On the Ethical Implica ons of Photorealis c Rendering
Get Real. On the Ethical Implica ons of Photorealis c Rendering.
D.P.H. (Daan) Jenniskens
Dr. A. (Andreas) Spahn
0FC34 Capita Selecta Philosophical Reflec on
Ins tu on
Eindhoven University of Technology
Photorealis c Rendering Architecture Ethics
Burnt Wood Wallpaper by Piet Hein Eek 3
Techniques and Aspects
Inten on and Consequence
Abstract To be wri en.
Introducঞon This essay discusses the ethical implica ons of present-day
(chapter 4). Finally, an a empt is made at establishing certain
photorealis c renderings. The visual representa on of architectural
ground rules for anyone involved in architectural image-making -
designs, specifically ones that are not yet built, forms an important
especially the architect - using the field of virtue ethics (chapter
aspect of the architectural discipline as a whole. Architectural
5). In doing so, an appeal is made to professional organiza ons
renderings, in the broad sense of the word, are as old as the
like the Bond van Nederlandse Architecten (the federa on of Dutch
profession itself. Concerns about the ethical aspect of these
architects), to include this in their codes of conduct.
representa ons are also nothing new. Already over a century ago, the perspec ve drawings by the English architect Sir Ernest George (1839-1922), of his own unbuilt designs (figure 1), were cri cized by cynics as ‘presen ng persuasive picturesque ideals which could not be matched in execu on’ (Grainger, 1985). What makes a discussion about the ethical aspects of rendering par cularly relevant at the present moment, however, is the fact that advances in modern-day computer hardware (namely their computa onal power) and so ware (image manipula on programs like Adobe Photoshop) have made it possible to create renderings that are indis nguishable from actual photographs. These are called photorealis c renderings. This development has serious ethical consequences that should be inves gated from a philosophical perspec ve. This essay starts with a small history of rendering and an explana on of modern-day rendering techniques and the ways in which they can poten ally be decep ve (chapter 1). This is done from a mostly deontological point of view. In order to gain a complete image of the field of architectural image-making, the possible alterna ves to photorealis c rendering and their advantages and disadvantages are also inves gated (chapter 2). Then, the current ethical discourse is explored by cri cally analyzing the most common arguments in favor of, and against, photorealis c rendering (chapter 3). Subsequently, the ethical implica ons of photorealis c rendering are explored in a consequen alist manner, by considering diﬀerent possible interests, viewers, situa ons and their consequences 8
1: 35-37 Harrington Gardens, London, 1882. Perspec ve drawing by Sir Ernest George.
Techniques and Aspects
When Albert O. Halse wrote his handbook on architectural
on virtual three-dimensional models (Bim, 2012). Halse, however,
rendering in 1960, he described and analyzed in great depth all
was speaking of a completely diﬀerent kind of rendering when
techniques and possibili es of the architectural rendering known in
he wrote his handbook on the subject. For him, rendering merely
his day (Halse, 1960). More than 50 years later, however, his book
concerned the visualiza on of structures ‘while they are s ll in
is terribly outdated. This is largely due to the rise of the computer:
the design stage’ (Halse, 1960), making them an important design
in the professional field, renderings are nowadays almost without
and communica on tool for the architect towards his client. Halse
excep on created with computer so ware. The kind of drawing
traces the origins of the rendering, like so many things related
techniques that Halse described only form a marginal part of
to the arts and architecture, back to the Italian Renaissance. The
modern-day architectural representa on. However, it is important
development of perspec ve in drawing was of great importance, as
to understand something about the history of rendering and the
this made it possible to correctly depict a building and its complete
o en-used techniques of the past, before discussing how the
geometry. The first renderings with photographic quality were,
typical architectural rendering today is being created.
according to Halse, produced by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) (figure 2) and Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841).
The word rendering is nowadays almost exclusively associated
This is no accident, as the camera was invented around the same
with the process of producing a computer-generated image based
me, somewhere between 1916 and 1829 (Halse, 1960). We can
2: Viollet-le-Duc’s losing Opera Compe
on project of 1861, perspec ve view.
consider Viollet-le-Duc and Schinkel the first architects to pursue
post-produc on image manipula on (Kunkel, 2015). In the pre-
photographic quali es in their renderings, crea ng a trend which
produc on phase, the building and possibly its surroundings
has been con nued over me and nowadays dominates the field
are ‘drawn’ in a modeling program as three-dimensional objects
of architecture and architectural rendering.
consis ng of lines, planes or shapes.2 This three-dimensional model can then be imported into an image produc on program,3
The architectural rendering can thus be defined in general terms
in which materials (o en called textures) are assigned to each part
as a two-dimensional depic on of a three-dimensional building
of the geometry. In this program, the actual so-called ‘rendering’
including (photo-)realis c geometrical, material and light quali es,
then happens. This process, or calcula on, actually imitates the
which is typically made before the actual building is constructed.1
process of taking a picture with a photo camera (which in its turn
The word realis c here implies a certain level of realism, which is not necessarily always at the level of the photorealism. Certain atmospheric quali es or other specific eﬀects within a rendering can o en mes be er be obtained when an image is not photorealis c. It is thus possible to divide the field of rendering in roughly two grada ons: realis c and photorealis c. The line between these two will obviously not always be clear. The photorealis c rendering, and its ethical implica ons, are the subject of this essay and will be discussed more in-depth later. The techniques that were used in those early days, and also in the days of Halse himself, are basically iden cal to those used by the other visual arts. Depending on the atmosphere and level of realism pursued, materials like watercolor, pen and ink, or pencils were used. With the rise and development of photography, this medium was also incorporated in renderings: Mies van der Rohe produced his renderings of a skyscraper project at the Friedrichstraße in Berlin by drawing on a large photograph (Gallego-Picard, 2012) (figure 3). Nowadays, however, renderings are almost exclusively made through computer models. A computer rendering can cost an architecture firm anywhere between one and ten thousand dollars, and typically takes around three working days to make (CLOG, 2012). The typical process of crea ng a rendering roughly consists of three steps: (1) preproduc on modeling and drawing, (2) image produc on and (3) 3: Proposal for a skyscraper at the Friedrischstraße in Berlin, by Mies van der Rohe.
imitates the workings of the eye): a viewpoint is set which serves
we will use his findings as a star ng point. Tonnaer dis nguishes
as a virtual ‘camera,’ a er which millions of virtual rays of light
five aspects of a rendering. These aspects form a good tool to
are ‘fired’ on the geometry and react to its textural quali es. All
determine the level of realism of a rendering, and to judge whether
this is ‘observed’ by the virtual camera. This methodology thus
the supposed realism of this rendering is actually realis c or not,
remains very true to the way we as humans observe the world
in the sense that it accurately depicts the possible future situa on
around us, giving it the poten al to create an image as close as
in which the building is completed. This will clarify in which way
possible to our reality. In other words: if we allow ourselves to
a rendering can be decep ve. The five aspects are:7 weather,
loosely paraphrase Le Corbusier, architectural rendering seems
light, entourage, geometry and materiality. The first three of these
to be about the masterly, correct and magnificent play of virtual
aspects are present in the context of the rendering, whereas
masses brought together in virtual light.
