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.



A Simple VR Game

puzzler test 2

As part of the Udacity VR developer Nanodegree program I am currently taking, we get to make games. For me, this is really exciting because I grew up playing video games and to be able to make one of my own is a real treat.

As beginners, we often take very small steps on the way to becoming an expert; this game is a prime example of one of those small steps. There is only one hurdle to overcome in the game but technically that’s all you need…right? Although the scale is small, there were quite a few steps to finish the game which provided a great balance of creativity, experimentation, frustration, and problem-solving. The main focus for this part of the course was on design. We created a Simon-says type game in a mysterious dungeon setting.

Initial Design Scheme

puzzler sketch

This sketch shows an idea to put the dungeon into a cave and have the Simon says game be on a wall that opens once you win. I had big ambitions at the beginning of the class. Once I realized that I would need to create all the prefabs for this model I decided to settle for the design elements provided by the course.

Defining the player

Before the design process could begin we needed to understand who will be playing our game. For this, we assign a motive and background to a prototypical character of our ideal audience.

Anthony, 24 – Software Engineer
Anthony is a software engineer who loves to play indie games because of their uniqueness and simple nature. He relates to simple games because he can better understand how they are built. Anthony isn’t sure he will like VR games so he wants to try something that is easy to pick up. 

Dungeon Design Iterations

For the course, we were provided a generic prefab for the dungeon which included the door, one floor tile, and a few wall & ceiling pieces. As a way to make my project unique, I created a clerestory in the dungeon. This adds a bit of drama to the scene while the player is in-game which is important when creating an engaging VR experience.

Final Model Close-up
High Ceiling.PNG

I wanted the dungeon to feel old and dim with a magical twist so I experimented with the lighting to try to find the ideal mood. Below is an example showing the before and after of the lighting for the fire torches (fire not yet present). In the top photo, the room is much too bright because the light at the torches has too much of a spread causing all the light to bleed together. The bottom image corrects this by making the lighting more local to the torches.

puzzler test 1
puzzler test 2

User Testing

During user testing of the build, the player noticed that the spacing of the orbs along with their position relative to the player did not feel good once in VR; so, these items were also adjusted for the bottom image. This is an example of why it is always good to constantly check your model in VR while in the design process.

After further user testing, additional ambiance was added to the game via color adjustments and flame particles.

Final Build

The final build features a start and restart screen, movement mechanics, ambient & responsive sounds and a game logic that asks the player to repeat the pattern created by the orbs lighting up.

Key takeaways include:

  • Test the model often in VR. Although it takes a bit of time to frequently build the app and test it on the device, this is helpful in preventing larger scale changes at the end of the project and ensures the project feels comfortable in the VR setting.
  • Design with the player in mind and user test often. When designing a game we need to establish who the audience is and then cater the design and user experience to them. Furthermore, we need to take into consideration differences that we may have with the user such as motion sensitivity in VR. User tests are a means to test your design to make sure it feels good to the player.
  • Design should be used as a tool to guide the player through the game. We can use elements like sound to provide feedback to the player which helps them understand how the game works. A negative tone plays in the game when the player guesses the wrong sequence which helps them understand they chose the wrong answer without having to explicitly tell them in text that is cumbersome to read in VR
Final Model

Overall, this was a fun project that focused on the design side of VR development.