i d d q d Studio
Working with a remote architectural visualization studio: the art of nuance

So you’re looking for an architectural visualization company. You’re in love with the portfolio, but there’s a catch: the studio is a 10-hour flight away from your office. Sound familiar?

Remote is the new normal. And after the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s often the only possible option. As if those projects needed any more complications (in addition to 'the deadline is in 3 days' scenario).

How can you minimize the risks and optimize the communication? Below we’re sharing what has been working for us over the years — as we’ve always been doing most of our work remotely.

 

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Architectural visualization styles: how ArchViz evolved and why you should care

This is where it all started. Before the computers were around, it took hours and hours of manual labor to produce good visuals. Pencil sketches, wireframes and watercolors were common — and boy, isn’t it terrifying to even think of someone placing their morning coffee over those.

The approach is still around, though it’s mostly done digitally now.

Techniques used: 

hand-drawn sketches, watercolors and wireframes + digital techniques imitating them.

Special features: 

a schematic depiction of a building and its surroundings — usually not too realistic, or even abstract.

Pros: 

makes it easy to convey a concept. Good for early design stages. Gives the rendering a unique touch.

Cons: 

time-consuming, tad outdated, does not allow for ‘full glory’ mode in terms of setting and detail.

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Hyperreal visualizations are the new black

The ambiguity surrounding Hyperrealism stems right from its definition.

Based on Oxford Languages, the word ‘hyperreal’ has the following meaning:

hyperreal

/hʌɪpəˈriːl/

adjective

  1. 1.
    exaggerated in comparison to reality.
    "his characters are hyperreal rather than naturalistic"
  2. 2.
    (of artistic representation) extremely realistic in detail.

Or, as Merriam-Webster puts it:

hyperreal
: marked by extraordinary vividness

Where’s the catch? Is it something exceeding reality or just something that looks very real? To find out, let’s trace the origins of hyperrealism.

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Our path to ArchViz. How much art’s actually there?

The story of iddqd Studio began in 2012. We were a small team of architects, young and passionate, driven by the same goals and ready to change the world. 

We’ve always wanted to be part of the current global architecture somehow. To come up with things that have never been. To innovate, to explore parametric design, to be ahead of the regular.

In our imagination, we’d create buildings, change city landscapes and become the next Bjarke Ingels (all of us at once). We thought it was fascinating: generating ideas that become projects. Beauty of architecture = beauty of idea, isn’t that right?

The Spiral, a project by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), currently under construction in NYC.

A tiny bit idealistic, ready to work hard and to show our utmost creativity.

That desire drove us towards opening an architectural visualization studio. To us, it seemed like the easiest way in, the first step that would lead us to greatness.

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Hyperrealism in art and archviz: are they the same?

The word “hyperrealism” first appeared in visual art. The concept of “hyperrealism” was originally coined by a Belgian art dealer Isy Brachot as a title of a 1973 Brussels exhibition of mostly American realist artists. Brachot used the word “hyperrealism” to define a new form of realist painting and sculpture that evolved from the earlier photorealist work of the 1960s. 

 

The difference between the earlier 1960s photorealism and the 1970s hyperrealism was in artistic intent. Photorealist artists intended to create precise imitations of photographs. Hyperrealists, on the other hand, aimed to twist the human perception of reality, rather than bridge the gap between photography and painting.

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Is hyperrealism a product of hyperreality?

Hyperreal visualization is different from hyperrealist art in its intent and artistic methods. So we need to find another approach to define hyperrealism in archviz and distinguish it as a conceptual movement. To do that we need to find out how hyperreal archviz relates to the philosophical understanding of hyperreality.

 

It is often assumed that when Isy Brachot came up with the definition of hyperrealism in art, he referenced the concept of “hyperreality” of the French postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard. However, Baudrillard’s seminal work "Simulacra and Simulation” was published in 1981, more than half a decade later than the exhibition in Brussels had taken place. And yet Baudrillard’s insights have provided a popular framework for digital archviz analysis.

 

Baudrillard defined hyperreality as an inability of consciousness to tell illusion from reality. He called this illusion simulacrum - a copy that has no original source in the material world. Reality and illusion become merged to a point where it is impossible to distinguish where one ends and the other starts, and reality eventually disappears. Hyperreality distorts the sensory and conscious perception of the world. This lack of real-life experience detaches people not only from reality but from their true selves. People don’t live anymore, they passively watch images instead.

