Using Grasshopper to calculate the incline of curving ramps in Rhino

Friday 19th February § 42 Comments

If the title is completely baffling, then the rest of this post probably won’t mean much either. Rhino is my preferred NURBS based 3D software, and Grasshopper is a plugin that generates shapes using a logic built up using a flow chart type graph. I’ve been learning Grasshopper as part of my current project, and finding it really valuable in moderation. It can do things that

The way I like to think of Grasshopper as a box of tools that you can use in certain situations, and you can make your own sophisticated tool out of primitive building blocks. It’s nice to open a Grasshopper file, apply a transformation or calculate a geometry, and then get your results back into the familiar world of curves, lines and surfaces as soon as possible. It’s particularly good if your tool does something generic enough that it can be re-used again and again in different projects.

Anyone who know’s my work can verify that I use curves everywhere in my designs. It so ingrained into my designs that it feels unnatural when I constrain myself to straight lines. In my latest project (which I’ve been working on for over a year now!) I’ve been taking this to the extreme. There isn’t a straight path in the whole scheme. My response to the site also leads to a requirement for a series of changes in level. Exterior changes in levels and curving inevitably means curving ramps. If you’ve ever tried to do this accurately in Rhino you’ll know that this can be a real pain. I spent far too long starting out with a straight ramp curve and trying to Bend it into the shape that I wanted. Time I could have spent more productively elsewhere if only I’d spent the small upfront time to work this out earlier.

My simple Grasshopper definition takes a flat curve (planar in the z axis) and from it, generates a curve that will follow the same in plan, but in profile rises along the length of the input curve at an incline that you set.

First, download the Grasshopper definition ➞ Curving It should look something like this:


Once you’ve opened the file in Grasshopper you need to select the input curve:

Selecting the source curve

Adjust the ramp gradient as required:

Set the gradient

And then finally ‘Bake’ the resulting curve:

Bake the resulting curve

‘Baking’ is the way that you get your results out of Grasshopper. Think of it as a short way of saying: ‘Take a snapshot of this object as I see it now and translate it into standard Rhino objects of points, curves and surfaces’.


In this example the blue curve at the bottom is the source, and the purple curve is the result that’s been baked from Grasshopper, combined with a simple Sweep1 along the resulting baked curve to create a ramp that has a reasonably uniform incline.

For the true perfectionist (like me), you can apply the process to two curves, one offset from the other, and then do a Sweep2 between them. Doing it this way avoids the slight variance in incline when sweeping around a tight corner and is more perfectly uniform.

If the resulting ramp is facing the wrong way then you can flip the source curve using Rhino’s Flip command and it should then rise in the correct direction. Also, if your in architecture yourself, then be sure to check that the ramps length complies with the building regulations of your country.

Wheww, that’s quite a lot of words to describe something thats not hard to use. And this is supposed to be my non-geeky blog! I hope that a very specialist subset of you find this helpful. I also hope it’ll help people get over their fear of Grasshopper.. and of curves.

Curves are good. Embrace the curve!

Why I Hate Ecotect

Tuesday 10th February § 1 Comment

Why I hate Ecotect.jpg

A Windy Day

Friday 19th January § 2 Comments

After having done almost nothing for the last two weeks, I’ve
tried to compensate by two weeks worth of activities in the space of two days.

Yesterday was really spent on borrowed time, after having not slept that evening. About 5:30 in the morning I decided that I was going to write(code) a fullscreen image viewer, which is really useful for previewing images.

There was a fantastic open-lecture by the sudo-client (who’s name I promptly forgot) for the Performing Arts centre designed by Raphael Vinioli. It’s a really interesting project: two theatres, setup in such a way that either can make use of an extended central stage, or even to open up the whole space to include both spaces, the idea was that the workings of the stages would be revealed to the public. What was really interesting was hearing from a clients eye view on such a huge project. This guy was so pashionate about the project and the possibilities, this is Stage 1 of an idea he’s been pushing for 8 years now. Really crappy on the eco front, and 3 times over it’s initial budget, it’s still quite brilliant architecture. (Apparently, being environmentally friendly costs approximately 5% extra)

Today was a bit slow to start. Missed the last of the moisture ingress laboratories because I slept in. Spent 2 hours messing about in Sketchup. For our first model we’ll be copying Mies Van De Rohe’s iconic Barcelona Pavilion, originally designed in 1929 (The current pavilion is a 1970’s replica, because the original got carefully dismantled, but then they lost. They lost a whole building in the post!). The roof of the CAD-lab was groaning ominously in the storm-force winds. The courtyard of our building was roped off because but’s of the Fletcher building where falling off.

