J. Mueller

May 10, 2014
April 14, 2014

Went to a great seminar on how to incorporate BIM (Revit) into your company and tips and tricks from professionals. I plan to write-up soon about all I learned at the seminar at University of Buffalo.

March 31, 2014

Air: A Hot Commodity in New York City

All of us are familiar with the practice of buying and selling property in the form of land, residential and commercial space, but the buying and selling of the air surrounding these spaces is a concept well-understood by few. With the recovery of the condominium market in , residential development is at an all-time high, and this means taller and even more luxurious towers are fighting each other tooth and nail for the best possible views of the city. Because of this, the price of air above and around these potential developments is becoming more and more expensive, since a room with a view is worth a whole lot more than one without. Is it possible that these empty, vertical pockets are now worth more than the ground below them?

Read more about New York City’s air rights to find out.

So what exactly are air rights? They can be defined as a building’s “unused or excess development rights” measured by square foot and can be transferred from one building to another if  in that specific area permits. Air rights in NYC typically sell for 50-60% of what the ground below them is worth; some, however, can be worth much more than that, as in the case of air rights along the High Line.

Air was not inalienable to New Yorkers until 1916, when zoning rules and height restrictions were created to try to ensure the development of a healthier city in terms of air and light. Air rights did not become a salable commodity, however, until the 1960′s when density quotas were established for every city block. These restrictions came in the form of a ratio between floor area and lot size (F.A.R.), determining a building’s allowable bulk. This ratio depends on the building’s zone and position on a block or boulevard, where side streets normally carry more restrictions than corner and boulevard lots, especially in height.

Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza is a great example of a building that legally accumulated air rights from at least 7 low-rise properties that had F.A.R. to spare, maxing out the block’s allowable density with a single, looming tower. Thanks to acquiring air rights from two adjacent properties, Kenneth S. Horn’s 18-story Isis Condominium at 303 East 77th Street cantilevers 8 feet above both neighbors starting at the 6th floor, the result of which are “360-degree views, more spacious apartments, abundant light and higher resale value.” A third New York City developer spent more than 15 years and umpteen millions buying unused air rights from smaller properties around his tower just to have enhanced Central Park views.

The multi-million dollar annexation of air space above and around these low-rise properties is causing a major vertical transformation of New York City’s skyline. According to air-rights expert Robert Von Ancken, it is the major reason why these “monster buildings” are cropping up all over the city, drastically changing its horizon. He adds that air-rights trading is on the rise because, quite frankly, it can make the difference between a “marginal and a profitable project.”

So will the future landscape of New York City be filled with a collection of 200-story residential towers with stilted buildings in between? How do those who gave up their air rights feel about these high-rise developments? How will they affect our experience of the surrounding streets and plazas we know and enjoy today? The answers to these questions may not be clear, but one thing can be said for sure: skyscraper-free areas will become rare in the city if the so-called “Great Air Race” continues, and it won’t be too long before New York City has an entirely new personality.

Reference: The New York Times 


March 17, 2014

Blind concept offers breathtaking vision

A student has proposed a novel take on the traditional window blind that can twist and shift in three dimensions. Penumbra is a concept from architecture student Tyler Short using louvers that can tilt both horizontally and vertically to provide shade throughout the day. The louvers act like a vertical venetian blind, and can be tilted 180 degrees as the sun tracks from east to west. What makes Penumbra special, explains Short, is the louvers can rotate upwards to act as “a horizontal shading element and light shelf.”

The horizontal trick allows light to permeate deep into a building while preventing direct sunlight from coming in. To demonstrate the concept, Short created a 3D animation showing a complex system of cogs and gears that could theoretically be used to power the system. Although the concept seems highly unlikely to ever become reality, the visual impact of a mechanical wave of louvers extending out from a building is nonetheless breathtaking.


March 17, 2014

Gensler's proposal for the Hoover Building. Images via Washington Post.

By jumping on the “hacking” bandwagon (about time!), architecture is becoming a culture of creative tinkering. No longer is the idea to design a solution that withstands the test of time—the goal is rather to produce a concept that works well for now, but can change to accommodate future needs.

Architecture firm Gensler recently used the term “hacking” in its radical submission for the renovation of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, a brutalist former FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. Their concept was intentionally a little wacky, including dramatic cuts and heavy symbiotic additions that could accommodate programs such as big-box retail and a rooftop soccer field.

January 30, 2014

"Being an interior designer involves more personal interaction and deep psychological understanding than any field that I have ever explored. Architecture tends to involve more arrogance and less objectivism while interior design can be deeply introspective and personalized to a client’s every need. Don’t get me wrong: I love architecture. I love many architects. However, it’s hard not to be bitter when insanely intelligent and hard-working designers everywhere are being downgraded to decorator status, and much of this title-slinging comes from architects as much as it does clients and peers."

