Everything You Need to Know About Parametric Modelling:A Comprehensive Guide

In the past few decades, computation-based approaches have emerged for 3D modelling and are becoming increasingly popular. Design professionals, including architects, have begun adopting these approaches to explore even more complex design ideas. Hence, the field of computational design emerged. A term commonly used interchangeably with computational design is Parametric Design and Parametric Modelling is what enables it. This comprehensive guide will take you through everything you need to know about parametric modelling.

1. What is Parametric Modelling?

Parametric modelling is a 3D modelling technique that uses a computational methodology to manipulate geometry. It happens algorithmically using parameters which are geometric properties of a design model. The parametric modelling technique puts the identity of the design in the malleable properties rather than a determined shape.

With the advance in technology, we can now assemble programmes and features graphically using visual programming. There are numerous parametric modelling software which allow architects to form their language of architecture without needing knowledge of programming languages, even to design sweeping curvilinear profiles and forms in their building style. Such characteristics make these types of buildings stand out and look futuristic.

What is Parametricism?

Patrik Schumacher, the man behind the term, explained ‘parametricism’, or Parametric design, as a design methodology using parametric modelling and programming that treat the geometric properties as malleable variables.

Parametricism, as a contemporary style, is advancing vigorously its design agenda based on this parametric design approach.

The identity of parametric design lies in the object’s attributes rather than its momentary determinate shape. Schumacher also stated in his chapter in the book ‘The Routledge Companion for Architecture Design and Practice: Established and Emerging Trends’ (2014) that parametric design can be, in fact, applied to any architectural design, independent of any adhering style.

We can define parametric design by

● Complexity and variety, rejecting the idea of homogenous utilitarianism.

● A shift towards a computerized, algorithmic design approach.

It is the architecture of the 21st century. It has become a way of encoding knowledge and intent into the design which makes it more reliable, adaptable, and affordable.

Parametric Design & Parametric Modelling

In short, Parametric Modelling is a modelling technique using programming languages, while Parametric Design is a design style derived from such modelling technique. We cannot say a design is parametric unless it is generated from the manipulation of parameters, usually geometrical, using algorithms with no direct control of the geometry in a model.

Parametric modelling, as a computational approach, defines a set boundary, or parameters, to achieve the optimised design output instead of simply drawing lines and shapes. As architects and designers who rely heavily on visual approaches, parametric modelling helps us visualise the end design and the steps to achieving it.

How do you think the magnificent and unreal works of Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry were designed? Well, it's not magic, but simple code!

2. Computational vs Parametric vs Generative Design

Computational design is a methodology conceived by mathematical and functional step-by-step sequence, made in software like Dynamo, Grasshopper, C# etc. By defining the interrelated parameters, we can design the scheme, form and envelope using computational design. Parametric design and generative design are considered subsets of computational design.

Parametric design is where we play with the parameters set up in the computational script to construct a desirable outcome. These scripts are displayed in our usual 3D modelling software using plugins to review the 3D output and further manual modelling.

Generative design is a relatively newer concept. Considered an extension of parametric modelling, the computational approach is as complex as generating all possible parametric model iterations.

Need a more in-depth understanding of the three terms? Read our blog on Computational vs Parametric vs Generative Design: Similarities and Differences.

3. How Does Parametric Modelling Work?

In any computational design tool, including parametric design and modelling, the process of creation involves computational strategies in the form of programming languages to solve design issues. In parametric modelling, the process is as important as the final product. It works in a series of logical step-by-step sequences. As such, it is different from the 3D modelling we are familiar with (direct modelling) which involves the direct push-and-pull method to the geometry.

Nowadays, we do not need the knowledge of programming languages as most parametric modelling interfaces rely on visual programming. Instead of text codes, we agglomerate any elements or programmes graphically, with inputs written on nodes and connected to the next node.

One node can be both the input and the output as it gets connected to other nodes. It can be connected to more than one node, allowing the sequence to branch out. What is certain is that all these nodes form a graph or a sequence - a result of multiple connections. The output is the virtual representation of all these input nodes.

4. Parametric Modelling vs Direct Modelling

Parametric and direct (or non-parametric) modellings are different techniques used by architects and designers to create 3D models. And they are constantly vying to be the favourite of designers.

Parametric Modelling

● The modelling process involves algorithms as a programming script.

● It’s called parametric for the use of parameters - the attributes of an element defining the relationship between different model components.

● The parametric modelling can happen with both text-based and visual scripts forming a sequence of inputs and outputs. In visual programming, these are depicted as nodes which form a sequential graphic command.

