Almost Too Real to Be True — Architectural Visualization

3d architecture model

I started working with CAD in the 1980s. We had some 3D capabilities back then, but compared with where the industry is now, things were quite primitive. I wanted to see what the state of the art is now and searched for videos demonstrating today’s capabilities.

What I found was that even though the technology is hugely improved, some of the old problems still prevail. The main question is this: do we want to try to create as realistic as possible rendering of the project, or do we want to communicate something else? Most of what I’ve seen tries to mimic a photo or a video of a real object as it would appear if it were shot on site.

If the aim is to reproduce photorealistic images, there’s still room for improvement. In most of the cases, you can tell you’re looking at a CGI rendering because everything is just too perfect. All the lines and planes are straight, the angles are at perfect ninety degrees, and lighting looks mathematically correct. Real materials can be mapped on surfaces, but somehow even they appear artificial or plastic-like.

I remember how we made video walk-throughs. They were often more like fly-throughs, and the same practice continues. Perhaps that is not the way we experience new environments. We stop, look around, focus on details, look up and down, and walk on.

The tradition in architectural photography has been to leave people out. Architects follow the same path in 3D renderings, but there are exceptions. Many visualizations today include people and vehicles, even in videos. People add scale, make the scene alive, and demonstrate how the building or an area is supposed to function. However, humans are difficult subjects for CGI, even today.

Most architectural videos depict a building or an environment in a documentary manner. The best add an element of a story. That makes them more intriguing but sets the bar higher. Perhaps architects should hire professionals from the cinema or gaming industry to help.

An alternative to pursuing documentary realism is to evoke feelings or to augment new dimensions of presentation. A video could, for example, visualize how a building or environment uses energy or materials, how the traffic flows, what alternative ways exist for reconfiguration, what effects different choices have on the investment or life-cycle cost, and so on.

I predict that the future of architectural visualizations will look more like games than like pre-produced presentations. “Gamification” allows user interaction, shared experiences, and augmented reality elements. This development opens up new opportunities for users, designers, builders, manufacturers, and authorities. I know of prototypes that allow users to “see the future”—the planned building—on a tablet computer, overlaid on the real-time camera image.

The videos I’ve picked here from Vimeo are technically high end. Their makers have overcome some of the clichés I have pointed out. I’d love to hear your comments on them. I’d also be extremely interested in learning about alternative architectural presentation techniques.

WakYak – Architectural visualization from Erik Jansson on Vimeo.

“I’m an architecture student as well as occasional freelancing visualizer. This is a side project made whilst living in Japan this past year. 3d assets migrated from a previous job done for Torbjörnsson Edgren here in Göteborg, Sweden.”

White Bedroom, CGI artwork from JurajTalcik on Vimeo.

“Full project (Including work-in-progress, screenshots and all renders) on Behance:
Our first full 3D animation.”

Caesarea Villa – Architecture Visualization from Studio Aiko on Vimeo.

“Architect: Gottesman–Szmelcman Architecture”


“Complete project info at:”

Desert Villa – Architecture Visualization from Studio Aiko on Vimeo.

Old Vicarage from Bertrand Benoit on Vimeo.

“Architecture inspired by an existing renovation of an historic building near Malmö in Sweden.”

MEGALOMANIA from Jonathan Gales on Vimeo.

“Megalomania perceives the city in total construction. The built environment is explored as a labyrinth of architecture that is either unfinished, incomplete or broken. Megalomania is a response to the state of infrastructure and capital, evolving the appearance of progress into the sublime.”

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