the last two aspects apply to the actual building depicted in the
rendering. Furthermore, the first two aspects (weather and light) What appears a er this rendering process is usually s ll a rather
are closely related, but yet dis nc ve enough to be considered
‘rough’ and unfinished image, as it is incredibly me-consuming
two diﬀerent aspects.
to model every li le detail in modeling so ware. That is why this image is then usually further processed with image manipula on so ware.5 These kinds of so ware programs can manipulate every pixel of an image, which in theory makes it possible to draw anything and everything. In prac ce, scenery like people, trees and cars are usually added in this phase. It is also not unusual to take the en re background of a rendering from an exis ng picture of the loca on, with which the rendering of the building itself is then ‘merged’. It is also possible to skip the en re second step of image produc on through virtual light rays and use an image manipula on program for this step instead. In theory, it is even possible to skip every step and do everything with image manipula on so ware. For achieving a photorealis c result, however, the method as described above is most common nowadays. Now that we have a general overview of the process of crea ng a typical rendering, it is useful to know more about the various aspects of the final rendering. In order to judge a rendering in the way this essay aims to do, it is important to dis nguish and recognize the diﬀerent quali es that a photorealis c rendering can have. Leon Tonnaer6 has already begun exploring this ma er, and 12
“architectural rendering seems to be about the masterly, correct and magnificent play of virtual masses brought together in virtual light”
The first aspect concerns all the influences of the weather and climate
Entourage, the third aspect, concerns all physical elements that
that can be observed in a rendering. As is rightly pointed out in CLOG
are present in the rendering besides the actual building, and
magazine, ‘the sky sets the mood’ (CLOG, 2012). Clear blue summer
which form the context of the rendering. The entourage usually
skies, warm red sunset skies or ominous and cloud-filled skies all
consists of, among others: surrounding buildings, natural elements
have a diﬀerent influence on the viewer. But the sky is not the only
like trees and grass, people, cars and other motorized vehicles,
indicator of the weather and climate condi ons in a rendering. The
street furniture like benches or trash cans, and animals - notably
amount of direct and indirect sunlight, and the colour of this light,
the omnipresent flock of birds.8 These elements can be used to
are a result of the weather condi ons implied, as well as the me of
add scale to a rendering, enliven it and make it more realis c.
day in which the rendering is placed. Furthermore the presence or
When not representa ve of the future situa on, however, they
absence of fog, rain or snow are results of the implied weather. All
can be misleading. A good example of this concerns the people
these aspects can have a strong influence on the general atmosphere
in a rendering. CLOG magazine accurately observes that people
in the rendering. However, when weather condi ons are shown that
in renderings provide scale, but also ‘hint at the environment,
are very unlikely or impossible to occur in the place that is depicted,
culture, aﬄuence and mood being depicted’ (CLOG, 2012). In
they can be misleading. Snowfall in a tropical country, or extremely
order to inves gate whether the people in renderings accurately
bright and clear skies in a smog-polluted area, are examples of this.
present the future situa on, they made an inventory of the demographics in the renderings of ten interna onal architectural
The second aspect of light is closely related to that of weather, as
prac ces. They found that the division of genders is usually equal,
diﬀerent ligh ng condi ons imply diﬀerent weather and seasonal
with as many men as women in a rendering, but that some firms
condi ons in a rendering. Indirect light can have diﬀerent intensi es,
do have an unequal division.9 They furthermore found that, in
depending on the season, me of day and amount of clouds in the
terms of ethnicity, 72% of the people in these renderings are
sky. Direct light can come from the east, south or west, indica ng
white, 16% Asian, 6% black, 4% Middle Eastern and 1% Hispanic.
the me of day, and can be shining from a higher or a lower angle,
These numbers don’t necessarily mean a lot, as the ethnicity of
indica ng the season. Addi onally, the aspect of light it is also about
the people in a rendering obviously depends on the geographic
the ‘photographic’ quali es of the rendering, such as the exposure of
loca on where the future building is located, and even the
the image. Similar to photography, overexposing (part of) an image
func on of that building. The high percentage of white people
makes it very light and less visible, causing much detail to be lost. The
does, however, seem to indicate that there might be a trend of
same happens with underexposure, where the image is less visible
depic ng more white people in a rendering than would necessarily
because it becomes darker. These techniques can be used to ac vely
follow from the demographics of a certain loca on. Furthermore,
make certain parts of an image more or less visible. This is poten ally
when looking at most renderings it becomes rather clear that the
misleading, because an architect can choose to hide certain weak
people depicted in renderings are, regardless of their gender or
elements of his design through the use of light. A rendering can
ethnicity, usually slightly idealized in terms of their appearance.
furthermore be misleading when an architect makes the direct light
Or, as CLOG states it, ‘some mes it seems as if renderings are
come from a direc on or an angle that is impossible to occur in reality,
only occupied by beau ful runway models’ (CLOG, 2012). Other
in order to make the play of light and shadow more interes ng.
examples of unrepresenta ve entourage include: surrounding 13
buildings that don’t actually exist, trees that are not fit for the
Three renderings of render ar st Eric de Broche des Combes, all of
climate they are located in, parked cars that are more expensive
the same building, can be used to accurately illustrate the influence
than would be realis c at a certain loca on, and large trees on
of the abovemen oned five aspects (figure 4, 5 and 6). De Broche
top of buildings.
des Combes deliberately created these renderings in order to show
the eﬀect of these kinds of aspects. Figure 4 shows a posi vely
When dealing with the aspects of geometry and materiality,
drama zed image of an architectural project, whereas figure 5
which concern the actual building, it is highly complicated to
shows a nega vely drama zed image of the same project. Figure 6
discern whether something is misleading or not. Geometry is
shows the project in the most realis c manner. When we analyze
about the form and shape of the future building, and materiality
these images based on the five aforemen oned aspects, we can
is about the materials that this building will have. Because the
clearly see how they are applied diﬀerently and lead to a completely
building is usually s ll in the design stage when a rendering
diﬀerent image. Star ng with the first aspect, the weather, we can
is made, its geometry and materiality can be subject to later
see how the weather condi ons are significantly diﬀerent in each
changes. Changes are inherent to the architectural design
rendering. Whereas it is bright, sunny and cloudless in the first
process, whether it be due to costs, changing opinions or
rendering, it is foggy, snowy and cold in the second. The third
other causes. As a result, geometry and materiality of an ini al
rendering depicts more common weather condi ons, with some
rendering may change. The rendering can thus in retrospect be
clouds in the sky and a normal amount of sunlight. It is important to
misleading, even if was not purposefully trying to do so. When
note, however, that each of these weather condi ons could easily
the geometry or materiality, however, are depicted in a way
occur in reality, and are therefore not per defini on misleading. This
which is not possible in reality, a rendering can be knowingly
is diﬀerent for the second aspect, light. Where the second and third
misleading. This can be the case when the shape of a building
rendering have a normal light exposure, the first rendering is clearly
is such that it will be impossible to construct, for example when
over-exposed towards the background of the image. As a result of
it has a large can lever but barely any construc on is shown.
