The Different Uses of Renderings in Architecture

With increasingly better renderings becoming ubiquitous, students and architects alike feel the pressure of mastering an additional set of skills to get their ideas across. To what extent do renderings make or break a portfolio or a project? How important are they in the design process, and do renderings inform of a particular set of skills besides the software ones? This article explores different perspectives on the role of renderings within the profession.

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Attention-grabbing renderings appear to be everywhere, from architectural media to billboards, leaving architects with a strong incentive to try to emulate this type of visualization within their work. However, rendering is a tool that can serve multiple purposes, from storytelling to a strategic communication of skills and intent to the everyday exploration of design options. As digital tools are constantly evolving, architecture needs to experiment with the techniques across an extensive array of design processes, in order to discover where are the most important creative opportunities.

Visualization Artist as a Trade

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The Whale by Dorte Mandrup. Image © MIR

In today's hyper-specialized world and with the design becoming increasingly complex, the architect can rarely be a Jack of all trades. From sustainability consultants to BIM managers, the profession relies on the knowledge of actors specialized in a specific area of the design process, with architects being the creators and curators of the overall vision. Therefore, it is worth keeping in mind that many practices turn to seasoned 3D artists to showcase their designs in the most favorable light, especially when it comes to competition renderings and high-stakes projects. These professionals have dedicated countless hours to master not only software but composition, atmospheres, and entourage. This is not to say that one should not work towards developing new skills or that architects can't produce exquisite renderings, but that there is more to it than light settings and material mapping.

Rendering as Language

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CMG Qianhai Global Trade Center by OMA. Image © Luxigon

As Luxigon's founder Eric de Broche des Combes said in an interview with Archdaily, "like hand drawing, the process of making an image is intellectual, not technical". Just like any other form of architectural representation, renderings are a means to convey ideas and concepts. The tradition of Beaux-Arts schools nurtured the artistic quality of architectural drawing, while today's universities organize lectures and entire workshops teaching students how to create images that best explain their projects.

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11th Street Bridge Park by OMA. Image © Luxigon

Within the attention economy, projects ultimately compete with each other through images. The better the visualization, the greater the chances of the design to get noticed and gain traction. This is true for both academia and practice, as it is harder to keep a critical eye in the face of compelling, realistic atmospheres. In the words of des Combes again: "believing in what you see leads to a form of acceptance that removes a large part of critical thinking." In this sense, renderings can shift the perception regarding a project independently of its design qualities, and architects need to become more aware of this unconscious bias.

What Renderings Say About their Author

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The Earth Chapel. Image © JPAG Atelier

For recent graduates, where in most cases there isn't any significant previous experience to weigh in a prospective job selection process, portfolios are of utmost importance. Furthermore, as there is common knowledge that applications are reviewed in a very short time, it is essential to get the design potential across at a glance, through bold imagery. As a result, some rendering artists organize portfolio reviews on their Youtube channels, giving valuable input to students and young architects.

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Barozzi Veiga. Image © Luxigon

Surprisingly, in most cases, the critique is not centered on the technical aspects of the renderings but on qualities that are intrinsic to any visualization technique. Composition, color, balanced entourage are universal, and so is storytelling. Architects need to be strategic about how renderings express the overall design process, avoiding inconsequential images. Most importantly, renderings inadvertently tell an experienced viewer of the architect's ability to curate information and distill a concept's essence. Moreover, they offer clues about the knowledge regarding composition and color theory.

Renderings in Everyday Practice

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111 West 57th Street Tower by SHoP Architects. Image © Hayes Davidson

It is in the daily work of an architect that renderings as accurate representation come into play. From precise shadow studies to multiple iterations of architectural details, renderings can serve more than marketing purposes, informing the design team of the architectural object's various aspects. Renderings can, therefore, be used not only as a means to communicate with stakeholders but as a tool for evaluating design options. Like work-in-progress drawings, this kind of image helps speed up the decision-making process thanks to the ability to simulate the actual materiality and light. Testing how a façade detail would be seen from different angles, figuring out color schemes and patterns across different scales of the project help designers make better-informed decisions and facilitate communication with the client. Moreover, with real-time rendering becoming more commonplace, architects will have at their disposal an increasingly faithful depiction of their design. 

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Rendering, proudly presented by Enscape, the most intuitive real-time rendering and virtual reality plugin for Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Archicad, and Vectorworks. Enscape plugs directly into your modeling software, giving you an integrated visualization and design workflow.’ Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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Cite: Andreea Cutieru. "The Different Uses of Renderings in Architecture" 12 Apr 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

The Whale by Dorte Mandrup. Image © MIR


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