In the 1990s, the field of architectural design was transformed by the widespread adoption of computers and CAD programs. This revolution affected the entire design process from start to finish, including presentation techniques. Traditional watercolor paintings were replaced by computer-generated images that could show the design from multiple angles. A virtual camera could even fly through the design and produce a video tour of the yet-to-be-built concept.
In recent years, we've reached a point where visualizations have become all-prevalent in the architectural profession. Whether we like it or not, stylized imagery is seen as a commodity, and ultimately, renderings win competitions and commissions. Architects have become enamored with beautiful renderings because clients understand pictures better than plans, and yet, the tools used to produce these glitzy images are changing faster than our industry can keep up. But with technology constantly evolving, we may face a new wave of visualization techniques, as the same render engines used to produce the tantalizingly realistic visuals in movies and video games are, for the first time, easily within our reach.
The lines across industries are blurring and companies behind the rendering engines for the most popular video games are now marketing their software directly to architects. This year, the original developers of the game Gears of War have made their proprietary rendering software Unreal Engine 4 free to architects, and many other video game render engines are available for less than the cost of those used by architects. Founder Tim Sweeney believes that the world of visualization is changing, telling The Verge "We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields." Creating a common language between the presently disparate fields of architecture, film, and video games, for example, suggests that the industries themselves may begin to hybridize and learn from one another. For instance, video game developers may look to architects to understand how to construct 3D buildings, while architects may learn from the navigable virtual environment of video games in order to discover new means of representation. Add to this the fact that these software packages are capable of producing lifelike animated walkthroughs and we are left wondering, why is this not an industry standard? Read on after the break for the pros and cons of being an early adopter.