 

It is often assumed that Baudrillard based his understanding of hyperreality on the concept of the “society of the spectacle” by another French philosopher Guy Debord. In art and architecture criticism their ideas are often used interchangeably.

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Is hyperreal archviz a potential way out of hyperreality?

We have argued that hyperrealism in architectural visualization cannot be reduced to the supernaturally sharp hyperrealist art or the glossy airbrushed render. Hyperreal visualization does not strive to become a precise imitation or a better version of reality.

 

Then what could the “hyper” prefix in hyperrealism stand for?

 

Hyperreal archviz encourages the viewer – be it client, investor, critic, or jury in a competition – to seek a real-life interaction with physical space. From our experience, the prefix “hyper” describes the methods by which visualization shapes this anticipation of real-life experience of architecture.

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Major trends in digital visualization: photorealism

In the previous articles, we have established how hyperreal archviz relates to hyperrealist art and the philosophical understanding of hyperreality. Now we may define hyperreal visualization in comparison with other leading movements in digital archviz: photorealism and neo-analog. We will look at the conceptual, artistic, and technical qualities that are specific for each approach to digital archviz and define the scope and aim of each approach.

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Major trends in digital visualization: neo-analog

The interest in traditional approaches towards architectural visualization got a sudden revival in the 2010s. Architects started to combine digital and analog methods of architecture representation, mainly collage, hand sketching, and drawing. This new approach was described by the architect and architecture critic Sam Jacob in his influential 2017 essay “Architecture Enters the Age of Post-Digital Drawing”.

 

Architects grew disenchanted with photorealistic renderings. Some of them, like Same Jacob himself, Juhani Pallasmaa, or Tatiana Bilbao lamented that artistic creativity gets limited by overreliance on 3D modeling and rendering software. In their opinion, the presets of those modeling and rendering applications distort the creative process and make upgrading and changing the project harder. Manual drawing leaves more space for imagination, spontaneous and unexpected ideas.

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Major trends in digital visualization: hyperrealism

Hyperreal archviz appeared along with neo-analog visualization in the early 2010s. By that time the expressive limitations of purely photorealist representation had become apparent. The shift from monotonous photorealism in computer animation manifested in all spheres of culture, not just archviz: computer games, digital photography, special effects. The early 2010s were the time when every special-effect rich movie was suddenly filmed in the dramatic blueish-green or sentimental magenta-yellow filters that created a surreal, artificial atmosphere.

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What function do different approaches to the digital archviz have?

We have distinguished the three major approaches to digital archviz: photorealism, neo-analog, and hyperrealism. Among them, photorealism is the oldest and the most widely used. In architecture criticism, photorealism is often considered the most commercialized and banal of all three. Hyperreal and neo-analog approaches are more experimental, as they explore alternative non-realistic methods of space representation. In these experiments, hyperrealism and neo-analog add an extra layer of visual, sensual, and even philosophical meaning to architectural visualization. This is why they are generally viewed as more conceptual than photorealist archviz.

 

Photorealism in both its aims and methods strives to imitate architecture photography rather than the real-life experience of architecture. Neo-analog archviz reimagines the old-school techniques of rendering: ink drawing, collage, and even abstract painting. The belief is that some level of abstraction and artistic creativity in renderings leaves room for the viewer’s imagination. Hyperrealism recreates the feeling and experience of the physical space. To achieve this effect, it combines 3d-rendering with methods of traditional oil painting, photomontage, and matte painting. The hyperreal method draws from both photorealism and neo-analog, but cannot be reduced to the combination of the two.

 

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What is the purpose of the digital visualization today?

Discussions about the best approaches to the digital archviz demand an answer to the question – what purpose does visualization serve in the architecture of today? The simplest answer would be that architectural visualization illustrates and explains the design proposal. It conveys information about the architect’s idea, the appearance, and the layout of the project. It aims to represent the future reality in the most adequate form.

 

This strict definition doesn’t examine the social and cultural dimensions of digital archviz as well as their role in the development of architecture as a discipline. However, achitecture criticics discuss the role of digital archviz plays in contemporary architecture and society as a whole.

 

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Where does hyperrealism stand among the other trends of digital archviz?

 

For those who practice hyperrealism, it is important to define what unique traits make it stand out as a separate approach to digital architectural visualization. Some of its qualities are defined in comparison with the photorealist and neo-analog approaches. The most prominent of those qualities is the emphasis on the real-life experience of space, artistic and cinematographic references, and an aspiration to express the architect’s idea in a condensed form.