Then Rose, Chris and I went house shopping ‘round lunchtime but discounted that property because it didn’t have a double bed. But later saw a house at 5 and came out and within half an hour we’d each withdrawn a £250 deposit so hopefully that will go through in the morning – in my absence. It couldn’t be closer to the campus.

In between the house hunting I sketched a small doodle that I instantly saw in 3D. No inspirations, no process. Miraculous conception.

It’s more like walk through sculpture than true ‘architecture’. Blurry lines I know. General themes that I was pondering at the time: wind 🙂 waves, texture and puzzling about what makes an idea worthy of scaling up into an all out concept. How do you chose what to develop? Why? How should that choice be made? But in the end this idea turned up out of nowhere, complete, and perfectly formed and so I’m just going to go along with it. It’s not as if I can forget this idea, so I’m stuck with it, no matter how hard its going to be to draw/model/construct. Anyway, next Wednesday shoud see inductions into the Metal Working workshops which will be brill.

Then there was climbing (glowing tinglyness throughout), followed by a brief spell in another pub, but I left before the pub quiz got started because my head aches.

Apparently the ‘place to be’ for live music in Leicester is a tiny pub called The Twisted Toucan, with open mic sessions with talented people and live Reggae and cool stuff like that.

Right now I’m enjoying flipping between ‘The Trial Of Tony Blair’ and the realities of Newsnight. Fiction and reality merging. There are moments when it’s . Switch from a fake Gordon Brown patronising likqwl kiddies in a classroom to the real Gordon, being even more patronising to a group of kids on the starting block of a school race, cut to him chewing the cud (in reality). Meaningful TV.

Oh, and tomorrow I’m going to gawp at the glossy glass losenge starchitecture of Manchester as part of the Uni. 10 buildings within the course of the day.

And for those in the loop, I think I’ve lost my mobile phone.

One huge plus-side, in my rather manic search for my mobile, I happened to look behind my bedside cupboard where I discovered my tiny Fuji digital camera that I thought I’d lost about 2 months ago. In the mean time, believing that the Fuji was well and truly vanished I treated myself to a fantastic Pentax digital SLR. Techno-gluton that I am, I’m tempted to keep them both. Photos will be forthcoming.
If I mention that Irn-Bru is a godly drink which would be ideal accompanied by a shot(glass) of lemon(juice) then I’ve manged to tick off all of those pesky category thingies down the side in the one post.

Love to all & noswaith da.

AIA Podcasts

Thursday 27th July § Leave a comment

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has started up a podcast entitled ‘Architecture Knowledge Review‘. It features interviews with AIA insiders which give off a slight feeling that their just using the podcast to preach their brand of propaganda, but that’s fair enough.

I’d highlight the interview with Antoine Predock, recipient of this years AIA Gold Medal for lifetimes contribution to architecture, in which he explains his approach towards the process of creation. Here’s an abridged extract from his answer to the question: “As someone who’s been recognized for a lifetime contribution to architecture, what have you learned in your career that would be of value to an emerging architect?”

“Decide whether this is your life or not, first of all, and if it isn’t get the hell out of there. And once you know, once you’ve established that and you believe every action should come from that belief system. It’s my religion.”

New Camera

Tuesday 25th July § Leave a comment

Yesterday my new camera finally arrived, a whole month after it was ordered. It’s a Fuji F11. Silver/gray, compact and solid. It replaces a 5 year old Olympus which has served me well, but it’s looking a bit bulky and bits have started to fall off.

