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Major trends in digital visualization: neo-analog
Major trends in digital visualization: neo-analog
The origin of neo-analog visualization

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.

Methods of neo-analog visualization

To visualize their projects, architects combine digital and analog tools. Studios like Fala Atelier, Dogma, Viar Estudio, Estudio Altiplano, Point Supreme, whom Sam Jacob described as post-digital, merge hand drawings, architecture models and renders, abstract color planes, fragments of found images into digital collages using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.


Some emerging architects who publish their work on the KoozA/rch platform produce frontal and axonometric drawings that are either drawn digitally, printed, and colored by hand, or - in reverse - drawn by hand, scanned and colored by the computer.


For her Master’s at Bartlett school, Sophie Barks drew elements of the building in AutoCAD, printed and finished them by hand, then scanned and used them to make collages. In the project “BKK Opportunistic Ecologies” by Animali Domestici a digitally drawn axonometry was printed on silky fabric to imitate Javanese batik textiles. Embroidered applications were glued on top of the drawings like decorative elements, making the project an analog assemblage.


This integration of the hand and computer-drawn goes at a deeper level than in post-digital collage and applies a more diverse set of methods. This is why we prefer the broader term ‘neo-analog’.


Illustration: collages by Fala Atelier embody the style and feel of neo-analog (post-digital) archviz.

Neo-analog archviz cuts ties with realism

Architects who practice neo-analog visualization oppose the illusionism of photorealist rendering. Neo-analog archviz is pronouncedly artificial, it does not pretend to create a precise reflection of the real world but tries to leave room for imagination. As Sam Jacob put it, post-digital visualization eschews “preset realism in order to expose how drawing and seeing are active in constructing the world.”


Neo-analog visualization often breaks the boundaries of three-dimensional space with linear perspective. Space in neo-analog images may be planar and forgo perspective completely. Some visualizations juxtapose fragments with reverse and moving point perspective, frontal projection, and linear perspective with different vanishing points. By doing so, architects create surreal visions of space that cannot be realized in real life.


However, neo-analog renders are not totally detached from real life. Fala Atelier has done a render vs photo comparison similar to those made by Mecanoo and Vizfire. The gap between the visualization and the photograph hardly proved larger than in the case of their photorealist counterparts.


Illustration: collage "How will we live together, Athens" by Point Supreme combines frontal fragments and pieces with perspective with different vanishing points.

Neo-analog archviz has its own cliché

At the same time, the claim of the neo-analog archviz at being more diverse and creative than photorealism is doubtful. Outstanding architects who work within a neo-analog approach indeed experiment and create unique images in their personal manner. However, the vast majority of architects who employ the neo-analog methods stick to a limited set of devices. Architecture critic Swarnabh Ghosh lists the most widely used tropes: “square aspect ratio, relentless frontality, impossibly high focal length, often the absence of perspective, the profusion of film-grain “noise” and texture overlays, the simulation of hand-made collage or montage, suppressed or mute coloration, fragments of iconic paintings, idiosyncratic furniture, potted succulents, and sundry domestic ephemera”.


Neo-analog archviz eventually becomes reduced to a commercial visual aesthetic, a trendy style. But its initial ambition and artistic possibilities are much broader than a list of cliché. So neo-analog as an approach to visualization should be distinguished from neo-analog as an artistic trend.


Illustration: a collage by Estudio Altpiano, now Studio Manrique. It looks pronouncedly similar to the works of Fala Atelier, Point Supreme (shown above), and many others.


Neo-analog visualization is nostalgic

Swarnabh Ghosh called the clichéd neo-analog archviz  “preset retro-fetishism”. Indeed, neo-analog visualization draws inspiration from old-school hand-drawn renderings. The stylistic influences range from traditional Chinese landscape painting, the graphics of Piranesi and Ledoux to the drawings of Archigram and Superstudio and early works of OMA and Zaha Hadid.


This longing for the past may be explained by a sentimental quest for ‘authenticity’ which is characteristic of metamodernism. Metamodernism describes a cultural shift in the 2010s towards neoromanticism and sincere interpretation of the past cultural phenomena. It is a state of oscillation “between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony”.


This nostalgic mood is especially pronounced in the emerging architects’ works usually presented on KoozA/rch. Most of them are experimental utopian projects that draw inspiration from the modernist and early post-modernist architectural utopias of the 1950s - 1970s. In their visualizations and the projects alike young architects imitate the styles of a period when architecture still held social and political power. In this era, the architects were influential enough not only to envision but to erect utopian projects – from brutalist social housing in Britain to the masterplan of Brasilia.


So neo-analog archviz does not long only for hand-drawn, manual, and non-three dimensional. It laments the lost status of an architect and his role as the creator of new worlds. Neo-analog archviz encourages the architects to regain their agency and start thinking big again.


Header illustration: "Civil Registration Bureau" by Sophie Barks,BKK Opportunistic Ecologies” by Animali Domestici.