Rendering the Future

Computer aided design has permanently altered the architectural and design process. Here are 5 projects that demonstrate why that may not be such a bad thing.

By Robert Nieminen, Ben Frotscher, Elianne Halbersberg

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times (“Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing,” Sept. 1, 2012), famed architect Michael Graves pondered the relationship between architecture and drawing, and whether or not technology is contributing to the death of an age-old art form.

“With its tremendous ability to organize and present data, the computer is transforming every aspect of how architects work, from sketching their first impressions of an idea to creating complex construction documents for contractors,” Graves wrote. “For centuries, the noun ‘digit’ (from the Latin ‘digitus’) has been defined as ‘finger,’ but now its adjectival form, ‘digital,’ relates to data. Are our hands becoming obsolete as creative tools? Are they being replaced by machines? And where does that leave the architectural creative process?”

While the answers to his questions remain largely unanswered, what remains certain is that architectural renderings are today the clearest expressions and closest representations of an architect’s or designer’s vision. While hand sketches and construction documents present skeletal forms, computer-generated renderings add flesh to bones. They not only reflect accurately the structural components of a building, but also help clients bridge the gap between imagination and reality, painting a picture of the project’s form within the context of a larger setting—often with photorealistic detail.

Given that rendering software programs—such as 3ds Max, AutoCAD, Revit, Rhino and SketchUp—have permanently altered the practice of architecture and design, we reached out to several firms that have recently completed renderings of upcoming projects and asked them to discuss what role renderings played in conceptualizing their designs. As you’ll see in the following pages, the results are both informative and inspiring.

Will machines ever replace our hands, as Graves mused? We hope not, but as long as technology continues to help us visualize the future—as we believe the following projects do—we’re pretty sure the art of drawing will remain alive and well, at least in spirit.

L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Center
Lower Flying Point, ME | By SMMA

The Outdoor Discovery Center project started with a challenge from L.L.Bean, who wanted a kayaking center that emphasizes a connection to the outdoors that would also serve as a base lodge for the Center’s many expeditions and accommodate L.L.Bean’s Summer Kid’s Camp.

CITé du Corps Humain
Montpellier, France | By BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Much like the evolution of a species, programming for the new Cité du Corps Humain (Museum of the Human Body) in Montpellier, France, developed from a very raw concept into a highly sophisticated and stunningly beautiful design—articulated through the language of rendering.

Luxury Island Resort+Villas
Haitang Bay, China | By DiLeonardo International

In this issue’s IIDA forum article, IIDA CEO Cheryl Durst notes that the emphasis on regionalism in hospitality design is one that perhaps should have emerged sooner because it creates a distinct association of place that lingers in the memory even after you’ve left—a key to any successful hospitality project.

Pingtan Art Museum
Pingtan, China | By MAD Architects

Designed as an island connected to an island, the new Pingtan Art Museum in Pingtan, China will soon be the largest private museum in Asia­—and the third museum design by Chinese firm MAD Architects.

Xi’an Maike Business Center
(Grand Hyatt Xi’an) Xi’an, China | By RTKL Associates

A number of factors can alter or derail the scope of any project. For RTKL and the Xi’an Maike Business Center in Xi’an, China, the rendering process completely changed the direction of the project.