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 word “hyperrealism” first appeared in visual art. The concept of “hyperrealism” was originally coined by a Belgian art dealer Isy Brachot as 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 artistic intent. Photorealist artists intended to create precise imitations of photographs. On the other hand, hyperrealists aimed to twist the human perception of reality rather than bridge the gap between photography and painting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You plan to delegate the visualization of your project to an architectural rendering studio, but find yourself lost in the variety of styles and types of images. Sounds familiar? Digital visualization studios’ offers come at every price and in various styles. It’s not always clear which manner of rendering suits your design best. And can you tell if your project requires a single type of visualization or a combination of many?
We have come up with this short guide to help you navigate the offers,
cut corners and maybe save a little bit of money in the process.
To make spectacular and alluring images, architectural visualization studios apply highly varying artistic methods. Renderings are styled as anything from glossy photographs to impressionist landscape paintings. Sometimes it is not instantly clear which style or artistic reference will work best with your design.
We propose some simple questions to guide you to the manner and mood of visualization that befits your project the most. You can meditate on them to navigate the world of digital archviz with ease.
The type and the style of rendering are the two most important aspects that define the quality of the visualization. You should not combine conceptual images and technical renderings into a single set. The style of the visualization must complement your design.
We have prepared a small questionary to help you better understand how many renderings of what type and style to pick.
The war in Ukraine has again demonstrated the threats that military operations and natural disasters pose to cultural heritage preservation. UNESCO reports that by July 2022, more than 150 architectural monuments and cultural sites in Ukraine have been severely damaged or destroyed, and many more face the risk of destruction. Historical city centers with unique urban fabric were erased to the ground. Before Ukraine, Syria and Yemen had suffered innumerable losses of treasured architectural monuments, some of which belonged to the World Heritage sites list.
Preservation of cultural heritage may seem like an architectural conservation problem only loosely connected to digital archviz. However, 3d-scanning and modeling, as well as VR and AR technologies, have already proven to be powerful tools in the preservation and digitization of historical sites. Advances in rendering technology may drive this integration of digital visualization and heritage preservation even further.
The term “heritage in danger” was introduced by UNESCO in Article 11.4 of the 1972 World Heritage Convention. The original definition concerns sites from the World Heritage List which are threatened “by serious and specific dangers, such as the threat of disappearance.” A heritage site may also lose the properties which secured its status as a World Heritage. But this definition applies to any cultural or natural monument of national or regional importance under threat of partial or total destruction.
The war in Ukraine has emphasized the imminent risks that armed conflict poses to the integrity of architectural monuments. But natural disasters like earthquakes, fires, floods, unsustainable land development and construction projects, predatory urbanism, overtourism, and inadequate preservation efforts pose just as many risks to heritage sites. Monuments can deteriorate, be destroyed, or be reconstructed so that authentic elements are damaged or lost.
In the article “Archviz and cultural heritage: preservation of heritage in danger ”, we have pointed out that archviz is an essential tool for the preservation of cultural heritage that is in danger of destruction. Precise renderings enhance digital models of endangered heritage. But just as important is the ability of archviz to bring back to life the long-lost monuments that cannot be restored. Lost heritage sites are recreated digitally from drawings, photographs, and paintings.
Physical reconstruction is often impossible because many such sites have been gone for too long. Often there is not enough data to make a precise copy. The UNESCO-approved “International Charter For The Conservation And Restoration Of Monuments And Sites” (“The Venice Charter”) strictly advises against the reconstruction of lost monuments, because it views reconstructed copies as fundamentally inferior to the lost originals.
Lost sites often hide under many layers of newer development, some of which are cultural heritage in their own right. It was partially the case of the famous model “Roma Imperiale” that recreated the Constantin-era Rome at a 1:250 scale. This clay model is a good starting point to speak about the advantages of digital 3D scans. Italian architect Italo Gismondi spent two decades making “Roma Imperiale”. Digital models are a lot less time-consuming. Unlike their physical counterparts, digital models can also be updated when new data emerges. They allow us to experiment with various hypotheses about the monument’s layout. Vector models can be made on a 1:1 scale and contain almost unlimited data on architectural details, colors, materials, and textures.
The application of archviz in cultural heritage is not limited to digitization and popularization of endangered and lost sites. Visualization is just as important for making the futuristic visions of heritage sites as it is for preserving their past and present state. When restoration of ruined buildings to their former look is impossible, their experimental treatment becomes a feasible renewal strategy.
