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.
The juxtaposition of the competing branches of digital archviz based on their ‘realism’ or ‘abstraction’ is misleading. Counterintuitively, it would be more accurate to set hyperreal and neo-analog visualization against photorealism based on creativity in architecture representation.
However, it is also reductionist to interpret photorealist, hyperreal, and neo-analog archviz as mutually exclusive conceptual and visual approaches. All three differ in their function, and each has its proper role at varying stages of architectural design.
Neo-analog visualization is most useful at the earlier stages of the design process, as it allows to change concept images more freely and spontaneously. Neo-analog archviz tends to be abstract, so projects are presented through clear drawings without unnecessary details. Creative freedom makes neo-analog archviz useful not only as a sketch tool but also as a representation method for experimental architecture. In experimental projects the extra precision and realism would draw attention from the concept. Finally, the neo-analog approach radiates an aura of high-brow architecture – something made for the architects by other architects. It becomes an inside joke for those in the know. Thus, it might prove beneficial as a commercial visualization for a sophisticated client.
Illustration: "Easier Taken Slow" by Dogma. Neo-analog visualization is structured, clear, readable, easy-to-transform.
Frigid non-glossy photorealism gives an adequate approximation of what the building might look like in its surroundings. Photorealistic renderings may highlight the flaws and problematic aspects of a project and facilitate its critical evaluation. It makes photorealist archviz an effective tool for introducing quality upgrades and changes at the intermediate and late stages of the design process. Photorealism is an effective tool for making a balanced visualization that draws attention both to the potential drawbacks of a project and to its strong sides.
In comparison with photorealist archviz, hyperreal visualization contains an extra level of information. Its atmosphere induces a quasi-multisensory tactile experience and proposes a hypothetical emotional and psychological impact of the built environment on its users. When necessary, hyperrealism abandons the misleading precision of architectural elements and treats the render as if it was a classical painting. A painter's approach creates strong impactful images that express the architect’s idea in a condensed form. We may say that hyperrealism adapts the best achievements of both photorealist and neo-analog archviz.
Hyperreal archviz breaks away from the purely realistic representation. This is why "hyperreal" visualization should be distinguished from "hyperrealist" or "hyperrealistic" render. The later term is used in the architecture press to describe superior quality photorealism.
Illustration: "Vienna Museum" by Iddqd Studio. Hyperreal visualization contains an extra layer of information about the building. In this case, it is the pronounced relationship with the surroundings and the feeling of the building's mass.
The different roles that photorealist, neo-analog and hyperreal archviz take in the design process are especially evident in the work of a Belgian architecture studio KGDVS. Office KGDVS uses abstract collage for the earlier drafts and photorealist or hyperreal visualization for the final presentations. Their equal use of archviz methods proves that neo-analog is best for making creative sketches, photorealism provides the critical evaluation of the building's appearance, while hyperrealism ensures the most impactful presentation.
Even though it may be argued that neo-analog and hyperreal archviz are more high-brow and artsy than photorealism, all three are utilitarian and practical. The practical purpose of photorealism is to recreate the looks of the building as precisely as possible. Hyperreal and neo-analog archviz stress it is equally important to accurately convey the architect’s idea, the concept of the project. Thus, the best visualization approach is determined depending on the practical application of a particular rendering and its target audience.
Header illustration: a hyperreal and a neo-analog visualization of "Solo House" by Office KGDVS.