Throughout history, architectural visualization has acted as the language between client and designer. Without that tangible common ground, an architect’s work is left to being judged in numbers on a ledger. From cave paintings and drawings to modern 3D architecture design, the evolution of this art form has allowed us to transform the way we construct and plan our cities and other living spaces. A story of space and light, materiality and texture.
Now, this is a story about one of technology and the greatness of human achievement. A brief history of architectural visualization.
1. Ancient Architecture
The ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians made some of the earliest known drawings that can be truly considered architectural ‘plans’. Many are dated from over 4000 years ago. These are the pioneers of significant architecture: building ambitious wonders of the world with ancient technology that we’re still trying to understand thousands of years later.
At this point in history, architects were artists by trade, only with their work planted firmly in the real. The history of architectural visualization can be traced by simply following the evolution of fine art itself. The technique got better, more realistic, but was still rooted in a similar flat representation as to the Egyptians.
Ancient philosophers argued over just what defined beautiful and useful architecture. Vitruvius, the renowned Roman architect and engineer, argued that “order, arrangement, eurythmy, symmetry, and economy” were the pillars of this process. These concepts continue to apply with modern-day 3D visualization.
In 1415 Renaissance man Fillipo Brunelleschi stunned the world when he painted the first example of linear perspective – a three-dimensional depiction that utilized converging parallel lines to create a visual representation of how the human eye actually perceives the world.
You might recognize the name Brunelleschi. He has a very famous dome in Florence. Although there is much debate as to whether or not it was Brunelleschi himself who first discovered perspective, it was him who pioneered its use in analyzing architecture. The Italian Renaissance earns humanity’s first great breakthrough in architectural visualization.
3. Architecture Visualization is a modern movement
The invention of linear perspective opened all kinds of doors that provided architects, engineers and artists with the proper visual tools to make their designs come to life – and it sustained the profession for centuries. At the turn of the 20th century, however, things were in for a monumental shift.
As the architecture shifted to a simple geometric assembly of lines and volumes, so did the visualization. Historic designers like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier were among the best at relaying design information in previously unthinkable ways.
Three-dimensional spaces were overlapped and color-coded resulting in diagrammatic portrayals that said something about the program and the experience without simply drawing it realistically. Architects invented visual tools that allowed others to understand not just the ‘what,’ but the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ as well.
This revolution in design communication didn’t just change the way clients saw their projects, it marked a turning point in architecture itself. The Frank Lloyd Wrights and Louis Kahns of the world started designing buildings that suspended disbelief and elevated architecture to the greatness it enjoyed throughout antiquity. Buildings became important again, in part thanks to the new ways designs were being conceived.
4. The Future of 3D Architecture Visualization
Only time will tell where the next 100 years might take us. As technology progresses, more and more of the design process will inevitably rely on automated processes. With that grows the danger that control will be relegated by emotionless machines and the risk of losing the humanity of architecture and design.
Here’s to hoping that never happens, and hoping architecture and design remain solid in the hands of people. New, helpful tools are great, but only if wielded by people who know how to use them. That’s the only way to move forward intelligently.
The future of 3D printing is very promising and is something to be watched. The possibilities of what it will be able to render are extremely exciting.
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