January 12, 2014
“Bausch + Lomb Headquarters
Emerging firms 137Kilo Architects and Beza Projekt create an open-plan office—the likes of which Warsaw has never seen.”

The pine-slat reception desk at the new Bausch  Lomb offices in Warsaw, Poland, is encased in an inflated vinyl bubble.

The pine-slat reception desk at the new Bausch + Lomb offices in Warsaw, Poland, is encased in an inflated vinyl bubble.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

Upon entering the Warsaw offices of Bausch + Lomb, visitors are confronted by the sight of a vegetal mosaic composed of ferns, orchids, and broad-leafed tropical flora. It’s hardly the first such green wall—today a commonplace, eco-friendly concept, it was first introduced 20 years ago by the French botanist Patrick Blanc—but no one has seen such a sensitive feature in a Polish office building before. Nor has anyone encountered a receptionist framed in a half-shell made of an inflated vinyl cushion. These are among the many playful devices created by Polish firms 137kilo Architects and Beza Projekt that signal a change in sensibility in a city better known for its toughness.

The fifth-floor atrium of the base building offers a panoramic view of the open-plan office, including the two additional bubbles that are used as conference space.

The fifth-floor atrium of the base building offers a panoramic view of the open-plan office, including the two additional bubbles that are used as conference space.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

Warsaw lost 85 percent of its buildings and 200,000 inhabitants toward the end of World War II, to be followed by four decades of drab settings created by a communist regime. Since democracy took hold in 1989, the city has awakened to consumer capitalism, with its excesses of advertising and glitz—most tellingly, the Communist Party Headquarters was acquired by the stock exchange, then became a Ferrari dealership, and now boasts garish billboards. The Bausch + Lomb office pursues a different tack, emphasizing the quality of one’s experience rather than imagery.


Conference room interior, with view to the open office.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

The company “wanted to supply a new, healthy vision for our office, making it a place of creative interaction,” says Marta Wielondek, country manager of Bausch + Lomb in Poland. “We were certain that the young designers we chose from a limited competition were the only ones who could translate our goals into reality.” The headquarters is one of the first completed projects by 137kilo Architects, whose 33-year-old principal, Jan Sukiennik, collaborated with the designers of Beza Projekt. (The two firms are intimately linked—Sukiennik is married to one of the partners of Beza.) He admits that their team would never have been able to work so creatively without the encouragement of Wielondek, who, for example, requested to install a swing and a park bench in her office to put people at ease.

  • In the open-plan office, desks are set up in a cruciform pattern, with a ficus tree planted at the center.

    Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

    In the open-plan office, desks are set up in a cruciform pattern, with a ficus tree planted at the center.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

In the open-plan office, desks are set up in a cruciform pattern, with a ficus tree planted at the center.
  • Even the closed spaces in the offices promote transparency: The conference room, which is one of the few enclosed spaces in the floor plan, features glass walls that can be closed off by opaque curtains. The kitchen, a central gathering space in the offices, sits just beyond.

    Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

    The conference room, which is one of the few enclosed spaces in the floor plan, features glass walls that can be closed off by opaque curtains.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

The conference room, which is one of the few enclosed spaces in the floor plan, features glass walls that can be closed off by opaque curtains.

Starting with the brief for an open-plan scheme, the architect eliminated all of the non-load-bearing walls on the top floor of a prime office building designed by Marek Swierczynski in the mid-1990s, tearing out the hung ceiling to expose snarls of HVAC and wiring, which were then spray-painted white. They conceived the workspaces as clusters of four desks set in a cruciform pattern (which also happens to trace the company’s logo), placing a ficus tree at each crux. Transparent glass partitions enclose the conference room and the offices of Wielondek and her assistant, and thus the entire team, except the accountant, remain in full view. Sukiennik and his team devised a series of nomadic solutions for the material and social needs of the office, including two oval bubbles that can be used as consultation rooms or retreat areas. Reminiscent of the inflatables from 1970s counterculture (think Haus-Rucker-Co or Ant Farm), each semitransparent shell, made from two layers of vinyl with a 20-centimeter air pocket in between, is pitched like a tent over steel hoops. The lenslike quality of the forms, which intimates the company’s principal product of contact lenses, comes from the regularly placed disks which are used to anchor internal white cords that bind the outside layer of vinyl to the inside layer, similar to the structure of a mattress. The inflatables were first thought of for their ease of assembly, and in addition offer the potential to be easily moved.

Custom-made crates affixed to the wall are used as shelves in the office library.

Custom-made crates affixed to the wall are used as shelves in the office library.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

Other features include custom-made crates, inspired by those used for storing apples, and vertical space dividers that resemble the wooden pallets used for transporting goods in warehouses. The designers tipped the crates on their sides and attached them in staggered patterns to one of the walls to serve as shelving for the office’s library. The vertical flats, which are constructed from blanched pine stakes, can be used for hanging coats, or they can be rolled into place to serve as a privacy partition.