this, hardly any background is visible, and the most distant part of
Another common example of misleading geometrical and material
the building is partly hidden as well. Furthermore, the direct sunlight
quali es is the presence of an extremely transparent glass facade
is quite intense, but as this is not impossible to occur in reality, it
that seems to consist of only glass, when in reality it will need
can not be deemed misleading. The aspect of entourage, however,
window frames or at least some sort of metal structure and
is definitely on the edge of decep on in the first rendering. The
sealant to keep it in place. However, even in these kinds of cases
greenery consists of perfectly round bushes, small kids run around
it can be diﬃcult to judge whether the depicted geometrical and
abundantly in the foreground, a beau ful flock of white birds just
material quali es are impossible or merely improbable. Through
so happens to fly by and a pair of brightly coloured air balloons fly
ongoing technological advances, construc on methods and
by, exactly in the right posi on to form a nice composi on with
material quali es are con nually developing and improving, thus
the building. It may be clear that it would be incredibly diﬃcult, if
crea ng new possibili es for architectural forms and materials. A
not impossible, to recreate a picture with this entourage in reality.
rendering that might look slightly improbable today, might well be
How diﬀerent is the second rendering: a dog takes a leak against
reality in a few years me.
one of the many old cars that line the street, a couple of hunched
people in ugly coats walk past with their groceries, the tree is bare
seems to be unrealis cally glossy in the first rendering, whereas it
of leaves and the walls of the building are covered in graﬃ . The
is rather weathered in the second rendering and a li le weathered
third rendering again portrays the most realis c entourage, with
in the third.
some graﬃ , some people, some imperfect grass and a distant airplane above the skyscrapers of the city. Interes ngly enough,
In conclusion, a rendering can be deemed decep ve - and thus
these skyscrapers are not visible in the first two renderings, due
unethical - when one or more of its aspects are impossible
to over-exposure and foggy weather, respec vely. Finally, a quick
to occur in reality. It may be obvious from the example we just
analysis of the last two aspects, geometry and materiality, shows
described, however, that it is extremely diﬃcult to decide whether
some important diﬀerences. Although the overall geometry of
the aspects of a rendering are impossible or merely improbable,
the building is similar in all three renderings, the level of detail of
especially when it concerns the proposed building itself. It is thus
the façade diﬀers: the first rendering has a more abstract façade
equally diﬃcult to give a defini ve ethical verdict on a rendering,
than the second and third one. This has to do with the aspect of
or to provide guidelines for doing so. It seems that every rendering
geometry, but also with that of materiality: whereas the glass in the
should be judged individually on their (possible) level of decep on,
first rendering has an unrealis c level of reflec on and thus creates
using the aforemen oned aspects as a guide and furthermore
the rather abstract image of the façade, it is more transparent in
relying on common sense. When applying this method to the
the second and third rendering. As a result, more detail is visible in
example of De Broche des Combes’ renderings, it could reasonably
these renderings. Furthermore, the concrete of the ground floor
be stated that figure 4 is decep ve due to its highly improbable
4, 5 and 6: Three diﬀerent versions of the same rendering: posi vely drama zed (idealized), nega vely drama zed, and realis c. Renderings made by Eric de Broche des Combes.
entourage (aspect 3) and unrealis c material quali es (aspect 5),
Furthermore, the almost ethereal material quali es of the glass
and is therefore unethical.
skyscraper do not seem to be very realis c either. To illustrate this point, Gallego-Picard has used image manipula on so ware to re-
A final example of the two building-related aspects of a rendering
create the image of Van der Rohe with the right perspec ve and
can be found in Mies van der Rohe’s rendering of a skyscraper
material quali es (figure 8). It can be clearly observed that the image
project at the Friedrichstraße in Berlin (figure 7). Pablo Gallego-
loses much of its drama c and ethereal quali es when these two
Picard has rightly observed that the perspec ve of the building is
aspects are depicted realis cally. One can wonder whether these
completely wrong (Gallego-Picard, 2012), causing it to have a far
images would have had the immensely large influence they had over
more drama c geometrical appearance than it would have in reality.
the past century, if Van der Rohe had drawn them more realis cally.
7: Proposal for a skyscraper at the Friedrischstraße in Berlin, by Mies van der Rohe.
8: The Friedrichstraße skyscraper with realis c material quali es and accurate perspec ve.
Halse himself merely describes rendering as ‘the pictorial method of design study used by the architect.’
Popular so ware programs for modelling include: AutoCAD, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp and Vectorworks.
Most modelling so ware programs have an image produc on func on or can work with an external plugin; the most o en used specific image produc on program is 3DS Max.
Le Corbusier’s famous defini on of architecture: the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light.
Photoshop is the most o en used image manipula on so ware.
Leon Tonnaer is a former student of the Eindhoven University of Technology.
Compared to Tonnaer’s list, the five aspects are slightly altered and elaborated upon.
Over the last few years, flocks of birds have become a very o en-used entourage element in renderings, almost turning them into a cliché. One only has to count the amount of birds in the renderings that are shown in this essay to understand this point.
Foster + Partners: 65% male, 35% female. UN Studio: 63% male, 37% female.
10 The trend of pu ng trees on top of buildings in renderings has caused a very interes ng discussion, when ar cles by De Chant (2013) and Minkjan (2016) sparked a reac on from Knikker and Davidson (2016) of architecture firm MVRDV, one of the firms accused of making renderings which feature unrealis cally large trees and other plants on top of high buildings. Due to length constraints, this essay can not review this discussion in depth.
