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Architectural Visualization - How It Can Improve Your Architecture

Visualization isn’t just to show the client pretty pictures, it also happens to be a vital component of an architect’s continued education and critique.

One of my architecture professors used to alway tell us: if you can’t explain your design to your grandmother, you’re going to fail my class.” And fail we did! Designing a beautiful building is one thing. Iit’s another thing entirely to be able to communicate the value of what you’ve thought up in an easy to explain, completely clear way. Remember, your clients are not architects. Most likely, they know less about what makes architecture great than that grandmother you tried so hard to impress back in school.

Design communication and architectural visualization will make you a better architect because it will force you to backup your ideas with visual and experiential evidence that it works. My professor wasn’t drilling us on clarity of communication for his own viewing pleasure, he was trying to get us to think critically about our work, and the only way to do that is to actually see it. The visualization and design loop you establish in your workflow is your only chance to get the design right. Otherwise, you might find yourself standing in an unfinished hotel lobby with a massive pit in your stomach thinking to yourself “what the hell have I done?”

For some architects, it is better to hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil because they don’t want to face the harsh truth that their designs might actually suck. When you’re a young, inexperienced designer, chances are they do. That’s okay! Only a select few gifted individuals can conjure up an award winning library while doing whipits with their friends in their college dormitory. The rest of us have to work, try, and fail in order to become good at what we do.

So, do the work, draw the work, visualize the work, then tear it down in order to make the next one just a little bit better. People think visualization is just the pretty pictures we see in magazines and plastered on billboards in front of unfinished buildings. However, they are the most important tool for an architect to be able to analyze and evolve their designs and make the finished product even better.

It’s all part of the process, and it’s important to know how to refine a design through drawing, critiquing, and drawing again. It might start with a jaggy sketch on a cocktail napkin, but it should get onto the boards as quickly as possible to engage that process and let the work run it’s course.

Because, in the end, it’s all about the work. The design budget exists so architects can invest their resources into people who are able to show - not tell - where the design stands at any given point. Whether 3D visualization is outsourced or done in-house, it should be included in the bottom line so the design is given the attention it deserves. This goes for tiny riverside cottages and sprawling mixed-use developments alike.

And, after the dust settles, what the architect has is a pretty picture he can pin up next to a photograph of the finished building and show people the proof of his labor. It is the best gift an architect can give his reputation, and will lead to bigger, better jobs, and even more work to put through the process and design beautiful buildings.

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