Every month, the publication CLOG takes on “a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now.” It’s not a quick look at something trendy, but rather an in-depth look, from multiple perspectives, at the issues that are affecting - and will continue to affect (and even alter) - architecture as we know it today.
CLOG: Rendering is, in my opinion, the best issue yet. Through dozens of fascinating, concise articles and a handful of illustrative, quirky images, it takes on an enormous question often over-looked in the architectural world: what is a rendering? An alluring device to win over a jury or public? A realistic depiction? Or perhaps it’s an entity unto itself...
Rendering examines how the rendering has become a means of deception - not just for the public, but for ourselves - becoming an aesthetic end-product rather than the representation of an idea in-progress. But at the same time, the rendering is our best tool for entering into the “real” world, for communicating what we do to the public at large.
Is there a way to marry these opposing characteristics? What should the future of rendering be? CLOG takes these questions head-on. More after the break...
A (Benevolent) Deception
You could say that a rendering is a necessary evil, or as Luca Silenzi puts it, “a professional gimmick [...] inevitable in order to “preserve the life” of a project line.” (CLOG 39). And I think many architects would agree. The rendering, while not entirely truthful, is the only way a non-architect will be able to sell his vision to a client, a developer, a public jury in a competition. The more accessible, the more “real,” the better.
And, in general it’s true. In her article “Great Weather and Happy People,” Julia Dorothea Schlegel mentions studies that have proven that architectural lay-people consider photorealistic renderings to be more “valid and reliable than non-photo realistic renderings” (57). Why? Because lay-people aren’t as drawn to the buildings - they’re drawn to the life, the people, the atmosphere of the rendering. They’re buying into a spirit - not a design.
However, as much as architects have justified the “white lie” of the rendering as a means of selling their product, few have admitted that architects themselves have fallen for the deception. The rendering has “become to architecture what pornography is to every teenage boy. Just like a centerfold model, this architectural pornography is shopped and enhanced to cater to the fantasies of the reader” (Series et Series + Labtop, 27).
And for architects, that fantasy is one of architecture as art-form.The rendering has become our way of seeing architecture devoid of all the unpleasant reality that accompanies it. As John Hill explains in his article, “Photoshop Therapy,” the rendering allows the architect to see his work as it was before being built, an un-compromised vision.
Indeed, it’s the very same motivation that inspires us to take photographs of finished buildings that appear as if they could be renderings. No people, no disorder, no cracks in the image - just a clean representation of “formal purity” (Ramaswamy 105).
Even when renderings do include an entourage of people, they’re often not “real” people, but attractive “render ghosts” who exist “to suggest that the building will be bustling with energy and be populated by extremely handsome users. At the same time, however, they are barely there, so as not to block the perfect appreciation of the architecture behind them” (Gallanti 55).
In China, entire factories of visualizers work to create renderings entirely divorced from reality. A modest building in cold, Northern China will appear against a skyline assembled from towers in Chicago or Dubai; a blue sky will bely the heavy pollution; tropical plants will pop up around affluent stores - even though none of these things are accurate to context. As Adam Nathaniel Mayer explains, these “renderings serve as fantasies of urbanization rather than true reflections of the urban condition” (31).
Image over Concept; Product over Progress
The practical danger of all this deception is that the rendering becomes something that it was not meant to be - a final product instead of a representation of a future product. While China reflects the most extreme example, it’s in extremity that can you see the end result of the rendering-as-fantasy: “the image exists independent of the concept, to be evaluated as a graphic.Architecture by graphic design” (Wenzel 73).
Those same studies cited by Schlegel, while proving that less photorealistic images are less “valid” to non-architects, also suggest that decreased realism helps focus the viewer on the building (not the context) and promote dialogue about the design concept (57). When a rendering is too good, too realistic, the conversation becomes centered around the details rather than the concept it’s supposed to portray.
This is exactly why a public can fall in love with a rendering, and then be disappointed by reality (as in the case of Herzog de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie renderings); or can become vehemently opposed to a rendering, due to its representation or connotations (as in OMA’s Torre Bicentenario or MVRDV’s Cloud Towers). As Eric de Broches des Combes, partner of one of the biggest architectural renderings in the world, Luxignon, explains in an interview - a project should never have more than two renderings. Why? Because renderings are not real representations of what a building will be, rather they “convey the spirit” of what the building will be (127).
The goal then is to have a rendering that conveys the central point of the project, while still leaving room for debate. As Mansilla y Tuñón Arquitectos practically point out, renderings must “be open enough to leave room for the development of the project, but specific enough to communicate whatever it is that makes the project special. They should be more about the attitude with which the project is faced rather than about how exactly it is going to look” (85). Or, as Series et Series + Labtop put it, “We are not concerned with the aesthetic quality of an image, but the portrayed information and suggested potential within it” (27).
