A Challenge And An Opportunity Cultural Studies Essay

List of Illustrations 3

Abstract 4

Literary Review 5

Introduction 9

Research Question 9

Research Method 9


Nowadays architects are able to produce photorealistic imagery with the aid of effective 3D rendering technology that visually simulates architectural design. Virtual reality may be regarded as the ultimate means of creating architectural imagery; it allows the architect or client to move within a 3D designed environment, giving them a simulated experience of the final design prior to its construction. Although these architectural visualizations have been around for some time; the major development in the areas of computer technology and computer aided design has made it possible for architects to produce renderings much quicker and even more realistic than ever before. This offers both a challenge and an opportunity.

On the one hand, it is now possible to visually test and portray design concepts more accurately than previously envisioned (Kolarevic, 2003, 261). On the other hand, architects are now able to illustrate the virtually impossible whether it is by deception or exclusion or even intentional fakery. Some might say that these architectural renders have become very deceptive as they are now seen as a visual end product instead of representing an idea during the design process. Conversely, it is the most important tool in conveying to clients what an architect is hoping to achieve, displaying how the final design would be situated within the ‘real’ world.

Digital rendering is changing the way buildings are conceived, designed and produced but has it become a professional gimmick used to deceive clients? Or is it a necessary evil architects must employ to win different tenders and projects? Through the course of my dissertation I wish to examine the impact this change has had on the architecture field.

Literary Review

Jennifer Whyte: Virtual Reality and the Built Environment

This book by Jennifer Whyte provides an insight into the use of virtual reality within the field of architecture, explaining how it is developing as a new tool for design, production and management. The book sheds light on the technological changes within design practices, examining how architects now generate their ideas and the practical implications of these changes.

It covers many of the topics I wish to address in relation to my dissertation; it examines virtual reality within the historical context which gives a greater understanding to how it has shaped the approach of the architect’s design process, also outlining the concerns virtual reality has when representing ideas to clients and end-users.

Bryan Lawson: What designers know

Bryan Lawson looks in-depth into what kind of knowledge designers work with and how they put this knowledge to use. Lawson is not only a psychologist but also an architect which has enabled him to study the nature of the design process. The fact that we can see the difference in how experienced designers and novices use their knowledge differently in this book suggests that design expertise can be developed. With each chapter dealing with a different technique this book provides an exploration of research techniques giving an insight into the source of design knowledge.

The book examines the different roles of the computer which I found very valuable. What surprised me was that the author seemed frustrated with the CAD system and in fact states that "computer-aided design has turned out to be rather a disappointment so far" (Lawson, 2004, pg 64).

William J. Mitchell and Malcolm McCullough: Digital Design Media- A Handbook for Architects & Design Professionals

The previous book I talked about by Lawson looks some of the negatives of computer aided design and how hand drawing can be used as a more effective solution but this book is quite the opposite. It explains that mastering CAD will be essential for a successful practice of architecture in the 21st century. The authors provide a general overview of computer aided design and does not stray from this throughout their book; this in result demonstrates a central topic which is highly informative.

The book starts by providing a general theoretical framework for understanding CAD techniques. They then examine the vast range of computer manipulation particularly in three dimensional models and motion models. Finally, they consider the planning integration, and management of practical CAD networks. Each major type of computer aided design system is discussed in terms of the elements and operators that it provides for constructing and manipulating designs, the forms of immediate feedback that it supplies to the designer, the kinds of reporting and analysis that it can support, the opportunities that exist for connection to other types of systems, and the design roles for which its characteristics particularly suit it.

Francois Penz: Computers in Architecture, Tools for design

This book by Francois Pens is one of the oldest I have covered, published in 1992, and what makes this more interesting is that it covers mainly the use of computers in the field of architecture. This really illustrates how prominent technology has been over the past few decades and how it has been a huge driving force in the development of architecture today. The book brings together leading academics, researchers and practitioners to discuss the impact of computers on the design process in architecture.

One of the chapters titled ‘The Next Ten Years’ looks back at the previous ten years and presents an interesting histogram on the proportion of practices using computing at that time. The histogram was made according to a survey by the RIBA Market Research Unit in 1989 showing what percentages of architectural offices used some sort of computer and in what way giving the different stats for each different type of design programme. This chapter of the book is where I hope to pay particular attention to try and draw up some contrasting results over the years. It examines the expected future impacts of such technologies and highlights developments in CAD.

Tom Porter: The Architect’s Eye, Visualization and depiction of space in architecture

In Porters book the creative process that goes on within the architect’s mind’s eye is explored. He explains that design concepts are drawn in an architect’s imagination and rendered on an architect’s computer. He later goes on to add that all buildings pass through this phase of visible non-existence, before even plans are submitted or foundations laid.

The book looks at the conceptual tools architects need to develop in order to create new designs, and the visual means, through drawing, model making and computing that are available to the architects to express those designs. The chapter on ‘The Spatial Codes’ Porter covers CAD, how it was used back in the early sixties, at that time computers having acquired something of a bad name with architects as few could understand them nor afford them; computers seemed unlikely to be much use other than as a workhorse for the laborious problems of preparing and checking programmes. He later suggests that a machine might assume the role of designer or, at least, affect a standardized approach to design (Porter, 1997, 119).

Elizabeth A. T. Smith: Techno Architecture

As digital technologies play an increasingly important role in architecture, Smith’s ‘Techno Architecture’ addresses the fundamental art and craft of building in the post-machine age. The book uses technological forms, images and materials to convey a responsiveness to the unique and shifting conditions of modern-day culture and society. Yet so have the other books I have examined; what makes this book stand out for me is how it explores the ways in which four very different practices use technology to bring structural expression to new heights, in some cases to evoke an almost nostalgic image of the machine, in stark contrast to today’s slick digital imagery.