Even though photorealis c rendering can be seen as the current
discussed in the first chapter of this essay. Mies van der Rohe’s
‘industry standard’ in architectural image-making, there are s ll
famous Seagram Building in New York City was rendered in
plenty of alterna ves to choose from. They vary in their degree
tempera11 by Elliot Glushak, a few year before it was built in 1958
of realism, which gives them innate advantages and disadvantages
(figure 9). When comparing this rendering to a later photograph
- as described in the previous chapter. Furthermore, as stated
that was taken from a similar posi on (figure 10), it is obvious that
before, diﬀerent techniques can lead to diﬀerent atmospheres. It
a high level of realism was pursued and also achieved: the material
is up to the architect (and possibly other par es involved in the
quali es - apart from the colour which was probably changed
design process) to decide which approach is most suitable for the
during the design process - and mirroring eﬀect of the façade are
project at hand. It should be obvious that this is not an easy, but
well-represented, and light and shadow are realis cally portrayed
nevertheless highly important decision to make. The available alterna ve ways of non-photorealis c rendering can roughly be divided into two groups: non-digital techniques that were already available before computer-generated rendering was ‘invented,’ and digital techniques that use the computer but do specifically not aim to be photorealis c. There is an important diﬀerence between these two categories: while digital renderings that are non-photorealist consciously aim to be less realis c than what would be technically possible, the nondigital renderings from the first category may or may not aim to be (photo)realis c. However, if they do aim for a high degree of realism, they will generally not succeed to the extent that modern-day photorealis c renderings do. It is important to note here that the renderings of Viollet-le-Duc and Van der Rohe, that are discussed in the first chapter of this essay, do have a nearphotographic quality. However, they resemble the photography of the me in which they were made, which is a colourless black and white photography, and will therefore not be interpreted as photorealis c in the sense that this essay discusses. In other words: 21st-century photorealism is significantly diﬀerent from 19th-century photorealism. A good example of the non-digital category of rendering can be found in Halse’s handbook on architectural rendering that was 18
9: Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building, tempera rendering by Elliot Glushak, 1950’s.
(no ce the shady and thus dark area under the buildingâ€™s canopy).
The third category of non-photorealis c rendering, the elaborate
However, it is also obvious that the render is not photorealis c:
rendering, can be seen as the opposite of the abstract rendering. It
anyone could easily dis nguish it from an actual photograph. In
is usually as detailed and elaborate as a photorealis c rendering,
par cular, the sky and greenery look no ceably less realis cally
but chooses other visual techniques than photo-realism to convey
than the building itself, probably because they received less
its message. The exterior and interior renderings of the LycĂŠe
a en on by the rendering ar st.
Hotelier de Lille by Caruso St. John architects (figure 13 and 14) can illustrate this. With the exterior rendering, the architects have
The digital category of non-photorealis c rendering can again
aimed to show the brick and steel facades of the buildings as clearly
roughly be divided into three sub-categories, which will be
as possible, and therefore do not make use of any sort of light
referred to as the abstract rendering, the digital sketch, and the elaborate rendering respec vely. The main characteris c of the abstract rendering is, quite simply, that it is far more abstract than a photorealis c rendering. It is usually somewhere in between a line-drawing and a rendering in terms of detail, and o en looks like it could have been drawn by hand. Furthermore, colour is usually sparsely applied. A good examples of this category of digital rendering can be seen in a design for the Hamburg neighbourhood of St. Pauly by NL Architects and BeL (figure 11), where the architects found inspira on in the visual language of the Construc vist ar sts of the Soviet Union, which led them to create abstract renderings that only use shades of grey and red. The so-called digital sketch is o en based upon a real sketch, which is then digitalized and coloured using image manipula on so ware. It looks like it could have been drawn by hand, because it usually has been. However, the digital manipula on that has taken place is also clearly visible. An example of this can be seen in the digital sketch of the Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo (figure 12). It can be called into ques on whether this category is even a form of rendering. But if we use the defini on of a rendering that has been posed in the first chapter of this essay12 and which does not exclude anything that is not produced digitally, which is in line with Halseâ€™s ideas on the ma er, we must conclude that it certainly is. 10: Picture of the Seagram Building in New York by Mies van der Rohe.
eﬀects. As a result, every surface in the rendering has the same luminosity: nothing is hidden in the shade. In the interior rendering, however, other aspects are more important and the rendering style is slightly adjusted to fit this purpose. Here, the natural light that comes through the glass roof is given great a en on, while material quali es are of secondary importance. In this interior rendering, direct ligh ng is thus portrayed in an almost exaggerated manner, where it had been completely absent in the exterior rendering. The architects have carefully chosen what to show with each single image and adjusted their techniques accordingly. Pursuing photorealism is not a goal in itself to them and thus has been of
has a scale, a materiality and a weight to it,’ as opposed to the
secondary importance in the process of crea ng these renderings.
architectural rendering which per defini on lacks any tectonics
As the omnipresence of the (photorealis c as well as non-
the merely visual realism of the rendering. She further states that
because it is a digital product (Easton, 2012). Easton thus cri cizes photorealis c) rendering in architecture grows, the group of people
renderings ‘unsuccesfully a empt to give an impression of reality,’
and ins tu ons who believe that the architectural rendering should
something which a cardboard model does not aim for because it is
rather not be used at all, or with great precau on, also seems to
reality. Or in Easton’s words, ‘a physical model . . . does not only try
grow. At the ETH Zürich,13 for example, many professors do not
to be architecture, it is architecture (Easton, 2012).
accept computer-generated renderings, and student projects are represented through elaborate cardboard models. Victoria Easton
Andrew Rasner shares Easton’s cri cism of the merely visual aspect
- a student at this university - argues that ‘a physical model always
of the rendering, but draws a completely diﬀerent conclusion. He argues that ‘the built environment is experienced through every sensory apparatus, and should be responsive to those extents.’ Rasner’s solu on to involve every sense in the experience of an unbuilt building surprisingly lies in fic onal wri ng, as he states that ‘a wri en account can capture the en re range of human sensory responses’ (Rasner, 2012). He proposes a non-visual rendering, which basically consists of a wri en account of architectural space, ideally experienced through one or more fic onal characters. In this way it is possible to ‘capture . . . qualita ve proper es and their respec ve emo ve responses in a way that any other medium fails to achieve,’ because the reader would be ‘compelled to recreate the space in their own mind, with fic onal characters ac ng as conduits of emo onal and sensory experience’ (Rasner, 2012).
11: Proposal for Hamburg neighbourhood St. Pauli, by NL Architects and BeL.
12. Digital sketch / rendering of the Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo.
13 & 14. Exterior and interior rendering of the LycĂŠe Hotelier de Lille by Caruso St. John architects.
These two examples, Easton’s cardboard reality and Rasner’s
On the other side of the spectrum, there are also people who
verbal fic on, both pose promising alterna ves to the architectural
do not object against the realism of the photorealis c rendering,
rendering. They could however also be interpreted as powerful
but would rather wish to enhance it even further through the
mediums to be used side by side with the architectural rendering,
use of new mediums. Two notable recent developments are
as they have such diﬀerent inherent quali es. It is, therefore,
those of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Whereas
interes ng to note that both authors do not seem to consider
Augmented Reality uses the real world as its basis and enriches
a combina on of their preferred method and the architectural
- or augments - it by superimposing virtual images on the user’s
rendering. This is surprising, as they both seem to aim for an
view of it (Cassella, 2009), Virtual Reality techniques aim to create
enhanced and enriched experience, which would undeniably be
completely virtual environments that are presented to the user’s
most powerfully achieved when mul ple mediums are combined.
senses in such a realis c way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment (Virtual Reality Society, 2016).