  • The two conference pods in the space are made out of inflated vinyl, and are designed for flexible use as break-out space for the Bausch  Lomb employees.

    Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

    The two conference pods in the space are made out of inflated vinyl, and are designed for flexible use as break-out space for the Bausch + Lomb employees.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

The two conference pods in the space are made out of inflated vinyl, and are designed for flexible use as break-out space for the Bausch + Lomb employees.
Currently the open-plan office is enjoying a revival due to the Google generation who seeks ever-more flexible workspaces (see the Google offices in Tel Aviv and London). The earlier versions of this phenomenon, perhaps first seen in Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1904 Larkin Building in Buffalo, N.Y., had clear panoptic intentions for surveying workers; more recent versions appeal to office democracy and coworking. And despite the openness, the Bausch + Lomb offices still provide the employees with places to remove or even shelter themselves. One such space, known as ‘the fun room,’ has a foosball table and a round couch surrounded by a tall upholstered parapet where office workers can discretely take (sanctioned) catnaps. Another flexible space is the kitchen—not a tiny counter for making coffee, but a full kitchen with lots of storage and a large dining table with 12 wooden chairs. “We like the creative feeling that comes from the kitchen,” Wielondek explains, “and it really brings us all together in casual ways.”

A green walllined exam room allows the staff to perform ophthalmological tests within the confines of their new office space.

A green wall–lined exam room allows the staff to perform ophthalmological tests within the confines of their new office space.

Credit: Jacek Kolodziejski

The entire office has superb daylighting and spectacular views to the nearby St. Alexander’s Church and, in the distance, the immense Palace of Culture and Science, Stalin’s skyscraper “gift” to Poland, which was completed in 1955. Surrounding it is the chaotic addition of new high-rise structures in glass wrappings, each competing with the next for image recognition. The cockeyed Zlota 44 tower, designed by Daniel Libeskind, AIA, is a vindication of his heritage, and offers a prime example of style over comfort. But Sukiennik’s wife, Zofia Strumillo-Sukiennik, summed up the difference in their design approach: “Our generation is the first in a long time to be free, but we often don’t know what real freedom is, and remain content with the so-called pleasures of consumer culture,” she says. “In our projects, we are seeking something that goes beyond imagery, that offers a quality that will enable people to make their own freedom.”


January 12, 2014
Coal Harbour District
Vancouver, B.C. / LMN Architects, Seattle; Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, Vancouver; DA Architects + Planners, Vancouver”

Once an industrial area marked by shipyards and lumber mills, the Coal Harbour convention district on Vancouver’s downtown peninsula has been the focus of redevelopment efforts since the 1980s. The new district has finally succeeded in revitalizing the area by knitting the convention center into a larger strategic plan. The building defines new public open space and extends the city’s pedestrian activity to the waterfront, while a public promenade and bike trail link to the city’s park system. A major civic plaza and a 6-acre living roof (the largest in Canada) create a balance between the urban and the natural.

Jury: “The project transforms the convention center typology into a true ‘civic’ piece of the city. The balance of built and open space is spectacular, and the linear orientation of the park and convention center take full advantage of the water’s edge.”

Client: “Our LEED Platinum–certified facility successfully engages, preserves, and integrates with the surrounding natural ecology of the waterfront, park spaces, and urban setting.” —Craig Lehto, assistant general manager, Vancouver Convention Centre


January 12, 2014
Charles Smith Wines
Walla Walla, Wash. / Olson Kundig Architects, Seattle”

Rock-n-roll-band-manager-turned-winemaker Charles Smith asked Olson Kundig to turn the 1917 Johnson Auto Electric building into a wine-tasting room and office while retaining the raw spirit of the industrial structure. Leaving the existing brick walls, wood trusses, and concrete floor intact, the architects designed a flexible program, inserting a prefabricated unit into the building. Dubbed the Armadillo, it can transform from an office, tasting room, and retail store into a dining and entertainment venue. Two custom, hand-cranked pivot doors replaced the original garage doors, and double as an awning for outdoor seating.

Jury: “A great solution for a simple space reflecting an attitude of restraint and editing. The project is gritty and urban, and integrates the exterior with the interior for a sort of ‘rough luxe’ aesthetic.”

Client: “It’s rare that you find a partner like Tom Kundig, who not only understands the intent of a project but nearly anticipates it. We were in complete agreement from the onset, specifically about how wine is not about a tasting room or office, but about the vineyards and the winemaking process. The building expresses this fact and brings you to the true heart of what we do.” —Charles Smith


January 12, 2014
“Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Morphosis Architects”


Sheared and Shirred/Surfaces and Solids: Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis, turn a corner for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.

