As architecture is increasingly reliant on renderings to convey its message and depict the unbuilt, many practices turn to seasoned 3D artists to help them portray their designs in the most favourable light; thus they externalize visualizations to a handful of firms.
The work of visualization studios is often of great importance, as they create the imagery that seduces the general public, juries, stakeholders and investors, conveying to them the inherent qualities of the design, by translating drawings into a convincing narrative. They reshape the layers of thought and meaning embedded in plans, sections, 3d models and diagrams into a compelling story, legible and comprehensible across disciplines and professions. What sets apart the work of these firms from other professionals with excellent technical skills and software knowledge is the creative thinking behind their imagery and the added value they can provide to the design.
The following are some of the most prominent architectural visualization studios in the world, each with its distinct expression. Mastering composition, ambiance and content, they translate conceptual architectural designs into engaging representations that speak to people's sensibilities.
Norway-based studio MIR is a high profile visualization firm, having worked with the biggest names in architecture, such as BIG, Zaha Hadid Architects, Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter, Kengo Kuma & Associates, Snøhetta, Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, Mad Architects to name just a few. Specialized in portraying architectural concepts, this is the studio behind the striking visualizations of projects like The Whale, The Twist, Greenland's National Gallery or Leeza SOHO. Founded in 2000 by Trond Greve Andersen and Mats Andersen, the studio comprises of a small but strong team of eight, with highly diverse creative backgrounds. With a continually evolving imagery, but with a unique and recognizable visualization strategy, MIR's work is defined by as a sophisticated approach to the ambience, atmosphere and natural settings. A preference for dramatic lighting and a specific chromatic palette underlines their work. Throughout their portfolio, there is a recurrent downplaying of people paired with an emphasis on architecture's relationship with its surroundings. Citing photography as their main inspiration, MIR strives to bring forward the unique architectural qualities of each project, asserting its distinctiveness.
Luxigon is one of the most prominent visualization studios, with offices in Paris, Los Angeles and Milan, and long-lasting collaborations with architecture firms like REX, OMA, MVRDV and COBE. Founded in 2007 by architect and graphic designer Eric de Broche des Combes, the studio's work revolves predominately around competition entries. As a result, their imagery frequently incorporates an abstract feel, as well as a dramatic atmosphere, depicting highly conceptual structures. In terms of workflow, Luxigon has revealed their preference for post-processing on multiple occasions, for reasons such as flexibility and deadline demands. Often, Luxigon is an integral part of the design process, acting as a consultant, filling the gaps in the proposals and highlighting unexplored possibilities. The studio deliberately makes use of uncanny elements in their imagery, thus emphasizing the rendering as illustration and not reality itself. Drawing inspiration from cinematography, photography and painting, Luxigon's style is unique and highly recognizable, through the use of heavily saturated images and complementary colours.
Headquartered in Budapest and with a recently-opened studio in Cluj, Brick Visual is an international visualization company with more than 50 employees and a comprehensive portfolio comprising of still imagery, animations and VR. With an impressive list of collaborators, such as BIG, Snohetta, SOM, OMA, MVRDV, or COBE, Brick Visual sees architectural visualizations as a new medium for creating art. The studio is the author of the compelling imagery for projects such as BIG's proposal for the Smithsonian Masterplan, or the striking, atmospheric renderings for SOM's Hangzhou Tower. A specific sombre colour palette unifies their body of work, which otherwise ranges from crisp photorealism to evocative, dream-like imagery. Apart from their commission work, the company is also involved in educating aspiring 3D artists, hosting courses on post-production, animation and visualization through their Brick Academy branch.
Founded in 1989, before 3D artist was even a term, Hayes Davidson is one of the longest-lived visualization studios in the world and the first one to be created in the UK. Based in London and with a team comprising of architects, artists and photographers, the firm has collaborated with many distinguished practices, namely Zaha Hadid Architects, Foster + Partners, Adjaye Associates, Heatherwick Studio, Rafael Viñoly Architects, or SHoP Architects. The studio's body of work consists mostly of realistic imagery, with a polished and optimistic visual style. Some of their most memorable visualizations include the renderings for111 West 57th Street designed by SHoP Architects and BIG's residential development in Toronto. Hayes Davidson also assists architecture firms with infographics and animations and has even developed its own methodology for verified imaging, that is an accurate assessment of the development project in relationship with its environment. Given its extensive experience with London-based projects, the studio built up a vast set of resources concerning the city, including a 3D model of a large area of London, giving it a significant advantage in the field.
These examples are merely the tip of the iceberg, as the realm of architecture visualization studios is vast and continuously expanding. The proliferation of digital tools has led to new forms of expression within the field of architectural representation through a plethora of approaches and styles. Getting more knowledgeable about the process and practices behind the mesmerizing architectural illustrations out there may shift the perception regarding visualizations, from a faithful translation of future reality to a form of storytelling.