“there are people who do not object against the realism of the photorealisঞc rendering, but would rather wish to enhance it even further through the use of new mediums” 22
Thomas Lozada sees Augmented Reality as a very promising development for architecture, sta ng that ‘viewing renderings through an AR interface could drama cally increase our ability to reveal hidden truths about buildings, to visualize more meaningful rela onships between a building and its context, and to gain a more comprehensive understanding as part of a larger ecological system (Lozada, 2012). It could thus, as Lozada states, prevent clients of architects from being fooled by misleading representa ons of a building, because they are generally be er informed. It should be noted here that, because the Augmented Reality would s ll be created by someone other than the user - someone who might s ll have an interest in fooling the user - the possibility of fooling this user through Augmented Reality is obviously s ll present, albeit in slightly diﬀerent ways. Jon Brouchoud, in turn, sees Virtual Reality as the most promising development
architects and clients would obviously get much more interac ve when everyone involved could already virtually walk through the proposed building. The diﬀerent par es wouldn’t even have to be at the same place at the same me, or even near the proposed building site, making the whole process highly convenient for interna onally opera ng people and organiza ons. Even more
importantly though, Brouchoud sees the development of completely virtual buildings, in which large interna onal firms virtually let their employees from around the world work and collaborate, as the next step for architecture. With regard to this development, he prophe cally states that ‘from ancient load bearing walls, to flying bu resses, to thin steel columns, to glass structures - the physical stuﬀ of architecture so o en seems to perpetually strive toward visual dissolu on. It fits this trajectory well to imagine elements of architecture transcending physical proper es altogether . . . ul mately unable to resist complete dissolu on into pure virtual form’ (Brouchoud, 2012). This chapter has aimed to capture, describe and categorize all the current alterna ves to (photo)realis c rendering as accurately and completely as possible. This has been done with the aim of providing a strong theore cal framework of the complete spectrum of digital image-making. All these diﬀerent alterna ves lead to various new ethical ques ons and problems. The treatment of these specific issues, however outside the scope of this essay, is highly important as these techniques - especially those of Virtual and Augmented Reality - gain influence.
11 Tempera is a water-soluble paint that becomes suﬃciently insoluble when dry to allow overpain ng with more tempera, allowing imperfec ons to be easily eliminated or repaired (Halse, 1960). 12 Rendering as defined in chapter I: a two-dimensional depic on of a three-dimensional building including (photo-)realis c geometrical, material and light quali es, which is typically made before the actual building is constructed. 13 The Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich has a well-known and widely respected architecture faculty
This chapter will aim to comprehensively explore the current
This line of reasoning has a mul tude of issues. First of all, one can
ethical discourse on photorealis c rendering. It will do so
wonder how big the influence of the general public on a proposed
by reviewing and analyzing the most common arguments in
building is, even if they can see it before it’s being built. With public
favor of, and against, the prac ce of architectural rendering.
buildings like libraries, schools or train sta ons, it indeed seems
Furthermore, four buildings that have caused a discussion related
reasonable that the public opinion would aﬀect the design process
to photorealis c renderings will be taken as case studies and used
of a building. However, when dealing with more private buildings
as examples to support the various arguments that are discussed
like houses and oﬃce buildings, which are usually commissioned
in this chapter.
by private par es, the influence of this general public will probably always be minimal. When we thus assume that the general public
An important argument that is o en given by proponents of
does not have a significant influence on the design of a building,
the photorealis c rendering, is that it highly increases the
the increased communica on with this public will likely not lead to
communica on between the architecture and his client, as
a greater acceptance of a new building.
well as the general public. Especially for lay people, who usually are not able to read the elaborate technical drawings of the architect, it is the only medium they can actually engage
and his direct client, the implicit assump on that the use of
with. The general idea behind this is that the communica on
photorealis c renderings will always lead to be er communica on
will get be er when the rendering is more realis c and thus
is being contradicted by many professionals and theorists. Julia
be er to understand. In a 2014 TED talk, architect and author
Dorothea Schlegel observes ‘that lay-people generally perceive
Marc Kushner comments on the benefits of the photorealis c
photorealis c renderings as more valid and reliable than non-
rendering.14 Kushner argues that in the past, an architect would
photorealis c renderings’ (Schlegel, 2012). She, however,
only get feedback on his building - at least from the general
also argues that ‘the more preliminary appearance of non-
photorealis c renderings may promote involvement and dialogue
at least 3 to 4 years for most buildings, this creates a very
with lay-people, such as clients, and help focus the viewer on
long feedback loop, which increases the changes of buildings
the displayed design rather than on possible irrelevant details’
being built that are not liked by the people they are designed
(Schlegel, 2012). This thesis is supported by an eye-tracking
for. According to Kushner, the rise of both the photorealis c
study that she conducted, which unveiled three main tendencies:
rendering and the digital media have made it far more easy for
‘first, the more abstract the appearance of the visualiza on,
the public to engage with a building, even before it is actually
the more relevant fixa on points were placed in the field of
built. The photorealis c rendering plays an invaluable role in
interest of the displayed architecture . . . secondly, the fixa on
this process, because it gives the most realis c impression of
points of lay-people were predominantly placed in the field of
what a building will look like. These developments thus have
interest of the accessory parts’ and thirdly, ‘people make up a
to poten al to highly increase the communica on between the
large percentage of examined field of interest’ (Schlegel, 2012).
architect and his client, as well as the general public, and should
The study thus showed that lay-people tend to strongly focus
eventually lead to be er buildings. (Kushner, 2014).
