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Design Tools: The Computer Revolution & The Simulated Architect (part 2/3)

This overall post (in three parts) will dive into: how the computer affects the creation of architecture today (the act of designing), how architecture/design is depicted ("renders" or visualizations), and the future of creating architecture.

SuperHouse by Strom Architects

This is the second of three posts about how computers have changed the architecture and design landscape and where I believe this is leading the profession.  The last post was about information around Computer Aided Drafting or CAD. ​ This post is about how architecture is depicted, sometimes called visualizations or renderings.

Visualizing designs:

    Architectural visualizations, like the process of creating architectural designs described in the last post, were always a part of the tool-kit of the designer going back hundreds of years. However, the computer has fundamentally changed the way architects are able to show what the building will look like.  The architecture visualization competition KRob (Ken Roberts Memorial Delineation Competition) is a great place to see some of the best visualizations. 

In the past, architects relied on sketching to quickly explore ideas and more specifically artists to create a watercolor painting of what the building would look like - generally adding entourage around it like trees, landscaping, cars, and people to bring the vision to life.

Similarly, architects created quick study models out of cardboard, wood, and similar malleable materials to explore the design of a building, and artists/sculptors helped create polished final models to show the vision of a building.  As the computer matured as a tool and became commonplace at architecture offices, programs were created for drafting blueprints. During this explosion of bits, the movie industry also began to embrace the computer. Pixar via John Lasseter, among others(including mathematicians), were finding ways to use the computer to produce 3D images with physically accurate lighting, material and motion.  

     Soon after Hollywood began pioneering these advances in photo-real rendering, architecture offices began using similar software to create renderings of buildings.  Just like the drafting counterpart, the initial visualizations mimicked hand methods of image making - the design was created, and an artist or specialist re-created a 3D model of the building which was textured, lit and sent to a computer to churn away for several days to generate a rendering of the building.  As computer processor speed increased exponentially, the architect and designer were able to use 3D modeling not only as a final picture of the building, but as a tool throughout the process to study how light is affected by design changes, how form looks in different weather, how materials options changes the appearance of things - in other words the designer and architect went from a way to show off a final design to a way to inform decisions.  Render times quickly went from days to hours to minutes and now are integral in the design process.  

Spring District building rendering—

Artist’s rendering of commercial buildings at the Spring District. Courtesy of Wright Runstad

     Rendering software is now built in to most architecture CAD programs, generally one step behind the movie industry who tends to pioneer advanced algorithms to mimic real-world physics. So most architects are now able to create realistic materials, lighting, water, fire and the physics of cloth and fabrics. Similarly, most high-end render software also comes with the ability to make animations giving the architect the ability to render a fly-through, a walk-through, and build animations around how a building might go together over months or years.  It is quite a regular occurrence now to not know if an image is a computer generated rendering or a real photograph - this progress all happened in about 20 years - it's quite remarkable.   

Interior 3d renders come to life with Cleanpix Graphics

     The last area where advancements are taking place is the merging of CAD and Rendering.  The latest architectural creation software now is based on a complex information rich 3D model that can be cut up as needed to show floor plans, sections elevations or details  - as such, this model also able to be lit, accurate materials applied and dropped into virtual models of our cities, complete with trees, people, and weather.  We are quite literally building virtual buildings for virtual cities before any piece of dirt is even moved.  

SuperHouse by Strom Architects

Re Thinking Architecture... and maybe the Architect: stay tuned- This post will be coming in 1 week! 

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