V1.0 Key Feature: The 4 Layer Hierarchy
Buildings are built in layers. By 3D modeling them the same way, you save clicks. Learn about Modumate's 4 Layer Hierarchy and how it helps you build a smarter model.

V1.0 Key Feature: The 4 Layer Hierarchy

Buildings are built in layers. By 3D modeling them the same way, you save clicks. Learn about Modumate's 4 Layer Hierarchy and how it helps you build a smarter model.
February 11, 2021
4 min read

Buildings are built in layers. By 3D modeling them the same way, you save clicks and build a smarter model for powerful automations.

Are architects sculptors? The job description says “rarely”, but your current 3D tools say “yes, several times an hour”.


All mainstream tools are based on a paradigm called “CAD”, in which you are encouraged to sculpt objects vertex-by-vertex. It’s a blessing and a curse. CAD is flexible enough to support your wildest design visions at every level of detail… but it takes a TON of clicks because it offers few intelligent means of making and arranging shapes. And it’s not helpful when you’re trying to represent an off-the-shelf part from a library, in a standard location in the scene. Why should you be stuck sculpting yet another door handle?


Modumate’s philosophy about CAD sculpting is simple. Building designers should spend their time sculpting the spaces of their buildings, not the individual parts. Then, on that coarse 3D model, users can host their BIM assemblies to make it real.


In old 3D tools, buildings are a bunch of vertices and surfaces with flat textures. Modumate’s new form of BIM yields a much smarter model of a building.

Modumate has 4 layers of hierarchy to match how buildings are built:

  1. Massing Graphs lay out your spaces in 3D.
  2. Separators turn lines and planes into construction assemblies like Walls, Floors, Doors, etc.
  3. Surface Graphs lay out your finishes in 2D.
  4. Attachments turn their lines and planes into construction assemblies like Finishes, Trim, etc.

Modumate’s 4 view modes help you design buildings at different levels of detail at any stage of design. By separating the modeling into 4 different layers, you can build a model that is conceptually pure but also resolved in enough detail to export construction-grade background DWGs and quantity estimates.

Step 1: Massing Graphs - where it all begins

Your "Massing Graph" is the abstract skeleton of your BIM model. It's a diagram of the spaces in your project, the assemblies that separate them, and how the assemblies connect.


The Massing Graph View Mode allows you to test out design options in a schematic 3D model. Or in a more developed model, maintain pure control of the space layout. 


Why is it called a “graph”, instead of a “model”? Well, in fancy math terms, a graph is a connectivity diagram. Your Massing Graph should have one plane, edge, or vertex for every assembly or connection in your project. At first, it looks like a massing model, but as your project matures, it’s a powerful source of info about your construction details.


Step 2: Separators - make everything real!

Your "Separators" are space-separating assemblies (Walls, Floors, Doors, Windows, etc.) that you can customize and host onto your Massing Graph. In Separator View Mode, you can add layered assemblies and construction details to your 3D model.


Choose a preset assembly from Modumate's library or create one and customize the different layers yourself!

Step 3: Surface Graphs - lay out your surfaces

Your "Surface Graphs" are the layout diagrams for surfaces in your 3D model. Anywhere you want to put a Finish or Trim, you first put a Surface Graph. One Surface Graph per face of a Separator. If you want several finishes to live on one surface, then draw lines in your Surface Graph to divide it into regions. 


Finishes live on Surface Graph planes, and Trim live on Surface Graph edges. Note that if you simply equip the Finish tool and start targeting surfaces of walls and floors, you’ll find yourself creating Surface Graphs and Finishes together in one click. It’ll look like Finishes live directly on Separators’ surfaces. But don’t be fooled - Finishes always live on planes of a Surface Graph!


Step 4: Attachment View Mode - decorate your building design

In Attachment View Mode, you can customize and host decorative assemblies (finishes, trim, cabinets, FF&E) onto surface graphs. Working in Attachment View Mode is really fun: you can shop for beautiful furniture from our library and add them to your room. This is where you can decorate your room and make it the style you want. 


View Physical objects only - Ready to “show off”?

The fifth view mode is the display mode to only see physical objects. It allows you to have instant renderings and walkthroughs of your project. 


The fifth mode is used to “show off” your beautiful project to your team or clients!

Switching view modes using hotkeys

View modes can be changed using the five buttons on the top toolbar or using the following hotkeys.

1. Press F1 to view the first layer ("Massing Graph" View Mode).

2. Press F2 to view the second layer ("Separators" View Mode).

3. Press F3 to view the third layer ("Surface Graphs" View Mode).

4. Press F4 to view the fourth layer ("Attachments" View Mode).

5. Press F5 to view physical objects only (useful for renderings/walkthroughs).


Take a little bit of time to get used to these hotkeys and you are ready to go!

We’d love to hear about your thoughts on Modumate’s 4 layer hierarchy. Send us an email at info@modumate.com and we will personally respond to your suggestions.

Happy modelling,

-The Modumate team


Modumate is a 3D building design platform for professional architects and contractors who draft drawing sets in 2D CAD, quantity estimates, and renderings.

Using Unreal Engine 4’s gorgeous graphics and our unprecedented approach to BIM, we supercharge your 3D design abilities and export instant 2D DWG backgrounds, quantity estimates, and renderings.


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