on the entourage elements of a photorealis c rendering, like
public - a er it had been built. With a construc on
When we look at the communica on between the architect
people and plants, instead of on the actual architecture. These
Two buildings and their respec ve renderings can be used as
entourage elements are o en more dominant in photorealis c
examples to illustrate the aforemen oned arguments. Torre
renderings because they are important to create a convincing
Bicentenario in Mexico City (figure 15) and The Cloud in Seoul
photorealis c impression. As Vanessa Quirk observes, ‘lay-people
(figure 16), gained a lot of nega ve a en on even before they were
aren’t as drawn to the buildings - they’re drawn to the life, the
built, because of the photorealis c renderings that were published
people, the atmosphere of the rendering. They’re buying into a
in the digital media. In the case of the Torre Bicentenario, 95% of
spirit - not a design’ (Quirk, 2012). This is obviously a problem
ci zens of Mexico City were against its construc on. Becky Quintal
when trying to have a frui ul conversa on with a client about a
argues that the renderings of the building (figure 15) failed to
future building. In line with this, Michael Abrahamson describes
create enough public support for the project, as they ‘inadvertently
the photorealis c rendering as an ‘overheated’ medium,
highlighted a disconnect between the building’s symbolism and
‘communica ng much more than their illustra ve func on
the ci zens of Mexico City’ and made the building look ‘terrifying,
requires, . . . (ge ng) in the way of our imagina on, suppressing
dark and out of place’ (Quintal, 2012). As a result, the project was
curiosity and the desire for understanding . . . because of their
canceled only shortly a er its introduc on. Something similar
seduc ve realism’ (Abrahamson, 2012). Benjamin Halpern
happened to The Cloud, as was discussed by Julia van den Hout
and Joel Wenzel furthermore state that the ‘relevance (of the
for CLOG magazine. The renderings of this project (image 16)
photorealis c rendering) to architectural discourse and prac ce
sparked controversy very soon a er they were published, because
has been inflated beyond its merit as architectural representa on
they reminded a lot of people of the burning and collapsing twin
due to its concealment of the architectural concept’ and that ‘the false sense of realism and quick emo onal fix limit a deeper understanding of the architecture.’ The photorealis c rendering thus ‘allows for debate of the image but not cri que of the concept’ (Halpern and Wenzel, 2012). Taking this theore cal stance into prac ce, the architecture firm Mansilly y Tuñón Arquitectos makes a conscious eﬀort to ‘calibrate the amount of informa on in the drawings’ in order to make renderings that are ‘open enough to leave room for the development of the project, but specific enough to communicate whatever it is that makes the project special,’ because they believe that renderings ‘should be more about the a tude with which the project is faced rather than about how exactly it is going to look’ (Mansilla y Tuñón, 2012). All these arguments thus focus around the idea that a more photorealis c, more informa on-filled rendering does not per se enhance the communica on between the architect and his client. On the contrary: it distracts from what is really important. 15: rendering of Torre Bicentenario in Mexico City by OMA.
towers of the World Trade Center in New York, following the
The comments on Sir Ernest George’s drawings, as men oned
9/11 terrorist a acks. The architecture firm was quick to take the
in the introduc on of this essay, already touch upon one of the
original renderings online and replace them with more abstract
most-heard ethical objec ons against architectural renderings:
renderings, which feature an actual cloud at the midlevel of the
namely that these images can too easily represent an idealized
towers. The architects furthermore added a statement on their
and unrealis c view of an unbuilt building, and thus deceive the
website, ‘expressing deep regret for any connota ons The Cloud
viewer. The direct and dangerous result of such images is that
project evokes regarding 9/11’, whereas the developers released
they may lead to impossible expecta ons on the side of the
a statement explaining that this image represented ‘just one of
client, which can cause disappointment when the actual building
nineteen (op ons) being considered for the two buildings’ (Van
doesn’t match the original renderings. So why is the photorealis c
den Hout, 2012). The project is currently s ll in development, but
rendering more guilty of this charge than any other medium? The
the chances are high that it won’t be built in the way that is shown
crucial diﬀerence between the photorealis c rendering and other
in the original renderings. These two examples thus accurately
available means of representa on lies exactly in the fact that the
illustrate the aforemen oned argument that a more photorealis c
photorealis c rendering looks exactly like a photograph. Belmont
rendering does not per se enhance the communica on between
Freeman states that ‘while we accept the conven ons of tradi onal
architect and client or general public.
architectural drawing and the styliza ons of the first genera ons of digital rendering as ar s c devices that invite us to par cipate in imagining an architectural product, buildable or not, our eyes are trained to believe that a photograph is a true representa on of an exis ng condi on. Thus in the digital age the graphic representa on of architecture has moved beyond an exercise in persuasion; it has become an exercise in decep on’ (Freeman, 2013). When a viewer, unconsciously or not, thinks that what he sees is reality, any room for discussion or imagina on is greatly reduced. Regarding the impossible expecta ons that photorealis c renderings may impose on the client, Freeman states that the omnipresence of idealized photorealis c renderings15 ‘leads clients and the public at large to expect from architecture and architects a degree of quality - perfec on - that is impossible to deliver in the real world’ (Freeman, 2013). The degree of decep on, or the consequences of this decep on, are o en mes played down by people who believe that a li le decep on is a ‘necessary evil’ in order for the architect to reach its goal: winning over a client and ge ng a project built (Freeman,
16: rendering of The Cloud in Seoul by MVRDV.
2013). Architect Luca Silenzi adds that ‘(in order to) convey to someone else, something that to us is very clear . . . we tend to mildly distort reality and to cheat a li le. Well meant, of course’ (Silenzi, 2012). Architect Dominik Sigg goes even further and states that ‘the fake rendering is not a device of decep on but rather a driver for architectural ambi on’ (Sigg, 2012). He argues that the rendering ‘plays a vital role for the architect during the design process, where it serves as both an inspira on and a verifica on tool, while communica ng the design intent to the consultants and engineers involved in the process’ (Sigg, 2012). Sigg uses Mies van der Rohe’s proposal for a skyscraper at the Friedrichstraße in Berlin as an example, sta ng that ‘if (the project) had moved forward, its idealized depic ons would have been vital to communica ng his ambi on of crea ng a building of unprecedented lightness and transparency to everyone else involved in the project’ (Sigg, 2012). There is, however, a great danger in this line of reasoning. The final and extreme result of an architectural image-making culture in which everything is allowed in order to sell the product may be that, over me, the field of architectural image-making will become similar to those of fashion magazines, food packaging and adver sements (Andersen, 2012). Every viewer will know, through experience or general knowledge, that what they are looking at is unrealis c - or at least greatly exaggerated. Consequently, it will become increasingly diﬃcult to convince anyone of a design through renderings, regardless of how beau ful and realis c they are. At this point, the architectural profession will have eﬀec vely shot itself in the foot.16 Two other examples, Mark’s House in Flint (figure 17, 18 and 19) and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg (figure 14 and 15) caused a reac on from the general public that was quite diﬀerent from the two earlier examples: the renderings of both buildings were enthusias cally received by the press and public, and thus built high expecta ons for the actual buildings. In both cases, however, 17, 18 & 19: rendering, oﬃcial photograph and newspaper photograph of Mark’s House.
the end result turned out quite diﬀerently from the original
and newspapers both locally and globally’, making the building ‘the
renderings, causing general disappointment and disillusion among
iconic symbol of Hamburg long before realiza on’ (Zöllner, 2012).
many. In the case of Mark’s House, this was mostly a result of
When construc on started, however, public opinion changed.
the low-quality cladding material used in the construc on of the
Because of long delays, increasing costs, and the fact that the (s ll
actual building. As Lamar Anderson explains, ‘because of schedule
unfinished) building (figure 21) didn’t quite look like the renderings,
and budget constraints, the architects had to use reflec ve Mylar
both media and general public turned against the Elbphilharmonie.
for the cladding instead of the adhesive mirrored panel listed in
When comparing these two figures, it is obvious that the lightness
their proposal (figure 17), a subs tu on that dras cally changed
and ethereal quality of the rendering do in no way compare to the
the look of the installa on’ (Anderson, 2013). As a result, the
actual building, even if it is s ll under construc on.18 Where the
buildings façade looks smooth in cold weather (figure 18), but
Elbphilharmonie was once - even before it actually existed - the
becomes very wrinkly in hot weather due to expansion of the
symbol of Hamburg, it is currently a highly sensi ve and nega vely
material (figure 19). Local outrage was worsened by the fact that
charged ma er in Hamburg social and poli cal spheres. These two
the professional photographs commissioned by the architect,
examples thus accurately illustrate the aforemen oned argument
that were published widely on the internet, showed the building
that photorealis c renderings can cause unrealis c expecta ons
in an extremely smooth condi on.
and set the client and public up for disappointment.
