in Rhino that enables designers to utilize Rhino’s powerful core modelling approach, and combines it with the power of parametric design. By connecting nodes, designers are able to create models that can be instantaneously updated, modified, and controlled. With Grasshopper, different design parameters like the depth of louvers or their rotation can be tweaked and adjusted with simple number sliders, enabling designers to fine-tune designs quickly. It empowers designers to create sophisticated architectural effects like subtle gradients, gradually transforming facade elements, and complex curved facades.

While potent, Grasshopper isn’t for everyone. It demands knowledge about geometry, basic programming concepts, and the ability to think in algorithms. Although it might appear intimidating initially, with the right guidance and a structured learning path, proficiency is within reach. Our Grasshopper course, meticulously crafted to align with real-world architectural design challenges and workflows, guides you not only through functionalities but also strategic implementation in various design phases.

Interoperability with BIM Solutions

Once your design is set and its feasibility confirmed by engineers and consultants, it’s time to transition from design mode into documentation mode. This is where Building Information Modeling (BIM) software like Revit and ArchiCad shine.

Most BIM software recognizes Rhino as a favored design tool for architectural designers and has enhanced interoperability and data transfer between Rhino models and their own BIM solutions. This ensures you retain the design freedom and flexibility afforded by Rhino and Grasshopper while rapidly adding all the requisite technical detail by transferring the model into BIM software.

Revit’s Grasshopper plugin, Rhino Inside Revit, and ArchiCad’s own Grasshopper plugin facilitate seamless geometry transfer between Rhino and their respective software, melding the power of Revit objects with Grasshopper’s parametric control. These plugins create a live-connection between the two applications and allow to generate BIM objects from within Grasshopper.

Final thoughts

The architectural design journey, from an ephemeral concept to a tangible, innovative structure, demands not only creativity but also the strategic application of powerful design tools. Rhino and Grasshopper emerge as an unparalleled duo in this regard, providing architects with the freedom, precision, and control necessary for bringing visionary designs into the world.

For architects interested in elevating their designs, delving deeper into Rhino and Grasshopper could be the start of a game-changing transformation. Our Grasshopper course is designed to help in your transformation – it’s a straight-up guide, built from real architectural challenges, that shows you how to smartly use the tool in your designs, offering a hands-on, no-nonsense learning experience.

Happy designing!

Like this article?
Share on LinkedIn
Thomas Tait
Thomas Tait
Lead Designer at Snøhetta and Head Instructor @ Hopific (or, in plain English, I help designers use Grasshopper to supercharge their designs.

Transform Your Designs with Grasshopper

Join a Community of 500+ Architects Who’ve Elevated Their Craft with Our Expert-Led Course.