● To understand and utilise parametric modelling, we should first understand algorithmic thinking, a methodological approach presenting logical systematic steps to solve issues and automate processes.

Lacking the right design pedagogy, many professionals are finding computational design difficult. Read how architects can succeed with algorithmic thinking and crack computational design techniques.

Direct Modelling

● This is the more traditional approach we all are familiar with, without having any algorithms or constraints involved.

● It is also referred to as history-free modelling or regular 3D modelling.

● We create and modify the model by manipulating the geometry directly. The main techniques are simple - push and pull a corner, a surface or an edge.

● Examples of direct 3D modelling software include Sketchup and Revit.

To get an in-depth insight into how different they are, read - Parametric vs Direct Modelling.

5. Benefits & Limitations of Parametric Modelling

Fundamentally, architects and designers are familiar with modelling tools like Sketchup and Rhino 3D to materialize their ideas. The software refines a design idea from a conceptual stage to the presentation. Multiple AEC and non-AEC fields use such software to enhance a simple idea to the desired output. Depending on the use, there are both benefits and limitations to parametric modelling.


Parametric modelling is one of the trendy digital practices with many firms looking to hire those with parametric or computational modelling knowledge. Some of the benefits of parametric modelling are as follows:

Complex Geometries - We can only start with the most obvious - creating complex geometries and forms. It makes design ideation and iterations easy just by changing parameters. Such technology has allowed us to study nature, its forms and processes closely - from structure and layout to concepts and composition. Parametric modelling aids the process of biomimicry immensely. The organic forms, as inspired by nature, give less homogeneity in design. Moreover, since architects can now generate multiple design options based on desired parameters, it also becomes easier to achieve the optimised design.

Accuracy With Speed - Any design iteration can happen at a faster rate as we only need to change very little - a change in a parameter will automatically update the associated parameters - instead of changing every parameter or geometry individually. Minimal in human input, such a technique also reduces human errors while maximizing the design solutions.

Manufacturing - Parametric modelling supplements digital fabrication systems with stable integrations and diverse designs for manufacturing. The accurate design model means the production time decreases while producing even the most complex products.


Steep Learning Curve - Using parametric modelling requires a complete upskilling since the approach is drastically different from direct modelling, which most architects and designers are familiar with. Parametric modelling takes a mathematical systematical approach to 3D modelling - hence the complexity.

Limited Flexibility - Parametric modelling approach utilises parameters or algorithms to create the model. To change a geometry, a parameter needs to be changed instead of modifying the geometry directly. It should also be noted that a modification to a parameter can automatically alter the adjacent parameters so the change in the model can be larger than expected.

The above list isn’t exhaustive. The virtues of parametric modelling keep evolving with the advance in technology and may give rise to a different set of limitations altogether.

Wish to find out more? Read - Benefits and Limitations of Parametric Modelling.

6. Application of Parametric Modelling in the Design Industry

Now that we have seen the benefits and drawbacks of parametric modelling, let us move on to its use in the industry. Parametric modelling has been used extensively in both AEC and non-AEC fields, projects ranging from architectural and structural design to fashion.


It is only right to begin with Architecture where we have seen the wonders of parametric design and modelling. Parametric modelling has given architects the power to explore unprecedented forms, at the same time, creating various design options to find the most responsive and optimised design.

Furniture and Product Design

Similar to architecture, the advantage of having multiple design options is also making waves in the furniture and product design fields. Designers are able to come up with products that are both ergonomic and aesthetic within a short span of time. Tweaking just a few parameters accelerates the modelling process that would be complex and slow in conventional methods.

Structural Design

Structure is the most important part of a building, to support the loads and keep the building from collapsing. Traditionally, the structural design is more or less the same for all projects. But now, architects and structural designers are able to explore options that use fewer materials, are stronger and can be built in a shorter duration.

Digital Fabrication

Digital fabrication is a proud partner of parametric modelling; together they have completed numerous products and structures that were thought to be impossible. For example, designs with rounded corners or very thin threads were difficult to produce, unless hand made, years ago. Now with technology like 3D printing, it is achievable within minutes.

Fashion Design

The use of parametric modelling is becoming more and more noticeable as fashion designers are experimenting with different patterns and materials. Designers like Iris van Herpen, Julia Koerner and Anouk Wipprecht are leading the way for parametric fashion with futuristic and mind-bending designs.

There are so many more that we can create with parametric modelling. Even in digital fabrication, we can create products from household items to pavilions and bridges. These products, in addition to fashion items, can even be 3D printed nowadays. Regardless of category, we will be able to produce more complex designs in the future using parametric modelling and other computational tools.