Something rather similar
happened to the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. As Chris an Zöllner
explains, the project was quickly embraced by the general public
The final argument in favor of photorealis c rendering that will
because of its beau ful renderings (figure 20). This went as far
be discussed, revolves around the idea that the architectural
as ‘prin ng the rendering on the cover of city guides, magazines
rendering is mainly an art form, an en ty unto itself, and therefore
20 & 21: rendering and photograph of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.
allows for a lot of ar s c freedom. Elizabeth McDonald rightly recognizes that ‘successful renderings are communica ve tools and objects d’art in themselves’ (McDonald, 2012). Bertrand Benoit furthermore underlines the ar s c aspect of the rendering by sta ng that ‘illustra on is an ar s c pursuit by nature’ (Benoit, 2012). However, various authors do seem to have varying opinions on the balance between art and communica on. Marrying these two func ons is diﬃcult, as they seem to oppose each other. When focussing on the communica ve func on19 of the rendering, it seems logical to state that a rendering has to be as true to reality as possible. Communica on flourishes with honesty, as deceit ‘undermines a general presupposi on of human communica on’ (Spahn, 2012). When focussing on the ar s c func on20 of the rendering however, it seems logical to allow a departure from reality in order to enhance the ar s c quality. Chapter four of this essay will try to draw a more defined conclusion on this ma er, by looking at it from a consequen alist point of view and thus looking at the diﬀerent consequences a rendering can have. As will be argued, the degree to which a rendering has to be truthful depends largely on the client and public of the rendering, as well as the goal with which the rendering is made.
14 In his TED talk, Kushner actually develops an en re theory revolving around the concepts of ‘innova on and ‘symbol’ in architecture. This theory has a mul tude of issues, which fall outside the scope of this essay and will therefore not be commented upon. Only Kushner’s no ons of digital media and photorealis c rendering are deemed relevant for this essay and are thus reviewed. 15 The same goes for Photoshopped images of buildings a er their comple on; this is however not within the scope of this essay.
This chapter has aimed to provide insight in the current ethical discourse by reviewing and analyzing the most common arguments in favor of, and against, photorealis c rendering. These arguments focus on: the communica on between architect and client (or general public) through the use of renderings, the possible expecta ons that are created with these renderings, and the status of the rendering as a piece of art. The following chapter will try to give a substan ated judgement on the use of the photorealis c rendering, by reviewing the arguments in this chapter in a consequentalist manner.
16 Andreas Spahn describes this in the following way, using the analogy of lying: ‘lying might some mes be more eﬀec ve to achieve a certain goal and it might thus give a strategic advantage for the person who lied. But lying also undermines the trustworthiness of the person who lies. It therefore—as discourse ethics rightly claims—undermines a general presupposi on of human communica on, and can for that reason not be a stable strategy that works in the long run’ (Spahn, 2012) 17 The rela onship between renderings and (possibly photoshopped) photographs is a very interes ng one. As renderings become more and more photorealis c, the line between rendering and photograph seems to slowly fade. It is (sadly) outside the scope of this essay to discuss the ethical implica ons of the (photoshopped) architectural photograph and its rela onship to architectural rendering. 18 It is interes ng to compare this situa on to Mies van der Rohe’s skyscraper project for the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin here, and to reconsider the arguments that Sigg gave to legi mize the unrealis c geometrical and material quali es of its rendering. 19 This is for example done in the first part of this chapter, notably by Kushner (2012) and Schlegel (2012). 20 A lot of ar cles wri en by rendering ar sts focus on this aspect, notably Benoit (2012), De Broche des Combes (2012) and Andersen (2012).
Intenঞon and Consequence With the method of analyzing and judging a rendering on its realis c quali es as described in the first chapter, we are now able
- A render ar st or architect receives apprecia on for a rendering he/ she made.
to fairly accurately decide whether a rendering is realis c or not, and thus whether it is ethical or not in this respect. However, as we
For a render ar st, the rendering is a work of art more than anything
have learned from the range of opinions in the previous chapter,
else. The same can be said for an architect when he makes his own
a rendering is not per defini on unethical if it is unrealis c. To
rendering. If he receives apprecia on for the image itself and not
say that an unrealis c rendering is always unethical, is to take up
the building that is depicted, this can not be deemed unethical. The
a deontological stance that is far too crude for the many facets
ar s c interpreta on allows for a divergence of reality, so it does
of this problem and that will certainly not be useful in every
not ma er whether the rendering realis cally depicts a building
situa on. The current chapter, therefore, aims to judge whether
an (unrealis c) rendering is ethical, based on the consequences it has. This method uses the approach of consequen alist ethics: ‘the view that norma ve proper es depend only on consequences’
- An architect receives apprecia on for a building he/she designed because of a rendering of this building.
(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015). When applied to an ‘act’ like the produc on or distribu on of a rendering,
For an architect, the rendering is primarily a means of communica ng
‘consequen alism about the moral rightness of acts . . . holds that
a design he has made. If he receives apprecia on for his design
whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences
because of the rendering, the architect only seems to deserve this
of that act’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015). When we
apprecia on if the rendering itself is truthful. If the apprecia on
are judging a rendering in this way, it means that we will not discuss
would be based on a decep ve rendering and thus untruthful
the actual quali es of the rendering itself, but merely the eﬀects,
informa on, it could be deemed undeserved and thus unethical.
or consequences, that the rendering has or is intended to have.
If the architect would receive commissions for other buildings,
An inten on can be interpreted as a desired future consequence,
based on these renderings, the consequences would be even more
and will therefore be considered similarly. This chapter will discuss
nega ve as the poten al client appreciates the architect, based on
a number of possible situa ons, and judge them on whether their
wrong informa on.
inten ons and consequences are jus fiable or not. The arguments discussed in the previous chapter will be used as the base for this.
- A client understands a design be er because of a rendering, leading
What follows is a list of possible inten ons and consequences of a
to improved communica on between architect and client. / A client
(possibly decep ve) rendering, and a judgment of each case.
misunderstands a design because of a rendering, leading to flawed communica on between architect and client.
