Clog: Rendering – Book Review

The archizine Clog was established as a reaction to the constant feed of architecture news and projects on digital social media. It shares its spirit of openness towards critical discussion amongst the architectural community however is more focussed and regulated. Clog calls for short written or graphic, making each issue a broad survey of viewpoints from various disciplines. The product is a publication rich with a variety of viewpoints and contributor backgrounds that provides a snapshot of particular issue.

Earlier this year Clog released their issue dedicated to Rendering, a pertinent topic in the architectural and design disciplines that has had very little formal critical consideration. Interestingly the proliferation of renders via online platforms is a particular example of a medium which Clog seeks to take pause on. In this special issue are essays and interviews with architects-turned-visualization artists (Luxigon and MIR) and a number of architects that are associated with some big-name offices notorious for setting visualization trends. Interspersed are breaking pages of visual puns that makes one aware of some of the quirks we take for granted in the process of compositing a render (from a diagram that separates out Photoshop layers, to a visual reference list of entourage foraged from Google).

The current conditions which call for a critical pause are: real-time and mass communications have altered the way which visualizations are consumed and produced, which is aligned with the imperatives of the building industry (globalization, instant-cities and architectural icon production). The second condition is the advancement of rendering technology which now makes it possible to produce images indiscernible from reality. This has given way to a number of specific issues which the collection of essays and interviews raise: the image versus reality, rendering in process-driven design, and emerging workflows between design and render firms.

Image versus reality

A lot of the essays write a few lines critical of photorealistic renders for a number of points heard from critics and professors on many occasions. Themes ranging from rendering as a deceptive device that leads to disappointment in the final built product (Zöllner on the Elbphilharmonie, 100) and to the misconstruction of reality sponsor a building’s future existence (see Stark, 59).

Starks comment leads onto the next theme of gearing rendering towards the design process, “It is the architect’s role to interrogate, re-imagine, even subvert the forms and processes of the contemporary city and its institutions. We can do this only by through careful representation of what is already there and what is proposed. Accurate representation that extends beyond the surface texture. All too often, in populating our “realistic” renders, we edit out much of its human reality.” This applies to showing water brown when it is brown rather than ultramarine blue or indeed maybe a bit of balanced representation of diversity (Entourage Demographics, 52). The graphic tabula rasa that visualization artist’s begin with, to be populated with generic and even non-endemic (Cohen, “Copy-Paste” 62.) plant species is a symptom and potentially furthers the homogenization of architecture (Villeda, “Render ID and The Homogenization of Architecture”). He writes that in addition to the homogenization of architectural education and the progression of style to the new generation, so too are certain render aesthetics. Whether render aesthetics go hand-in-hand with building aesthetics is the question his piece raises; next to this is a pithy image depicting a mouse hover over the blur: average function in Photoshop.

Ramaswany’s short but dense article, “Seductive Imagery and Viewing Regimes” goes further to highlight the inextricable connection between image, architecture and symbol arguing that “The rendering exists as a framed signifier of specific constructs, sometimes developing an iconic presence larger than the ‘authentic’ building.” (Ramaswamy, 105). Refreshing articles that present an alternative viewpoint on photorealistic renders are by Benoit who advocates an appreciation for the sheer technical skill that goes into 3D visualization, calling it a “low-margin craft” (Benoit, 108). Jacob Riedel explains the requirements of photorealistic albeit truthful visualizations (AVRs or Accurate Visual Representations) prescribed by London Boroughs for planning applications. (Riedel, 25)

Process-driver

Many of the viewpoints that are critical of renders instead consider them as “process-drivers”, which aligns with the long-standing idea that the image should be subservient to the development of the concept. Easton is pro-cardboard model, which ironically cannot be communicated in any way other than via 2D image. Is it contradictory then to edit photographs of models with high contrast, tilt-shift blurs or entourage? Kevin Frank’s ironic poem about Peter Zumthor’s process observes that “In lieu of renderings, secret gardens have been modelled with miniature dyed plants and photographed with monochromatic montaged scale figures.”

The most insightful views come from visualization offices which by necessity look into the implications to the architectural process on top of workflows between themselves and their client at a distance. Series et Series + Labtop state that “Our workflow allows us to produce iteratively, so that physical conditions can be portrayed rapidly in order to leave time to perfect the metaphysical qualities,” a peculiarity in the process when one would think the metaphysical qualities would be articulated first? (Labtop, 27)

An extended section on an interview with Broche des Combes of Luxigon and Trond Greve Andersen of MIR reveals that behind the technical skill in their images is augmented by the quality of thought behind them. As a render office they differentiate themselves from large visualization studios who service developers, any whose images lack any real content. MIR is critical in the production of their renders, their philosophy being to limit a project to “a maximum of two renders” that convey a building’s spirit. But in their particular workflow where the visual artists sometimes have to take the creative license from their clients (architects), there is the question of authorship.

Emerging workflows

The implications of out-sourcing rendering make the architectural process a much more collaborative exercise, adding another big influence to the design on top of the client who was typically viewed as the biggest threat to the “integrity of the architecture”. Luxigon and MIR talk about the issue of freedom and autonomy in the work they do for a number of big-name offices. Often the architects are designing the building the same time as the visualizers are producing their renders.

Luxigon & MIR draw a line in how much authorship they should have on a project. Trond from MIR says that “We tend to need more geometry in our work to make it look good. But with these jobs, a lot of decisions are handed to the visualization guys—too much, I think.” He sees their role as artists as copywriters, who “make the blanks visible and to give the architect the chance to fill in the blanks”.

Elizabeth Mcdonald in “From China Without Love” says that “Outsourcing renderings frees up resources and therefore can be perceived as valuable efficiency.” (32) however she is critical of this practice, as (except in the case with Luxigon and MIR) it becomes harder for architects to understand what is missing from a design when it looks resolved. What are the implications when renders are crowd/out-sourced (RenderThat being on a competition basis)? As a multitude of small-scale interactions take place between architectural offices and visualization artists, and if they treat their commissions as Luxigon or MIR do, will it lead to a democratisation of architecture?

Clog: Rendering offers a refreshing look on the evolution of visual communication in architecture. As a collection of raw viewpoints it leads the reader to form their own conclusions and perhaps reflect on their own process and how it could be improved.

[ratings]