The book provides a great deal of illustrations throughout which I like as it lets the reader really see the contrast in methods the architects uses through form of visual information rather than trying to explain the difference through text which would have been impossible. In the end result each architect’s interpretation of technology results in unexpected and entirely innovative buildings.


"technology has caught up with our imagination: there are few buildings that can be envisioned but not built"

(Spiller, 2006, 11)

Those involved in the production of computer aided design and virtual reality programmes would admit that these applications have surpassed all expectations (Kolarevic, 2003, 261). Three-dimensional rendering has enhanced the creativity of architects, allowing different forms and structures to be explored, pushing the boundaries of design (Szalapaj, 2005, 257). Architecture as a whole has benefited from these advancing technologies but at what cost?

Research Question

"Sometimes you have to look reality in the eye and deny it" (Sanders, 1996, 5).

Kevin Forseth defines rendering "as the art of showing people how their dreams and wishes will look, depicted in their best light" (Forseth, 1991, 129).

To sell ideas to clients, the use of rendering has become essential in showing them what the end result could look like even though not completely authentic. And the more realistic, the more attractive design the better.

Generally this is true. Julia Dorothea Schlegal wrote a very interesting article called "Great Weather and Happy People" in which she relates to studies that have proven "that architectural lay-people consider photorealistic renderings to be more valid and reliable than non-photo realistic renderings" (57). This is because lay people can relate to the atmosphere, life and people displayed in the rendering more than just drawings of a building. They are attracted to the essence not the design.

Whilst architects have employed the use of rendering to help sell their designs, not many of them would admit to believing the deception of the white lie of rendering. 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).

The fantasy for architects is one of art form. Rendering is a way of seeing architecture stripped of all nasty realities attached to it.

The Chinese architects are famous for their use of fanatical renderings and they work vigorously to produce renderings oftentimes detached from reality. With the use of inspirational rendering, what might start out as a plain building in a chilly part of China, could be enhanced with the addition of blue skies, a background of skyscrapers and green areas imported from other sites, could be transformed into an attractive design even though these additions do not exist in the environment. Adam Nathaniel Mayer gives the following explanation of this when he says that these "renderings serve as fantasies of urbanization rather than true reflections of the urban condition" (31).

In reality the peril of this deception portrays the rendering as something unrealistic instead of an illustration of the end product. Sometimes when a rendering is so real looking, the discussion can revolve round the details instead of the notion that it’s supposed to describe.

All too often clients are attracted to a rendering and then be disillusioned with reality as was the case of Herzog de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie renderings. On the other hand, clients can be turned against a rendering because of it’s depiction (as in OMA’s Torre Bicentenario or MVRDV’s Cloud Towers). During an interview, Eric de Broches des Combes a founding partner of Luxigon who are one of the world’s largest architectural rendering firms stated "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 challenge then is to produce a rendering that illustrates the objective of the project and at the same time leaves scope for discussion. As Mansilla y Tuñón Arquitectos basically puts it, 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 points out, "We are not concerned with the aesthetic quality of an image, but the portrayed information and suggested potential within it" (27).

So how is it possible to attract awareness to the plan of the project and still remain positive enough to identify the potential?

Perhaps an initial rendering could be drafted that would display a vaguely idealized design followed by a more accurate rendering. Or is it possible that rendering in its’ present state will disappear and then this discussion will take a different direction.

Clients are attracted by impressive and sensational renderings. Mansilla y Tuñón Arquitectos states that 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). Series et Series + Labtop puts it this way, "We are not concerned with the aesthetic quality of an image, but the portrayed information and suggested potential within it" (27).

The kind of rendering we refer to is a picture of a truly amazing setting with sun shine, blue skies, people with smiles on their faces enjoying their surroundings. And this is often a ploy by architects to persuade their clients to buy into their project even to the point of misleading them with a certain rendering style which more often than not, is more convincing than authentic architecture. Clients invariably like to see different presentation approaches and how these are marketed but they also like to see their project during construction and the finished product in pictures to analyse if it concurs with the sublime rendering.

Sometimes this circle of sublime renderings with an end product that is not as magnificent as was envisaged occurs quite often at different levels. For instance the Water Falls by Olafur Eliasson, a public art project in New York, initially was portrayed as colossal waterfalls descending vigorously into the river below, but the photos do not display this. The flow does not appear to be as powerful and therefore the overall effect is not as striking or spectacular.

Alternatively examine Herzog and de Meuron’s incredible tent-like glass facade on the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Germany. The renderings give the impression that the transparent facade is likened to a weightless blanket. But when we look at the photographs taken during construction, they do not reflect the glassy waves that appeared in the renderings.

It is possible that some finished developments look as though something has been omitted because the renderings have embedded a faultless image in our heads. Maybe if such an inspirational image was not revealed to us initially, then we would be more content with the finished product.

Do you think renderings should continue to depict a perfect image – with a somewhat majestic quality – for the project to compete with other proposals striving for the same commission, or is there more to be said for a realistic rendering that offers a more truthful image of the final project? We then ask the question, should renderings portray an ideal image so that it will sway potential clients to buy into the project or should they just portray a pragmatic rendering that will do justice to the completed result. Do you find that the architectural-ness of some projects fall short of what the renderings originally offered? Is it possible that the finished article is sometimes disappointing because of what the renderings initially promised?