- A person (any person) experiences joy in seeing the beauty of a rendering. As argued in the previous chapter, a rendering can provide a lot
When someone views a rendering merely as a work of art, and
of insight into the design of a building, especially for lay-people
experiences joy in doing so, it does not ma er whether this
who can not read architectural drawings. Most clients fall in this
rendering is decep ve or not. It is therefore not unethical.
category. If the rendering is truthful, the client will understand the
design as it is. If the rendering is decep ve, there is a considerable chance that the client will understand the design wrong. This could
- A rendering leads to the development of a new building material or engineering solu on.
lead to flawed communica on, which can have a mul tude of nega ve eﬀects on the en re design and construc on process. It
As Dominik Sigg states, a rendering can be ‘a driver for architectural
can thus be deemed unethical.
ambi on’ (Sigg, 2012). When a rendering leads to the development of a new building material or engineering solu on, in order to create
- A jury of a compe compe
on chooses a certain entry as the winner of the
the image that is shown in the rendering, this is not unethical. However, when no new building material or engineering solu on
on (partly) based on renderings.
can be found or discovered to create this image, the architect on to choose the best
can be held to blame. It is, again, the architect’s professional
on as the winner. If the jury is led to believe that
responsibility to judge how realis c the development of new
It is in the interest of the jury of a compe entry of a compe
a certain entry is be er than it actually is, based on renderings that
materials or engineering solu ons are.
are decep ve, the use of decep ve renderings is not jus fiable. If a certain amount of decep on is allowed in renderings, it should
The abovemen oned situa ons are meant to provide a tool in
at least be clear to which degree this decep on is allowed, and it
deciding whether a rendering is unethical or not. It may be obvious
should furthermore be equal for all contestants.
that with any rendering, mul ple of the described inten ons and consequences can be applicable and every situa on should be
- A client or the general public is disappointed in the actual building because it is not as beau ful as the rendering.
judged individually. It may also be obvious that, at the
rendering, not all the possible consequences can be known. As is stated before, however, it should be the architect’s professional
It is very diﬃcult to tell upfront whether a client or the general public
responsibility to foresee these consequences and their risks,
is going to like a building. It is also very diﬃcult to tell upfront how
and consequently act upon them. This touches upon the field
much a building is going to look like the rendering. Generally speaking,
of Virtue Ethics. The following chapter will, therefore, aim to
however, it is safe to state that the further a rendering is from reality,
describe the architect’s du es with regard to architectural image-
the greater the chance is that people will be disappointed by the
making, and suggest an addi on to the exis ng code of conduct
actual building. Changes in the original design (that might be outside
of the federa on of Dutch architects (BNA). Adding a view on
the power of the architect), budget cuts,
architectural image-making in this code of conduct would be an
me constraints and a
host of other factors can lead to a building that was not intended
eﬀec ve way of bringing these important ethical concerns known
to look the way it does. It is, however, the architect’s professional
to the field of architecture.
responsibility to take all these factors into account when designing a building and making the renderings. It is, therefore, reasonable to state that the architect is to blame when the client or general public is disappointed by his realized building, unless factors have come into play that are truly outside the power of the architect. 31
Because the architect is usually the person who has to make a
being objec onably influenced by secondary interests. Architects
professional decision as to what a rendering will look like - or is at
treat the confiden al informa on they receive in the context of a
least responsible for this - it seems important to discuss whether a
commission accordingly’ (BNA, 2015).
certain code of conduct could be created to guide the architect in this decision. The field of Virtue Ethics appears to be highly helpful
It can be concluded that the text of the Code of Conduct
here, as it concerns the virtues that a person should have who makes
already talks about the ethical responsibility of the architect.
such a decision. Virtue Ethics ‘emphasizes the virtues, or moral
If one interprets ‘work’ in the sentence ‘they are aware of the
character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes du es or
responsibility they carry for their work, and behave, within the
rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of
context of their commission, with respect for people, society
ac ons (consequen alism)’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
and the environment’ as both the architect’s design and its visual
representa on, then this core value already covers the aspect of ethics in architectural image-making. The sentence ‘architects
The Code of Conduct of the Bond van Nederlandse Architecten
do not engage in unfair compe
(the federa on of Dutch architects) will be used as a test case
decep ve renderings would not be used when compe ng for a
on’ furthermore implies that
for the inclusion of rules related to the ethics of architectural
commission, as this would be unfair. In that sense, the Code of
image-making. It is a code of conduct that describes the desired
Conduct is ethically comprehensive in its core values.
conduct of its members through virtues, and is thus in line with the approach of Virtue Ethics. As stated in the chapter Core Values,
However, in the chapter Prac cal Implementa on, the BNA Code of
‘The Code of Conduct is based on three core values: responsibility,
Conduct furthermore states a number of more prac cal rules that
integrity and professionalism’ (BNA, 2015). The first two values
are derived from the core values. These rules - eight in total - do not
seem relevant to architectural image-making. Responsibility is
men on anything about architectural image-making. It would thus
described as: ‘Architects are aware of the public interest in the
be advisable to add a ninth rule about architectural image-making.
way that they func on in society and of the contribu on that they
Its text could be, for example: ‘Architects visually represent their
can make to the development of the spa al environment while
designs and realized buildings in an ethical manner that does not
exercising their profession. They are aware of the responsibility
harmfully deceive the viewer’. This is indeed a rather deontological
they carry for their work, and behave, within the context of their
rule, but it s ll leaves enough room to decide whether something is
commission, with respect for people, society and the environment.
actually harmfully decep ve, or in other words: whether the deceit
Their concern is both for the built and the unbuilt environment
has nega ve inten ons or concequences.
and for the par cipants in the processes in which they are
professionally involved’ (BNA, 2015). Integrity is described as:
It must be concluded that the ethics of architectural image-
‘Architects exercise their profession conscien ously. Architects
making are highly complicated and mul -faceted, and that it is a
do not engage in unfair compe
on and respect the principles
field in which a lot of opinions, priori es and interests collide with
of good employment. As commissionees in a posi on of trust,
high frequency. This essay has aimed to provide the informa on
they independently represent the interests of the client, without
necessary in order to gain a broad understanding of architectural
image-making in general, and subsequently to comprehensively capture the current debate on photorealis c rendering. From an analysis of this debate, it can be concluded that there is currently a lack of ethical guidance for those involved in architectural image-making, especially concerning photorealis c rendering. It is therefore advisable for the BNA to ac vely engage in this debate and consequently adjust its code of conduct in order to provide guidelines on the ma er. This will hopefully result in a more balanced, though ul and ethical use of the (photorealis c) rendering in architectural representa on.
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Published on Jan 13, 2017
This essay discusses the ethical implications of present-day photorealistic renderings. The visual representation of architectural designs,...