Experimental preservation projects are often unconventional. As a result, they remain largely virtual and hardly ever get to construction. For that reason, visualization becomes an integral element of the design. The virtual space of the rendering works as a substitute for the material space. Visualization compensates for the lack of data about spatial layout, functional layers, and other details to be experienced only in real life.
As a rule, experimental renewal strategies apply to the recently lost buildings and sites. Visualizations of such renewal projects must be uplifting and life-asserting to help people overcome their loss and participate in their reconstruction with vigor and vitality. Avant-garde design proposals require the most convincing and striking renderings to gain public trust in such an emotionally charged field as the reconstruction of damaged sites.
Architecture critic Sam Jacob famously lamented in 2017 that the advent of digital archviz excluded the art of rendering and drawing from what constitutes the discipline of architecture. Historically, visualization was inseparable from the design process, as architects were thinking and drawing simultaneously. Because of that, architectural drawing played a much more significant role: Palladio’s books were a bigger influence on the development of European architecture than Palladio’s buildings. When architects started outsourcing visualization to rendering firms, it turned into a separate "inferior" field divorced from "real" architecture.
In Sam Jacob’s view, because of this split between visualization and architecture, visionary projects that heavily depended on representation have also died out. He believed that the only way to revive innovative architecture was to return to semi-manual rendering he called “post-digital.”
But this pessimistic view of digital archviz is also reductionist. We argue that contemporary digital archviz is more than a mere supplementary tool for making commercial renderings. Realistic digital renderings didn’t lose their fundamental ability to preserve the alternative reality of projects that didn’t reach completion and to represent utopian architecture. There is space for visionary renderings even in commercial design.
Compared to architecture photography, archviz contains more data on the state of the world in which this architecture was envisioned. An extra bit of information is always present, regardless of whether the building in the rendering is of outstanding artistic value or if it looks like a generic bloc. This is due to the inherent ability of archviz to represent the life around buildings through the filter of the visualization artist’s eye.
Digital visualization studios tend to ‘beautify’ even photorealistic images. They produce renderings in line with popular taste and consequentially easier to sell. To make projects more appealing, they render images with a fashionable color palette, light and color balance, or even people and objects in the background. As a result, popular trends are more deductible from visualizations than from photographs.
By doing this, architecture rendering studios capture the tiniest shifts in the cultural, social, and political situation. Archviz can reflect not just the current state of design, but the popular sentiment about it, the common feeling of the desirable, and the predominant aesthetics.
As anyone who has ever compared initial renderings to photographs of constructed buildings knows, there is often a certain discrepancy between what the building looks like in real life and what the architect originally envisioned. In the course of construction, projects undergo all kinds of alterations, simplifications, adaptations, and cost-cutting measures that may often render them unrecognizable.
For that unfortunate reason, visualization offers a unique and valuable perspective on the initial concept of the design. From an architecture historian’s perspective, how the architect wanted the building to turn out is just as important as how it turned out. An architecture scholar will dissect this difference from the grand vision of the design or the tiny things like where the architect originally placed the compositional highlights, and what type of window frames, colors, and materials got lost when the project underwent construction. This information is hardly ever displayed through other means of architectural representation: VR, AR, technical drawing, or even architecture photography.
When we speak about design that remained on paper and never got to the construction stage, we often imagine ill-conceived projects declined for being not forward enough or poorly executed. Maybe they lacked an understanding of context and function and had a horrible layout or appearance.
But the reality is much more complicated. Outstanding design that is too forward or experimental for its age gets rejected just as often as poorly conceived proposals. The lack of appropriate construction technology or sufficient funding may lead to the project's rejection, while political and social turmoil halts execution plans. In architectural competitions, there is often more than one outstanding entry. The losing proposals are not necessarily worse than the winning ones, as there are many factors taken into consideration during the selection process. The outstanding architectural quality of the project is just one such factor.
It may sound surprising to people not engaged in architecture, but there exists a whole plethora of experimental projects so detached from the laws of physics that it’s fundamentally impossible to realize them in real life. Is it a mistake, a lack of technical knowledge, or were those designs simply ambitious to the point of absurdity? As a rule, their creators never intended for those designs to be built. They were envisioned as pure thought experiments from the start.
Architectural utopias often explore some futuristic vision or represent real-world architectural challenges in a concentrated form. Such forward-looking insights inspire unexpected solutions to the current conflicts in ecology or the politics and economy of space.
Last but not least, avant-garde utopian projects provide a valuable information source to architecture scholars. It is because the history of architecture is not just a timeline of buildings but a history of ideas about the production of space.