An Architect Learning to Program

Learning how to program teaches you how to think logically the same way that practicing architecture teaches you how to think spatially. It teaches how to approach large problems and break them down into small manageable pieces which is a skill that any profession can benefit from.

Programming parallels architecture in the sense that simplicity is best, less is more & creativity is key.

There are many reasons one should learn to program as an architect, including:

  • enhanced use of computational design programs like Grasshopper, Rhino, and Dynamo through the use of scripting
  • creation of plug-ins & macros for Revit and other BIM / Modeling programs
  • writing animation and other scripts for virtual reality in programs like unity
  • learning data visualization in order to visually explain metrics that back up the design

I have been passively learning to program for about 2 years now and although I am still not comfortably able to do most of the items above, I am getting better with each exercise and I find that often I can translate knowledge from one program to the next.

Below is a quick look at the progression of steps I’ve taken on my journey:

Learning to use parameters (Revit, Grasshopper)

I wouldn’t really call this programming but it gave me exposure to the concept of providing the computer with instructions and seeing a malleable result. This completely revolutionized the way I work. All of a sudden I’m able to create something that’s computationally precise, specifically what the client needs, and flexible for experimentation and design. This is the power of BIM (Building Information Modeling). I still remember the first parametric model I made, a parametric louver family in Revit. I was captivated by the idea the computer would automatically update the changes based on variables I had set up in real time. I could experiment with the size of the louvers, the spacing, the quantity, the material, and the shape in a non-destructive manner, meaning I could go back and forth between options just by typing in different numbers. My mind was truly blown.

Codeacademy – HTML & CSS

I went through a few other ‘start to code’ websites but this was the most effective and it kept my attention long enough for me to finish it. Again, I wouldn’t call HTML or CSS programming but it explained the way that you talk to the computer in order to get output. For example, creating a reusable template of text styles like size, bold headings, italicized quotes that I could apply holistically to a document without having to select each one and change its properties individually anytime I wanted to make a change. Additionally, I learned about text editors and what writing code is in general.


Although the markup language was a good stepping stone to learn, I was more interested in learning about functions and variables so I could start to program inside of the modeling software. Python was recommended to me as a simple language to learn and one that worked with Rhino. I found a fantastic online course through that taught the fundamentals of the language and programming in general. By the end of the class, I was able to program simple games and tools with ease.

In addition to the beginner class, I also took a course on Python for Data Science which really opened my eyes to how the computer actually translates code into vectors and shapes. This made grasshopper much easier to comprehend.


Once I learned python it was much easier to make sense of C#. By no means am I an expert at either of them; frankly, I’m still very much a beginner, but I can confidently say that I know how to program. I began to learn C# while taking an online class about Virtual Reality Development using Unity from Udacity. I have primarily used the language to program animations in unity but am excited about learning to use c# with Grasshopper and other software.

Scripting in Grasshopper

The Designalyze blog has a quick and easy intro to C# scripting tutorial set that gave me the basics of how to write simple scripts in grasshopper. If you have exposure to programming and C# this will be a breeze; if not, it may seem a bit confusing but immediate visuals help to clearly show what the code is doing. The nice thing about scripting in grasshopper is that there is a text editor directly into the C# component so if you’re new to programming you don’t have to mess around with figuring out which text editor is best and how to run that code.

At this point, I have the basic tools and knowledge to embark on those ambitious goals I mentioned previously. It’s just a matter of starting.



Tips on Getting Started with Grasshopper for Rhino

Tips grasshoper rhino

Grasshopper can be a very intimidating software to learn. The tool requires you to look at architecture as geometry and physics rather than as strictly form. This can be challenging because it requires a different mindset; however, if you can get past this hurdle, the tool can be extremely powerful. With Grasshopper, we can iterate infinite possibilities of our designs and strategies in a non-destructive way.

When I was first getting started with grasshopper I recognized all of this possibility but had no idea where to start and was turned off by the complexity every time I opened up the program and tried to learn. Eventually, I gave myself a project to do and committed to somehow bringing grasshopper into the process. Over time, I became more comfortable with the program but I definitely learned some lessons along the way.

There are a ton of resources online, use them.

The only way you’re going to learn is by doing so I recommend either finding a project to do like a design competition or craft object; or, by finding some tutorials online to run through for practice. In addition to the official tutorials, Youtube is a great resource for videos but there are also lots of great learning websites with more robust plans. Below are a few that I have tried and liked.

When starting do not try to create everything in grasshopper

Use rhino with grasshopper to simplify the process when just beginning to learn. Some actions are more difficult and less efficient to do in grasshopper.

  • example : creating a unique curve shape to use in a pattern. Sometimes with complex curves, it is easier to create them in rhino and then manipulate them in grasshopper. This can also be said for curves that will create a lofted surface. The benefit of this is that you can freely edit the shape of the curves in Rhino without having to come up with a mathematical solution for reshaping the curves.

Say what you’re trying to do out loud if you get lost

With Grasshopper, you need to really understand what you’re components are doing because you are working on a more granular scale than with other modeling software. For this reason, it is easy to get lost along the way and by saying out loud exactly what you are trying to accomplish step by step it will be easier to locate the correct component. If you’re not much for talking to yourself then making a list or mind map will suffice.

  • example: you want to array a curve (shaped line) along a surface at various points. When modeling you can simply draw the curves (lines) on the surface wherever you’d like and be done with it. This is easy but limiting. Say you don’t know how many instances of the curve you want on the surface, or you’re not sure what the curve shape is yet. This is where grasshopper comes in; however, to do so you have to understand all the steps to
    1. draw the curve
    2. create a grid on the surface
    3. move the curve to the surface grid points using a translation vector
    4. orient the curve to lie flat on the surface using planes or other methods

Catalog your scripts into an organized library so they can be reused when needed

Often we are using the same definitions to do many different projects. When first learning grasshopper you will most likely be doing small tutorials that teach you how to accomplish a specific goal. When doing so it is good practice to save the definition into a folder with an associated image so that you can come back to it later and recognize what the definition is doing for when you want to reuse it in another project. In doing this you will soon have a library of basic definitions that you can reuse over and over again to make future projects much quicker.

Surround yourself with inspiration and motivation to make you think about practicing as often as possible

A few ways to do this are:

  • Find online resources that you like and bookmark the page so you see it in your bookmarks bar regularly
  • add the site as an additional homepage to open everytime you open up the internet. Next time you aimlessly open the browser the blog will be present and you’ll be more inclined to check up on what the latest is if you’re looking for somewhere to start.
  • subscribe to the channel on youtube
  • my favorite, change the background on your desktop to something related to the goal so everytime you sit down at the computer you think about working on something or getting to a certain point.