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.
The Zeitgeist is particularly well-defined in the type of projects that are simultaneously generic and trendy. Those projects are displayed on image-sharing platforms without any pretense of undergoing construction. Such platforms as Instagram or Pinterest are algorithm-driven: they capture visual markers that signify any currently popular aesthetics. Those algorithms are easy to hack and monetize with uber-trendy design and presentation. So, content creators are pushed into going with the flow.
Trendy yet generic eye candy, exclusively digital:
Clockwise: 1. Alexis Christodoulou, 2. GUASCH Studiohttp://guasch.studio/, 3. Cristina La Porta, 4. MUE.
Clockwise: 1. Alexis Christodoulou, 2. Cristina La Porta, 3. MUE, 4. Studio Brasch
On the one hand, such overtly of-the-moment images may be good in terms of feedback, exposure, and internet fame that may help bring clients. On the other hand, it is often unsustainable in real-life design. Bizarre customized details are cheap to model but too expensive to produce, and sought-after objects and furniture are hard to get and cost too much for most clients of design beginners. Most importantly, overly trendy images have a small life span before they start to look dated and eventually become obsolete. Visualizations that capture the very essence of design trends are predominantly ‘simulacra’ that don’t have any real-world construction to back them up. Therefore, it is necessary to preserve those sometimes questionable images for future study.
Illustration: this trendy 2021 interior by a successful Eastern European company had been hanging in an Instagram page of a locally influential interior magazine before the editors were made aware that the interior was a mere visualization (spot the chairs floating in the air). The prosperous studio had no shortage of realized projects but still picked a render to hack the Instagram and Pinterest algorithms.
So, why are those uniform algorithm-laden pictures of generic design meaningful? Do they hold any substantial data that is worthy of preservation?
We are used to imagining the history of architecture (and history as a whole) through a series of outstanding projects, events, and personalities. But this is an obvious misconception. Ninety-nine percent of any history – architecture is no exception – is occupied by the boring stuff: from everyday life akin to survival to unoriginal sad construction that does not sparkle any curiosity or joy in the people who inhabit it. This fundamental contradiction led West German historians to create a new discipline in the 1980s: “Alltagsgeschichte” in German, or the history of everyday life.
The advent of readily available and affordable digital visualization and digital photography leaves architecture historians with enough material to create a similar branch within their discipline. And the made-for-Instagram uniform interiors with their ability to show popular dreams and aspirations proved to be one of the primary information sources for such a discipline.
Header illustration: an image from "Visual Escapism, Somewhere in the World" series by MUE.