 

In the articles “Hyperrealism in art and archviz: are they the same?” and “Is hyperreal archviz a potential way out of hyperreality?” we have established that hyperrealism is a conceptual approach to digital visualization rather than a style or a trend. Such an approach is better defined by its mission than by aesthetics or drift towards realism or abstraction.

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The principles of hyperreal archviz: the distinction between the image and reality

Hyperreal archviz strives to recreate the real-life experience of architecture, but it should also emphasize the distinction between the image and the physical space. The colors, mood, and atmosphere should be lifelike and artificial at the same time. This way the viewer does not get fooled into thinking that the building in real life will look and feel exactly the same as the rendering. Hyperreality does not replace reality, and the visualization avoids becoming a simulacrum.

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The principles of hyperreal archviz: the strive for visual harmony

Hyperreal renderings tend to have a pronouncedly well-balanced and often striking composition. Hyperreal visualization is structured by the hierarchy of primary and secondary elements, expressive spots of color, and strong contrast between light and dark areas. The strict linear perspective may be abandoned for the sake of a more elegant interplay of shapes and colors. Accentuated image composition is another bridge that unites hyperrealism with the tradition of painting, collage, or analog renderings. At the same time, staged composition is also one of the clear markers that distinguish hyperreal architectural visualization from the less-structured photorealism.

 

The color palette in the hyperreal archviz is generally more intricate than either in real life or in photorealist rendering. In this hyperreal archviz also pays homage to visual arts.

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The principles of hyperreal archviz: the emotional experience of space

The hyperreal approach stresses that the atmosphere of space and its ability to ignite emotions are the primary qualities that determine our experience of architecture. The role of tactile perception in this experience is either equal to or surpasses human vision. This is why hyperreal archviz strives to recreate the tactile – or, better, multisensory – perception of architecture that is possible only in physical space.

 

Professional architects understand that the feeling of mass, atmosphere, and mood is an integral part of any built environment. Those ephemeral qualities make a crucial influence on the psychological state of people who will be using that space. This is why they must be accounted for in design proposals. Therefore, it is the job of architectural rendering studios to add those layers to the visualization, even though they are not easily represented in an image.

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Why should you invest in hyperreal visualization?

The artistic and architectural value of hyperreal archviz may seem intangible and ephemeral in the business of construction and real estate. Emotionally engaging visualization that facilitates critical evaluation of the project may benefit the society, but is it financially justified? It is the economy that drives construction, and the project’s impact is measured by the profit it generates as much as by its social importance. Investors have the last word in which project gets the green light. In this money-driven atmosphere, does the investment into the time and labor-consuming hyperreal visualization really return? 

 

What advantages does hyperreal archviz offer, except for the obvious reasoning that visually striking visualizations make the project stand out and win competitions and clients? We would like to argue that hyperreal archviz indeed contains integral elements that make the project generate profit and increase in capital and value.

 

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Economic impact and cultural capital of hyperreal archviz

Hyperreal visualization is a traditional Veblen good as its exclusivity is derived from quality and craftsmanship rather than hype and induced demand. The artistry of execution and sharp cultural references in hyperreal archviz ensure it may become cultural capital.

The concept of cultural capital was developed by a famous French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in a series of works from the 1970s to the 1980s. Cultural capital is the knowledge that we acquire and inherit from the groups we are a part of (family, school, university, etc.). Cultural capital is our way of thinking, knowledge of the language, science, literature, philosophy, music, arts, and so on. It signifies our belonging to a certain group of similar-minded people and conditions our success in society.

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Hyperreal archviz endorses experience-driven authentic architecture

It is now common wisdom that the concepts of “authenticity” and “experience-driven lifestyle” have been reduced to stale and meaningless buzzwords from the less creative mid-2010s commercials. The quest for authenticity was sharply called a hoax as far back as 2011 by a Canadian philosopher Andrew Potter. He points out, that though people who search for authenticity reject the consumerism and spectacle of contemporary culture, they in fact participate in conspicuous consumption of goods branded as authentic. The experience itself became a commodity, something to own rather than live through. A good illustration of this change is a trip to an expensive resort in a faraway place that is not yet plagued by mass tourism.

But does it mean that the qualities that we call “authenticity” or “experience-driven” have also lost their substance? Or do they still represent feasible trends and demands of the modern human?


Illustration: a stay at a luxury resort is about owning rather than living. "Kudadoo Maldives Private Island" by Yuji Yamazaki Architecture.

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