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Is hyperrealism a product of hyperreality?
Is hyperrealism a product of hyperreality?
Hyperreality in philosophy

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.

Hyperreality and the Society of the Spectacle in the critique of archviz

Architecture critics and theorists point out the negative aspects of the contemporary digital archviz with references to Baudrillard or Debord. Rem Koolhaas wrote in 2001: “Color in the real world looks increasingly unreal, drained. Color in virtual space is luminous, therefore irresistible”*.


It would be more accurate to call glossy commercial visualization a photoshopped rather than a photorealist reality. To critic Aaron Betsky, what makes idealized commercial renderings so “seductive and frightening at the same time is that they mirror our existing world, albeit in a deformed … slicker, cleaned up, and refined manner”.


In his manifesto “Against Spectacle”, architect Peter Eisenman says that “Seductive renderings of impossible buildings are their own graphic reality, fuelled by a voracious need for publicity”. He calls these images “the narcissistic death rattle of a discipline lost in the tidal wave of image-dependent media”. Eisenman laments that architecture becomes irrelevant in comparison with spectacular images.


Architecture critic Mark Minkjan calls architecture visualizations “digital delusions”. He points out that they divert the public attention from “the design of the world we want to live in: the kinds of neighborhoods, cities and societies we want to inhabit, how architecture can contribute to that”. 


If we follow this line of thought, spectacular commercial archviz proves to be a simulacrum – a fake imitation of reality that distracts society from the problems posed and solved by architecture.


Illustration: an anonymous meme meditating on the distinction between the render and its realization. "OVG Real Estate" by MVRDV.



*Content: Triumph of Realization. AMO/OMA, R. Koolhaas. Köln : Taschen, 2004. P.  171

Visualization versus the built architecture

The building that eventually gets constructed rarely lives up to its glossy rendering. We prefer to juxtapose visualizations to photographs, and lose constructed buildings inbetween. Yet when we compare a visualization with a photo we omit the qualities of architecture that can only ever be experienced in person. We cannot speak about the tactile feel of the materials or the relationship between the building and the landscape. 


In comparison with the number of people who may see a visualization on a website, very few are able to experience a building in real life. Buildings become irrelevant in comparison with images. Just as Baudrillard argued, hyperreality replaces reality.


However, we have established that the hyperreal approach in archviz is not about spectacular images, but about giving a promise of a future real-world experience of space and architecture.


So, is hyperreal visualization necessarily a simulacrum?

Or is hyperreal archviz something different – a possible escape from the confines of hyperreality back to the real?




Header illustration: "Desert resort" by Iddqd Studio.