7. How is Parametric Modelling Changing Architecture?

It is an indisputable fact that parametric modelling has changed architecture worldwide. So parametric modelling’s rise as one of the most sought-after digital practices is nothing surprising!

Parametric modelling, or parametricism as a style, has revolutionized how we design buildings. Long gone are the elements of former architectural styles - straight lines and sharp corners with a clear distinction between walls and roofs. Architects can now employ programming languages to transform shapes and forms of nature into built design.

Considered the pioneers in the field, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel popularized parametric architecture within the past decade and inspired many others to take up the challenge of designing parametrically. And many have risen up to the challenge. So much that in fact, it is no longer a challenge but a trend nowadays. It is without a doubt that our suburbia will no longer look like a village of identical boxes.

9. Is Parametric Modelling a Skill Worth Learning?

Although it is undeniable that parametric modelling is gaining popularity, many architects have yet to venture into this niche. The steep learning curve, with the dedication required to master it, has become a challenge to working professionals. Moreover, many architects and designers rather focus on the outcome, aka the final model, instead of the process. In parametric modelling, the process is as important as the final result, a fact we can’t help but reiterate.

However, once you have decided to take the challenge, you will see the wonders of parametric modelling. Efficient and accurate, the designers can build any form or explore any design intent. You can show off your creativity and impress employers or clients!

10. Parametric Modelling Software & Tools

Parametric modelling software work by writing and modifying the algorithms or parameters which are the attributes embedded in the geometry. Most parametric modelling software now work with a visual programming interface. As evidence of parametric modelling being in demand, these tools are becoming increasingly advanced as a response to the needs of architects and designers.

Grasshopper, together with Rhino 3D, is the most well-known visual programming tool for parametric modelling. Both developed by Robert McNeel & Associates, Grasshopper enables parametric features within Rhino 3D. The functions are not limited to only modelling; we can also use additional Rhino 3D plugins for analyses and fabrication. As it works on the virtual programming language, it is quite easy to learn Grasshopper and Rhino despite the misconception that they are complicated to learn.

Solidworks, from Dassault Systèmes, is more popular with engineers. It can produce not only parametric architectural designs but also engineering and automotive components while supporting several computer-aided systems - Computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and Computer-aided engineering (CAE). Solidworks software is as popular as Rhino 3D when it comes to parametric modelling.

Catia, also of Dassault Systèmes, is more commonly used for product design rather than architecture. It still offers many features for architects including animation with virtual human models for simulation and Virtual Reality (VR) to review the model environment.

Fusion 360 is a dynamic modelling software with mesh and surface modelling tools, in addition to parametric and direct modelling features. So it is entirely up to the user to choose the most suitable technique. Fusion 360 is a cloud-based tool from Autodesk so the collaboration, especially with other Autodesk tools, is convenient for the entire design team.

To know more about other software and parametric tools that architects and designers can employ, read our blog - Top 6 Parametric Modelling Software.

11. Career Paths and Growth

By now, we can all agree that computational design, including parametric modelling, is the way forward in the design industry. The computational approach utilises both modelling and software development skills and can be applied to numerous fields. Once equipped with the right knowledge, you have many exciting career opportunities waiting for you! Here are a few of the careers which use computational design.

Computational Designer

This is the most common career opportunity, in both AEC and non-AEC design industries. A computational designer supports design creation with computational inputs in all stages. Based on the field and responsibilities, they may be part of a design team or come up with tools to aid design creation.

Architectural Design Specialist

Similar to computational designers but focusing only on architectural design, these specialists are well-versed in programming and architectural knowledge.

Urban Data Analyst

An urban data analyst will perform analyses and translate the complex analytical data into simplified information.

Digital Fabrication and Manufacturing professionals

These professionals include furniture and other designers who utilise parametric modelling and other computational design tools to design, prototype and fabricate products, from benches to bridges

Technology, as we know it, is never stopping. Who knows, perhaps in a few years, there will be new technologies stemming from what we now know as parametric modelling.

But for now, understanding parametric modelling is the first step to keeping up with digital trends. And the next step is to start using it. Learn this cutting-edge modelling technique with Oneistox’s Parametric Modelling Course and stay ahead in your career journey!

Parametric Modelling Certification Course

Master design thinking and parametric modelling from scratch using Rhino 3D and Grasshopper.

Build Skills to Build Great Things

Connect with us on :

Learning Experiences

© Oneistox Inc.