Feb. 20, 2020
The past decade was full of transformation and technological advances—and as we move into 2020 and beyond, it’s unlikely that the pace will slow. Architectural visualization has undergone a transformation itself, moving from flat sketches to 3D drawings to life-like renderings. As technology continues to improve, we expect it to play a central role in raising the bar for these visualizations.
In this article, we’re going to explore what architectural visualization is, what it looked like in the past, and, most importantly, what lies ahead for it over the course of the next decade.
What is architectural visualization?
Architectural visualization services are a key piece of the design process, as it provides the client with a visual representation of the finished product—usually before the build even starts. In essence, it’s the common language between a client and a designer.
Visualization certainly isn’t a new concept in architecture. From Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to the Renaissance era, architects have used various methods and tools to depict their building plans. And while the techniques and tools evolved through the centuries, the visualizations were always flat. In the 15th century, however, Italian Fillipo Brunelleschi—considered the founding father of Renaissance architecture—pioneered the use of linear perspective to add depth and space to architectural visualizations.
Architects built on this throughout the 20th century, leveraging technological developments to produce ever-more realistic representations of their designs. Over the last few decades, huge advancements in technology have allowed architects to showcase their work in new ways and more quickly than ever before.
This all begs the question: what does the new decade have in store for architectural visualization?
Architectural visualization in 2020 and beyond
There’s no question that sketching still holds an important place in architectural visualization, and in the architecture professional in general. Projects are increasing in complexity and there are a wide range of stakeholders who need to have a comprehensive understanding of the designs. As we move into a new decade, it’s safe to say that we can expect technology to take center stage in making this happen.
So, where might architectural visualization move from 2020 onwards?
Standard computer-generated architectural renders are no longer considered revolutionary, but they’ve evolved steadily since the 1970s and there’s little doubt that they will continue to play a significant role in architectural visualization over the next decade.
Continual improvements to hardware and software mean that the 3D rendering process becomes quicker, more cost efficient, and more collaborative every year. Technology changes are enabling architects and designers to create ever more realistic renderings in less time and with fewer resources. The result is that 3D rendering is becoming an industry standard for firms around the world.
It’s difficult to get the true sense of a project with 2D (and even 3D) drawings. Using 3D models is an effective way for architects to more fully illustrate their designs—and 3D printing makes creating scale models easier and faster. Improvements in 3D printing technologies means that architects are able to produce complex models from CAD data files in house and using a variety of different materials.
These early-stage models are important as they allow architects to dig deeper into discussions with clients, which reduces the risk of errors, saves time and money, and helps both parties move efficiently from design to agreement.
Animations can be used for various purposes and may help explain how a project will work or provide context for a project, showing the ‘real life’ around it. Complex projects may benefit the most from animations, as they can help convey design intent, technical solutions and other key aspects.
Architectural walkthroughs are fairly common since they immerse the viewer and help with place recognition. They are now considered an industry standard, and as we move into the new decade, we can expect animations to continue to inform the design process and support decision making.
With new file conversion and printing technologies, it’s easier and more efficient than ever to turn 3D renderings into holographic images. The images are printed onto thin, rollable photographic film and for viewers, appear to ‘jump’ off the page. They offer a new way to help clients visualize projects no matter the stage.
While holograms aren’t commonly used for architectural visualization right now, as the technology improves and becomes more well known, some professionals in the field predict that holographic displays will eventually make their way into most architecture presentations.
Virtual reality, often abbreviated as VR, is a multisensory, immersive experience of an artificially simulated 360-degree-view reality presented through a headset. Much experimentation is being done on how best to use VR for architecture presentations.
VR animation can immerse viewers in a project, allowing them to explore the location and design features in a realistic way without actually being present. And the digital nature of VR means that architects, specialists, and clients and easily collaborate work together in the digital space to build 3D models. This is particularly helpful for large projects involving multiple specialists and tight timelines.
Currently, the most advanced 3D architectural visualization tool for VR includes voice communication, collaborative markups, synchronized cloud models, scale, and mute controls. In the future, it’s likely that architects will be able to use VR to offer enhanced walkthrough and flythrough animations to help clients explore not just the project interior and exterior, but the environment around it.
Augmented reality (AR) is different from VR in that it isn’t a complete replacement of reality, but rather an overlay of digital content onto the real-world environment. Viewers typically use mobile phones or tablets with AR apps or smart glasses and AR headsets to experience augmented reality—though as technology and 3D visualization evolves, these tools will likely increase in sophistication.
AR offers a unique way to showcase a project to clients, making it possible to demonstrate the building process and provide realistic visualizations of each step of project implementation. Significantly for architecture firms, this can help answer any outstanding questions and simplify and speed up the project approval process.
Final thoughts on Architectural Visualization
While architectural visualization has come a long way since Brunelleschi’s linear perspective drawings, technological developments continue to bring new, game-changing tools to the table for architects and designers to take advantage of. We’re already seeing widespread use of 3D animations. Over the next decade, we can expect to see more AR and VR experiences, as well as intricate 3D-printed models and the inclusion of holographic images into architecture presentations.
Let’s be clear: there will always be a place for sketches, 3D renderings, and other core architectural visualization skills. But as the field evolves to incorporate new technologies, those seeking architectural visualization jobs will need to ensure they’re able to offer a full range of services to clients. In the same vein, for an architectural visualization company to be successful in this competitive and growing industry, it must be able to deliver modern technological solutions to attract and engage a wider audience.