AD Essentials: Rendering

This article is part of ArchDaily Essentials, a series of articles which give you an overview of architecture's most important topics by connecting together some of our best articles from the past. To find out more about ArchDaily Essentials, click here; or discover all of our articles in the series here.

When it comes to presenting a project, there are few images more eye-catching than the architectural rendering. When done well, the perspective render elevates a building from lines on a page to an occupiable, life-filled space, allowing clients and fellow architects to envision a flourishing future. Despite this potential, many people view rendering techniques as deceptive, or as unattainable mirages that deemphasize the value of a project’s physical architectural elements. Still, perspective renderings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. How can architects use rendering techniques as part of the design and presentation process? What is the next step for architectural visualization?

What is the history of rendering?

Even before the invention of the computer-generated rendering, perspectives were an invaluable way of selling a building. Architects understood that they couldn’t simply sell a structure, but needed to sell an experience. Rather than just explaining to clients how people could use a space, the perspective could show them; instead of labeling a rectangle as “Spa,” the image could show people relaxing in a reclining chair, sipping on a drink, and taking in a view. Yet until the advent of the computer, these images, and their inhabitants, were highly stylized, and still difficult to envision oneself within. Technological advancements have since allowed architects to achieve higher levels of realism. One of those advancements was the invention of Photoshop:

Happy 25th Birthday Photoshop; Architecture Wouldn't be the Same Without You

This increased realism contributed to increased believability of spaces. As the spaces around them solidified, so too did the scale figures. Recently, databases such as Skalgubbar and Escalalatina have emerged to allow users to place real people within their images:

SKALGUBBAR: Download Free Images of People for Your Renders

SKALGUBBAR is a library of free high-resolution images of people that can be used in renderings and photomontages.

Escalalatina: Rendering Your Designs with Diversity

The next step for scale figures? Make them a part of the 3D modeling process:

Renderpeople Releases 3D Models "Rosy" and "Dennis" for Free Use

What are the possible negative effects of rendering?

As renderings became more realistic, architects realized that the images were losing some of the “mood” that made the early, stylized drawings successful.[1] This has lead to the injection of more and more whimsey into realistic settings, creating a hyperreal aesthetic. This has produced some extremely visually-appealing results, but it has perhaps also caused some negative reactions, with many critics arguing that representing unrealistic scenes in photographic quality is an act of deception that draws attention away from the architecture of a project:

Are Renderings Bad for Architecture?

Rendering / CLOG

Light Matters: Can Light "Cheat" In Simulations?

Some have taken an even more aggressive stance on the issue - that this deception is not merely drawing people away from building and into fantasy, but being used to push an agenda. Ross Exo-Adams writes that renderings can be used similarly to propaganda to intimidate viewers into action on issues such as sustainable urbanism, while also masking a lack of true change - "rather than approaching the true depth of ecological catastrophe," he argues that these renderings "propose little more than a liberal nostalgia for the present":

The Fear Sustaining Sustainable Urbanism

How can you improve your rendering skills?

Despite this relatively widespread backlash, renderings will remain an important part of the architectural process. And with so many techniques and programs available, where do you start when making a rendering? Ask your peers, and the experts:

The Best Software Tutorials on the Web (According to ArchDaily Readers)

How to Drastically Improve Your Architectural Renderings

How to Render Your Building to Sell it, Not Just Show it

Ask Arup: What Are the Best Ways to Use 3ds Max in Visualizations?

What is the future of rendering?

Just as stylized hand-drawn perspectives were once the preferred method of rendering, only to be replaced by a newer technology, the computer-generated image will not be the best method of visualizing a project forever. Architects are now looking to other fields for new rendering techniques, and few fields are more immersive than video game design:

Unreal Visualizations: 3 Pros and 3 Cons of Rendering with a Video Game Engine

At the very cutting edge of architecture visualizations sits virtual reality. Why simply view a realistic image when you can invite clients into the space of a virtual world? With technology like the Oculus Rift entering the consciousness of the public, people are already envisioning the architectural applications of virtual reality:

Virtual Reality: Coming to an Architecture Office Near You

The Indicator: Kickstarting Architecture's Virtual Future

While not all may agree on the benefits and consequences of architectural renderings, nearly all architects can agree on the importance of the human element with design. Renderings allow architects to explore the human perspective by placing the viewer within a scene, giving dimensionality and depth to architectural elements and imitating the mood of a finished product. Though there will inevitably be debates about the best way to achieve this, as long as architects continue to need a vision of a project before it is constructed renderings - in some form or other - will be a great tool for creating that vision.


  1. Walker, Alissa, "The Secret Lives of the Tiny People In Architectural Renderings," Gizmodo, March 19th 2015. Accessed September 20th 2015.

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Cite: AD Editorial Team. "AD Essentials: Rendering" 20 Sep 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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