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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




Dra version

Word count



Photorealis c Rendering Architecture Ethics

Cover photo

Burnt Wood Wallpaper by Piet Hein Eek 3





Introduc on



Techniques and Aspects



Alterna ves



Popular Opinion



Inten on and Consequence







CLOG Sources





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 building’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 Halse’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




mee ngs


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


Popular Opinion


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-

me of

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

or not.

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

me of

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.


Sources 1. AD Editorial Team (2015). AD Essen als: Rendering. Archdaily. [h p://www.archdaily. com/773836/ad-essen als-rendering] 2. Anderson, L. (2013). Do Architecture Photos Lie? Archi zer. [h p://archi do-architecture-photos-lie/] 3. Bim, J. (2012). 3D Rendering. [h p://] 4. Bond Nederlandse Architecten. (2015). BNA Code of Conduct. Responsibility, Integrity and Professionalism. BNA. [h p://] 5. Bryant, R. (2013). Interview with Henry Goss on Hyper-Realis c 3D Architectural Renders. Dezeen. [h p:// ons/] 6. Bryant, R. (2013). Interview with Peter Guthrie on Hyper-Realis c Visualisa ons. Dezeen. [h p:// c-visualisa ons/] 7. Cassella, D. (2009). What is Augmented Reality (AR): Augmented Reality Defined, iPhone Augmented Reality Apps and Games and More. Digital Trends. [h p://www.digitaltrends. com/features/what-is-augmented-reality-iphone-apps-games-flash-yelp-android-arso ware-and-more/] 8. De Chant, T. (2013). Can We Please Stop Drawing Trees on Top of Skyscrapers? Archdaily.

1922. Submi ed in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Ph.D. The University of Leeds, Departments of Fine Art. 15. Halse, A.O. (1960). Architectural Rendering. The Techniques of Contemporary Presenta on. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. 16. Knikker, J. and Davidson, A. (2016). In Defense of Renders and Trees On Top of Skyscrapers. Archdaily. [h p://] 17. Kunkel, P. (2015). The Best So ware Tutorials on the Web (According to ArchDaily Readers). Archdaily. [h p:// ware-tutorials-part-2what-we-heard-from-you] 18. Kushner, M. (2014). Why the buildings of the future will be shaped by… you. Filmed March 2014 at TED2014. [h ps:// the_future_will_be_shaped_by_you?language=en] 19. Langhorst, J. (2012). Rendering the Unseen: The Pragma cs, Aesthe cs and Ethics of Place Representa on. Representa on 2013-14. Journal of Design Communica on Associa on. 20. Le Corbusier. (1923). Towards a new Architecture. 21. Minkjan, M. (2016). What this MVRDV Rendering Says About Architecture and the Media.

[h p://

Failed Architecture. [h p://



9. Edelson, Z. (2014). How we render: the changing image of architecture. Archi zer. [h p:// archi] 10. Fairs, M. (2015). Virtual Reality Will Be “More Powerful Than Cocaine.” Dezeen. [h p:// -ty-hedfan-olivier-demangel-ivr-na on/] 11. Frearson, A. (2016). CGI ar st Forbes Massie unveils “completely seduc ve” renderings in London exhibi on. Dezeen. [h p:// on-seduc on-of-light/] 12. Freeman, B. (2013). Digital decep on. Welcome to the world of architectural photography without architecture. Places Journal. [h ps:// cle/digital-decep on/] 13. Gintoff, V. (2015). Why NL Architects + BeL’s Winning Proposal for Hamburg’s St. Pauli Won’t Win You Over With Glossy Renders. Archdaily. [h p:// why-nl-architects-plus-bels-winning-proposal-for-hamburgs-st-pauli-wont-win-youover-with-glossy-renders]


14. Grainger, H.J. (1985). The Architecture of Sir Ernest George and His Partners, C.1860-

22. Quirk, V. (2012). Rendering / CLOG. Archdaily. [h p:// rendering-clog/] 23. Quirk, V. (2013). Are renderings bad for architecture? Archdaily. [h p://www.archdaily. com/383325/are-renderings-bad-for-architecture] 24. Spahn, A. (2012). And Lead Us (Not) into Persuasion…? Persuasive Technology and the Ethics of Communica on. Science and Engineering Ethics, 18:4, pp. 633-650. Springer. 25. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2015). Consequen alism. [h p://plato.stanford. edu/entries/consequen alism/] 26. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2012). Deontological Ethics. [h p://plato.stanford. edu/entries/ethics-deontological/] 27. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2012). Virtue Ethics. [h p:// entries/ethics-virtue/] 28. Tilman, H. (2015). Renderporno voor architecten. De Architect. [h p://www.dearchitect. nl/blogs/2015/03/09/render-riedijk-avermaete-caruso-st-john-del .html]

29. Tonnaer, L. (2014). Herzog and de Meuron’s discrepancy of rendering and reality. The influences of photorealis c renderings and their uses in the Architecture profession. Unpublished. 30. Voorthuis, J. (2012). Het ontwerpgesprek. Een filosofie van het ontwerpen. Nai010 uitgevers, Ro erdam. 31. Virtual Reality Society. (2016). What is Virtual Reality? [h p://] 32. Wainwright, O. (2013). Towering folly: why architectural educa on in Britain is in need of repair. The Guardian. [h p:// on-professional-courses]


CLOG Sources 1.

Gallego-Picard, P. (2012). Poe c Transla ons. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 16-17. New York.


Wu, H. (2012). The Happy People. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 18-19. New York.


Reidel, J. (2012). Showing It Like It Is. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 24-25. New York.


Sériès et Séries and Labtop. (2012). Just Saying. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 26-27. New York.


