What we demand of architecture today has changed. With the marriage between architect and computer growing stronger as the industry moves forward and the competitivity of the market lending itself to particular work methodologies, the objectives of many studios and firms have shifted. To compete for clients and meet their demands, companies are forgoing traditional renditions to produce more photorealistic visualisations using three-dimensional rendering software. While the work required to produce a truly convincing image could itself be considered an art form, the departure from traditional architecture calls into question the artistic integrity of the medium.
The modern digital architect has an impressive selection of software tools at their disposal. Technology has reached new heights allowing the simulation of realistic light, materials and particles that match the properties and behavior of their real-life counterparts. While the process of architectural visualisation has become much more accessible in the last few years, significant fine tuning and operation is required before good results can be produced. With this input an image can be made to look perfect but not necessarily lifelike. A creator must have extensive knowledge on what makes our surroundings truly believable, particularly on a subconscious level. Implementing details like the imperfection of objects around us, and lesser-observed details such as the higher brightness of fabrics on tangential surfaces for example, are the difference between a nice imitation and a convincingly photoreal rendering. While an architect could build a career on the pursuit of these realism-inducing quirks, they can become all too preoccupied with the technical aspect needed to create the art and lose focus on the art itself.
An often-unnoticed detail of fabric couches is their tendency to be particularly brighter on surfaces that are tangential to the viewer. This technical detail is digitally achieved using a tweaked falloff modifier.
Figure 1: Original personal render.
Twentieth century French filmmaker Jean Renoir described the arrival of perfect realism in cinema as, “technical perfection that can only create boredom because it only reproduces nature.” He argued that focusing on technique to achieve realism yields banal works and that it leads to the death of an art form . Renoir believed that when a technique is primitive, everything is beautiful, and when technique is perfected, almost everything is ugly, except when created by an artist talented enough to overcome technique . An artist should steer the direction of their works with their own soul and style, rather than letting the technique dictate it. As architectural visualisation become more digitized and technical, it runs the risk of suffering the same fate.
Figure 2: Jean Renoir interviewed by French New Wave Director Jaques Rivette (Parle De Son Art)
It can be argued that most forms of architecture are in service of commercialism rather than art and the argument for its artistic integrity is moot. Alternatively, any medium involving a creator and creation can be measured with some degree of artistic merit and should be with heavy consideration of its context. While perfection in a rendition’s realism might yield good outcomes with clients, a greater perfection could be achieved in the imperfection of a very-human vision. The stylization of architectural concepts may do more to express how the creator feels and wants you to feel, than a believable emulation of real life ever could. A truly talented visualizer will find a middle ground between both to produce stylistic works that speak volumes, meet the demands of the client, and uphold the artistic integrity of the medium.
Figure 1: Original personal render.
Figure 2: “Renoir – Parle De Son Art,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKCrOLcDbjE
 “Renoir – Parle De Son Art,”
 “Jean Renoir Discusses His Art,” A-Bittersweet-Life,