Photo courtesy SHINE Architecture
SHINE Architecture and TAarquitectura used Rhino 5 to help retrofit a university building in León, Mexico.

In November, Robert McNeel & Associates released the fifth version of Rhinoceros (Rhino), a 3-D-modeling program for Windows. Rhino, which began as a program for naval design 20 years ago, gained a foothold among architecture students and young designers in the early 2000s by offering a low-cost and intuitive platform. That user base has grown substantially in recent years with the introduction of Grasshopper, a computational design plug-in that allows designers to code visually. Today those students have moved into practice, but much of what made Rhino attractive has been retained in this new version, including its affordable price: $995 ($195 for students).

Rhino 5 has several noteworthy improvements for architects. Since the release of the last version, in 2007, the software has been rebuilt for 64-bit processing, allowing users to work with larger models. Other enhancements include a tabbed toolbar layout, work-session capabilities, and better layer and block management. It also features improved drafting tools, which allow designers to hatch, annotate, dimension, convert 3-D models to 2-D drawings, and create page layouts—all from a single toolbar. A new clipping plane and view options aid drafting, allowing for the creation of sections and plans that can be viewed with various line and shading displays.

Product manager Brian Gillespie explains that because Rhino 5 relies on more “lightweight,” or data-efficient, 3-D objects, it can handle larger, more complex models. Although some of these functions are informed by AEC-specific software, Rhino won’t replace programs for detailed construction drawings. But the new features make Rhino 5 an even stronger 3-D tool for early phases of architectural-project design. Grasshopper, which has made parametric modeling much more accessible, will now be supported only in Rhino 5. Along with the ability to write custom codes in Python programming language, this makes Rhino an extremely useful cross-disciplinary platform. The feedback from more than 40,000 beta testers over five years (of whom I was one) has helped McNeel make this version of the software more attuned to the needs of a variety of designers, including architects.