A less realistic rendering allows the admission of incompleteness, that the design process and the rendering are intertwined. In her argument against out-sourcing visualization, Elizabeth McDonald points out that visualization is a vital part of that process, that rendering is the point where a design’s pragmatism and poetry meet, “where ideas are developed, failures examined and possibilities explored” (33).
Dominik Sigg agrees, arguing in his article “Let’s Fool Ourselves,” that a rendering is somewhat idealized only so it can magnify and communicate the “ambition” of the project. If Mies’ Friedrichstrasse tower had been built, he argues, its “idealized depictions would have been vital to communicating his ambition [...] of unprecedented lightness and transparency,” but never would have been built exactly as envisioned (37).
The Future is “Real”
So how can a rendering capture attention and the “ideal” of the project while still being abstract enough to admit potentiality?
Perhaps a rendering schism is needed - in which a preliminary, slightly idealized design is presented to the client/public, and a more realistic rendering (a practical document that can be used for construction purposes as well) follows suit. Indeed, technology has been created that allows for renderings so real, it is often difficult to distinguish the rendered building from its neighbors; perhaps this technology, which gives clients an honest replica of what to expect, could become the norm (Reidel 25).
Or perhaps the rendering as we know it will become obsolete, and this debate will take on a different form. As Thomas Lozada writes, the future could easily hold multimedia renderings that utilize augmented reality - allowing us to see and experience a potential building as if it were already built (143). Or, as Jon Brouchoud suggests, renderings could become infinitely potential, as we begin to create virtual office buildings, homes, etc. in cyberspace - places that we can actively and constantly change and re-shape (151).
Either way, CLOG: Rendering offers us a fascinating look at the rendering, a remarkable lens that reveals how we perceive architecture as it is - and how we think it should be.
10 USING IT ALL
14 TIME AS SCHINkEL AND SOANE RENDERED IT
16 POETIC TRANSLATIONS
18 THE HAPPY PEOPLE
20 A GUIDE TO POPULAR RENDERING STYLES TODAY
22 RENDERING: THE NEW ROMANTICISM
24 SHOWING IT LIKE IT IS
26 JUST SAYING
28 RENDERING GLOSSARY
30 URBAN FANTASIES IN CHINA: ARCHITECTURAL VISUALIZATION
32 FROM CHINA, WITHOUT LOVE
34 HOW MUCH DOES THAT RENDERING COST
36 LET’S FOOL OURSELVES
38 REAL VS. PLAUSIBLE: ON REALITY AND ITS REPRESENTATION
40 BREAKING IT DOWN
44 AWAROA LIGHTHOUSE
46 PHOTOSHOP THERAPY
48 RENDER ID AND THE HOMOGENIZATION OF ARCHITECTURE
50 JUST HERE FOR SCALE
52 ENTOURAGE DEMOGRAPHICS
54 TRANSPARENT GUYS
56 GREAT WEATHER AND PRETTY PEOPLE
58 DON’T DESIGN FOR RENDER GHOSTS
60 PATHOLOGICALLY SCENOGRAPHIC
64 WORKS CITED
66 THE SKY SETS THE MOOD
68 INTERIOR ELEVATIONS
70 REALITY FILTER
72 HYPER-RENDERING: THE ILLUSION OF ARCHITECTURE
74 RENDERED HOT AND/OR COOL
76 OVER DRAWING
80 HOUSE BEAUTIFUL
82 BY THE NUMBERS
84 MANAGING FREEDOM (HOUSE IN LOSVIA)
86 CARDBOARD REALITY
88 THE CORNELL BOX
90 ARCHITECTURE UNTREATED
92 RENDERING DRAWING
94 MARKETING UTOPIA
96 DOES THIS RENDERING MAKE ME LOOK FAT?
98 HAZY VIEWS, CLOUDED JUDGMENT
100 THE ELBPHILHARMONIE RENDERINGS
104 SEDUCTIVE IMAGERY AND VIEWING REGIMES
106 RENDERING TRIES TO TRANSFORM ARCHITECTURE INTO AN EXPENDABLE COMMODITY, READY FOR CONSUMPTION
108 THE CRAFTSMAN’S COMPLEX
112 BIRDS & FLARES
116 TEENAGERS GET IT, ARCHITECTS DON'T
118 INTERVIEW WITH LUXIGON AND MIR
132 TOWARDS A NON-VISUAL RENDERING
134 PETER ZUMTHOR DOES NOT RENDER
138 NEW ABSTRACTION
140 RENDERING TO BUILD
142 TRANSCENDING PHOTOREALISM
144 THE REND OF ALL THINGS, OR: THE TYRANNY OF THE REAL
146 BRINGING EXPLOSIVE DESTRUCTION TO CHICAGO'S ICONIC SKYLINE
150 WE SHAPE OUR BUILDINGS, AND AFTERWARDS WE KEEP SHAPING THEM
152 CONTRIBUTOR BIOS
156 IMAGE CREDITS