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Architectural visualization styles:
how ArchViz evolved and why you should care

Architectural visualization today has room for everyone. There are different approaches and styles, each occupying their own niche.

The rapid development of technology has definitely changed the rules of the game. New techniques are updating — or, sometimes, replacing — the old ones.

Old does not necessarily mean bad, though. Here’s a quick guide to the succession of ArchViz styles — and to what it potentially means for your project.

01 Artistic visualization

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.

<em>Entries to the Chicago Tribune Tower competition (1922). L-R: John Howells and Raymond Hood (winner), Eliel Saarinen (sec

SKYSCRAPER MUSEUM

Entries to the Chicago Tribune Tower competition (1922). L-R: John Howells and Raymond Hood (winner), Eliel Saarinen (second place), Bertram Goodhue, Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer, Max Taut.

The approach is still around, though it’s mostly done digitally now.

Techniques used: 

hand-drawn sketches, watercolors and wireframes + digital techniques imitating them.

Special features: 

a schematic depiction of a building and its surroundings — usually not too realistic, or even abstract.

Pros: 

makes it easy to convey a concept. Good for early design stages. Gives the rendering a unique touch.

Cons: 

time-consuming, tad outdated, does not allow for ‘full glory’ mode in terms of setting and detail.

02 Photorealistic visualization

It’s hard to imagine now, but just a couple of decades ago illustrators and animators were adamantly opposed to the idea of computer graphics. That changed fast with the bombshell effect of Ed Catmull’s animated hand — who subsequently took command of Pixar (both Ed and his left hand, actually).

‘A computer-animated hand’, directed and produced by Edwin Catmull and Fred Parke, 1972

Artists have fought to achieve a photographic effect ever since, striving for ultimate resemblance and realism.

Techniques used:

computer graphics, 3D-rendering.

Special features:

it looks REAL.

Pros: 

allows for maximum accuracy in depicting a building and its surroundings. Helps set up realistic client expectations for a future project.

Cons:

became quite generic and mainstream, stripping the visuals of distinctiveness. The faster realism turns into just a technical skill, the more it takes away the originality of the artist.  

03 Hyperreal visualization

An approach that came as a logical next step to the technological advancement. If you can recreate reality, why not just take things to the next level?

Hyperrealism gives the artist freedom to create something truly outstanding and  larger-than-life. It puts the ultimate control into the hands of the creator to the point where they can ‘make the stars align’ and put their feature into a perfect hyper-realistic setting.

 ‘Dazzling’ by iddqd Studio, 2017

Techniques used: 

computer graphics + imagination.

Special features:

goes way above reality, heavily impacted by the artist’s perspective.

Pros: images are one of a kind. Hyperreal visualizations look stunning — thus making projects exponentially more marketable. Great for winning competitions.

Cons: expensive and time-consuming. If done commercially, it’s crucial that the client's and the artist’s visions are aligned.

04 Summary

The styles mentioned above are definitely not going anywhere. Each of them caters to a specific need and carries a different function.

Concept drawings as a phenomenon still maintain the ability to express an idea well. Photorealistic renderings are not losing their appeal and probably won’t in the near future.

Still, it’s the artistry of hyperreal visualization that embraces the best of both worlds, successfully marrying creative and tech.

Our guide should make it easier to navigate the ArchViz universe and to choose the architectural rendering studio to work with.

 ‘Lumos’ by iddqd Studio, 2018

The only thing left to do is make a decision: do you need to simply convey an idea? Would you like your project to be comprehensive and visually compelling? Or do you want to stand out and have your project look like nothing ever before?