Equally exiting are the new possibilities created by the underwater housing that I got with it (that’s why it took so long to arrive). The housing is going to be essential for the Gwesyn project, but I fear that I may get too attached to sell it on afterwards. As a first test run, I’m going to go for a swim with my new camera this afternoon.

Underwater Housing

An Introduction To Architectural Podcasts

Tuesday 6th June § Leave a comment


I've been experimenting with podcasting. The range of architecture podcasts aren't all that great. I keep finding things on microsoft software architecture. Can you imagine anything worse? Of the feeds that aren't spawned from the depths of hell, there are two or three names the keep floating out of the ether.

Kevin Shellenbach is a Chicago based architect who brings up some interesting issues on his Architecture Talk podcast. Nice variety of topics. Wanders a bit maybe, but brings up issues I wouldn't have thought of myself. The discussions can get a bit 'academic', particularly in the episode on abstraction which I'd nevertheless recommend for any prospective students (like me) in which another architect called Gary Moad explains his post-grad thesis.

I've only just discovered the Architecture Radio site, but it seems like a really brilliant resource. I'd suggest the lecture by Toshiko Mori. The Architecture Radio site also hosts some video's which I haven't explored yet, but I'm sure that being able to see the slides that they were using in the presentations would be a great help.

Another podcast that I've just started listening to is published by the The School of Architecture and Allied Arts at the University Of Oregon which present a series of lectures by visiting artists and architects.

So far I haven't been able to find anything originating from outside of the US. This technology would seem perfectly suited to the format of lectures. Particularly as they are in a setting where it's likely that the necessary hardware is already in place, so hopefully architecture podcasting is something that will grow with time.

I did try the KCRW Architecture & Design podcast, but it's was awful. The presenter and the whole style just sucked. The only good thing about the broadcast was an interview with Jodie Foster (yes, the sexy film star) who is obviously really engaged in architecture.

In the interview she rated the Loyola University Law School's 'Chapel Of The Advocate' by Frank Gehry as her favourite LA building. Her talk really showed up how clumsy the presenter was, as she dissected her reasons for liking the very down-to-earth building. She praised it's use of exposed plywood and simple 2 by 4 construction which had stained and grayed with age. I can empathise completely with her description of the spirituality of the space, despite being an atheist herself. I like these superstar architecture buff's (i.e Brad Pitt). They give architecture a good name, and at the same time appear a little less like money making machines.

I Dream Of Architecture

Thursday 23rd March § Leave a comment

Last night I dreamt about architecture. Organic buildings full of texture and light and I was just walking through the spaces feeling totally relaxed. I'm really interested in the way dreams work, and today I noticed for the first time that I don't have any peripheral vision when I dream. I guess that this is normal, only focusing on the details that seem important to you, but it's a strange thing to analyze.

At Brookes there is a lazer-cutter which will cut thin sheets of wood plastic or even aluminium according to a 3D model. Which means that you can create a contoured model out of your computer designs. In De Montfort they have something even more advanced which builds up a model by depositing a resin and building up a fantastically detailed model which is a prefect mirror of the computer model that you chose to build (Woo, wouldn't It be great to have a massive great big one of thee machines that could actually build a building using this technique). But I like the ideal os something that works in reverse. Something that you sculpt and which then outputs a computer model. Imagine thousands of tiny ball bearings in a tray with a high powered electro-magnet for it's base. In theory you could mould the ball bearings into whatever shape you liked as long as the magnetizm held. All of the iron ball bearings would then have to broadcast their position somehow, either by miniturized wireless technology, or by sending tiny electronic signals through the structure, and with a little dollop of computer magic, your sculpture has been replicated inside the computer.

…Or maybe if you wore a pair of gloves full of sensors you could model the physical properties of the iron pellets as you moulded them, creating a digital double(which could record in real time, wow, you could see a video of your model coming to life) of the stack of iron ball bearings that had been formed by all the same movements as the real model in front of you. Simple. The really hard part would be reversing the process so that you could reconstitute the real world model from a saved digital file…

It's nice to dream.

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