How Much Does That Rendering Cost? (2012). CLOG: Rendering, pp. 34-35. New York.


Sigg, D. (2012). Let’s Fool Ourselves. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 36-37. New York.


Silenzi, L. (2012). Real vs. Plausible: On Reality and Its Representa on. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 38-39. New York.


Hill, J. (2012). Photoshop Therapy. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 46-47. New York.


Villeda, F. (2012). Render ID and the Homogeniza on of Architecture. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 48-49. New York.


Entourage Demographics. (2012). CLOG: Rendering, pp. 52-53. New York.


Gallan , F. (2012). Transparent Guys. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 54-55. New York.


Schlegel, J.D. (2012). Great Weather and Pre y People. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 56-57. New York.


Strak, B. (2012). Don’t Design For Render Ghosts. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 58-59. New York.


The Sky Sets The Mood. (2012). CLOG: Rendering, pp. 66-67. New York.


Halpern, B. and Wenzel, J. (2012). Hyper-Rendering: the Illusion of Architecture. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 72-73. New York.


Abrahamson, M. (2012). Rendered Hot and/or Cool. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 74-75. New York.


Hayves, K. (2012). By The Numbers. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 82-83. New York.



Mansilla y Tuñón Arquitectos. (2012). Managing Freedom (House in Losvia). CLOG: Rendering, pp. 84-85. New York.


Easton, V. (2012). Cardboard Reality. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 86-87. New York.


Koe er, A. (2012). Architecture Untreated. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 90-91. New York.


Lostri o, C. (2012). Rendering Drawing. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 92-93. New York.


Quintal, B. (2012). Does This Rendering Make Me Look Fat? CLOG: Rendering, pp. 96-97. New York.


Hout, van den J. (2012). Hazy Views, Clouded Judgment. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 98-99. New York.


Zöllner, C. (2012). The Elbphilarmonie Renderings. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 100-101. New York.


Ramaswamy, D. (2012). Seduc ve Imagery and Viewing Regimes. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 104-105. New York.


Tsu, V. (2012). Rendering Tries To Transform Architecture Into An Expendable Commodity, Ready For Consump on. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 106-107. New York.


Benoit, B. (2012). The Cra sman’s Complex. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 108-109. New York.


De Broche des Combes, E. (2012). Birds & Flares. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 112-113. New York.


Andersen, T.G. (2012). Teenagers Get It, Architects Don’t. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 116-117. New York.


May, K., Hout, van den J. and Reidel, J. (2012). Interview LUXIGON and MIR. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 118-131. New York.


Rasner, A. (2012). Towards a Non-Visual Rendering. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 132-133. New York.


Schaerer, P. (2012). New Abstrac on. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 138-139. New York.


Lozada, T. (2012). Transcending Photorealism. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 142-143. New York.


Brouchoud, J. (2012). We Shape Our Buildings, And A erwards We Keep Shaping Them. CLOG: Rendering, pp. 148-149. New York.


Figures 1.

35-37 Harrington Gardens, London, 1882. Perspec ve drawing by Sir Ernest George. Reprinted from The Architecture of Sir Ernest George. With new photography by Mar n Charles (page 14), by Grainger, H.J. (2011). Reading, Spire Books Ltd.


Viollet-le-Duc’s losing Opera Compe


Proposal for a skyscraper at the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, by Mies van der Rohe. Reprinted from CLOG: Rendering (2012).


Eric de Broche des Combes, rendering version 1. Reprinted from L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui #378 (2010).


Eric de Broche des Combes, rendering version 2. Reprinted from L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui #378 (2010).


Eric de Broche des Combes, rendering version 3. Reprinted from L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui #378 (2010).


Proposal for a skyscraper at the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, by Mies van der Rohe. Reprinted from CLOG: Rendering (2012).


The Friedrichstraße skyscraper with realis c material quali es and accurate perspec ve. Reprinted from CLOG: Rendering (2012).


Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building, tempera rendering by Elliot Glushak, 1950’s. Reprinted from Architectural Rendering. The Techniques of Contemporary Presenta on (page 214), by Halse,

on project of 1861, perspec ve view. Reprinted from Charles Garnier’s Paris Opéra: Architectural Empathy and the Renaissance of French Classicism, by

Mead, C.C. (1991). New York: The Architectural History Founda on. Cambridge, Massachuse s: The MIT Press.

A.O. (1960). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. 10

Picture of the Seagram Building in New York by Mies van der Rohe. Photograph by Bill Zbaren. [h p://]


Proposal for Hamburg neighbourhood St. Pauli, by NL Architects and BeL. [h p://]


Digital sketch / rendering of the Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo. [h p://]


Exterior rendering of the Lycée Hotelier de Lille by Caruso St. John architects. [h p://]


Interior rendering of the Lycée Hotelier de Lille by Caruso St. John architects. [h p://]


Rendering of Torre Bicentenario in Mexico City by OMA. [h p://]


Rendering of The Cloud in Seoul by MVRDV. [h ps://sta]


Rendering of Mark’s House in Flint by Two Islands. [h p://]



Official photograph of Mark’s House in Flint by Two Islands. [h p:// ng-house-designboom-02.jpg]


Newspaper photograph of Mark’s House in Flint by Two Islands. [h p://]


Rendering of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg by Herzog & de Meuron. [h ps://]


Photograph of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg by Herzog & de Meuron. [h ps://sta Abend_Raetzke_140815_5cf9443de3.jpg]


Get Real. On the Ethical Implications of Photorealistic Rendering. [draft]  

This essay discusses the ethical implications of present-day photorealistic renderings. The visual representation of architectural designs,...

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