The Texture-mapped Flythrough

Textile City Tower

And What it Says About Us

It all looks the same – and yes, it pretty much is. There has been no significant change in ‘state-of-the-art’ computer representation in the last decade or more, except that we have now universally surrendered it to the anonymous renderer and the software toolsmith. As a result, we have collectively processed our message and further quieted our voices. In assigning the task of representation, we have inadvertently surrendered the soul of our profession, and as a consequence, assigned design itself to the group consciousness – photos of people in a texture-mapped world, on a blue sky and green grass mid-day fly-through.

Perhaps it looks the same just because it’s actually more like reality. Yet photo-realism is a surrogate realism, and it is not the only one. It is in no way immune from, and may well be more susceptible to, distortion and misrepresentation. These can occur both through ignorance as well as by conscious manipulation. We all accept the illusion of photo-realism, no matter how accurately it represents design intent or reality.

Is reality levitating through a project at ten miles-per-hour wearing wide-angle goggles? Is not the experience of any engaging environment a prioritized series of well-composed moments, rather than a through-the-windshield view of a passing landscape? Aren’t there most important moments, typical moments, and ones in-between? Being there means being there. Hang on a second, don’t rush me.

Much-better-than-average CAD rendering effort, Shao Xing Tower.
Much-better-than-average CAD rendering effort, Shao Xing Tower.

Compare the TMFT to the inspirational visualizations of Wright, Saarinen, Ferris or Goodhue. Their buildings have individual character – but it wasn’t just the format of their delineations that distinguished them. There was an aspiration inherent in the designers’ depictions, a promise that the building was like no other, possessing an individual character that might only become fully known through careful observation and consideration. There is no such aspiration in the TMFT. What you see is what you get, and that’s all there is. Move along, nothing to see here.

A little hand linework and quick color over simple working CAD model.
A little hand linework and quick color over simple working CAD model.

As we all ‘draw’ the same way with the same media, we are blindly imitating and accepting ‘reality’ as defined by some offshore rendering shop. We’re designing what’s easy to render. Using what works well from the materials editor. What’s easy to build in SketchUp. Or maybe what’s fun to contort in 3D Studio. We are not demanding about representation because we don’t know enough about it to know what to demand. Through our negligence and complicity, the purview of design is increasingly defined and constrained (rather than enhanced or expanded) by the software, its users, and by the toolsmith.

CAD rendered version beginning with same model.
CAD renderer’s version of with same model.

These constraints are inherently biased toward the quantifiable rather than the qualitative. They are not neutral in terms of accommodating individual character or craftsmanship, and perhaps not even humanity. They have no aspirations – other than to be your only means of expression. As the designer becomes detached from the individual and human aspect of the process—the actual craftsmanship of design—he or she has surrendered this privilege and obligation to design to others. Yeah, that looks cool. Use that.

When we embrace such a process, we are admitting that we don’t have anything more to offer. Years ago, we were seduced by the technology, apparently believing ourselves that it could stand in for significant aspects of our own capabilities. This over-zealous embrace has encouraged the forsaking of fundamental capabilities and, through the combination of these actions, we have made ourselves increasingly superfluous.

Eye-level view by hand over simple CAD wireframe.
Eye-level view, linework and color by hand over working CAD wireframe.

We haven’t progressed over the last decade; we have only succeeded in further assigning away design. Why have so many architectural firms been acquired by large contracting and engineering concerns? Only because they still need a few designers to site-adapt an idea or two – and then they’re off. Thanks buddy, we’ll take it from here.


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