By Suzanne Stephens

“Forceful,” “acrobatic,” “muscular,” “raw,” even “gritty” are usually the operative adjectives to describe the architecture of Thom Mayne (2013 AIA Gold Medalist) and his firm, Morphosis. But not “refined.” Yet the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which opened in Dallas last month, seems surprisingly restrained for a building by the Los Angeles firm. With its pale, crinkly precast-concrete panels enclosing a cubic volume, it appears rather sedate from afar. At the same time, there is a raw energy in the way the calm cube erupts from a craggy free-form plinth covered with shards of rock and local plants.

While the cube and plinth provide the dominant volumetric elements, the skin brings the exterior into high relief. Riddled by wrinkles, creases, and puckers, the precast-concrete cladding would look like an elephant’s hide if it were not so light in color. Instead, the slightly mottled off-white surface has a ruched texture like a luxuriantly pliable fabric. The heavy cloak of 656 precast panels, typically 8 by 30 feet (and some weighing 16,000 pounds and up to 9½ inches thick), gives the striated skin arresting shadow lines, a coup de théâtre made possible by the architects, the engineers, and a concrete subcontractor using building-information modeling (BIM).

The Perot cube did not come all that naturally to Mayne. His first scheme, an angular, hunkering form, extended over much of the 4.7-acre site, and its galleries adopted the splayed shapes of the container itself. But the client, Mayne found, “felt more of a comfort level with neutral stacked exhibition spaces and not too much light.” And terms such as “orthogonal” and “opaque” seemed key to understanding the museum’s vision.

Mayne’s response was a 170-foot-high building containing four floors inside an almost blank cube devoted primarily to windowless galleries. Three design firms (Amaze Design, Paul Bernhard Exhibit Design, and Science Museum of Minnesota) took over installations for the 11 permanent exhibition halls, focusing on fossils, birds, geology, space exploration, and other topics.

Children’s classrooms and exhibition areas occupy the plinth’s lower level, which visitors can enter from the east, where the architect’s geological formation seems pushed up by a glacial flow of curtain wall. The glassed-in main lobby, a void separating the cube and plinth, is reached by visitors ascending a curved ramp from the parking area to the west.

In order to bring daylight into the museum, Mayne cracked open the southeast corner of the cube to create a glass-and-steel atrium containing escalators and staircases. He made the museum’s major circulation device—the escalator—a salient feature of the exterior by enclosing a 54-foot-long section of it in a glass cartridge smacked onto the south facade. The exposed escalator is the final move in a sequence that begins at the lobby level; where it pushes out, the cartridge is cantilevered from a beam that in turn is cantilevered from another beam. These acrobatics control deflections and vibrations, notes structural engineer Kurt Clandening of John A. Martin & Associates, which worked with Datum Engineers on the project.

Daylight floods the cube’s atrium and dramatizes the sculptural pyrotechnics: Here a precast-concrete curvilinear vertical assemblage, suspended from the roof, alternately narrows and widens into a tornado-like whorl to embrace staircases and escalators. Nearby a poured-in-place-concrete shaft contains glass elevators for those who succumb to vertigo in glancing over perforated powder-coated aluminum balustrades or by peering down 99 feet through the metal grate floor of the fourth-floor bridge.

The escalators only go up. Visitors are encouraged to start at the top, where an 85-foot-long dinosaur’s skeleton (a reconstructed Alamosaurus incorporating actual vertebra fossils) charges through a 36-foot-high space on the fourth floor; large concrete Vierendeel trusses on the floor above allow the dinosaur to have sufficient headroom.

Lower down, where the cube seems to hover above the lobby level on the plinth, large V-shaped concrete columns supplement a grid of round concrete ones, and transfer girders adjust loads at the perimeter. In this light-filled space, a limpidly curving glazed wall relies on a tension-cable-supported system to stabilize its organic flow. The lobby’s mesh ceiling partially conceals the concrete deck above and carries slender rods of LEDs. In addition, polygonal fiberglass pods—similar to those resting on the exterior landscape of the plinth’s roof—nestle against the ceiling, emitting light through small perforations.

Mayne wanted the building to function as its own scientific exhibition as well as a provocative work of architecture.Accordingly, the museum design includes various sustainable features: Rainwater rolls down the slanted roof into two cisterns (with minimal drainpipes), which recycle up to 50,000 gallons for irrigation and flushing. Three solar collectors on the plinth roof help heat water, and most of the concrete in the project uses fly ash, slag, and other supplementary cementitious materials to reduce the carbon footprint. Since the precast panels cover most of the cube, the heat load is cut down as well—all of which will keep operating costs down for the $185 million museum.

Mayne won the commission over architects Ennead, Shigeru Ban, and Snøhetta, though he had not designed a museum before. It was a first new building for the client as well. The museum’s contents came from three different collections exhibited at Fair Park in Dallas, built for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. Nicole Small, the CEO of the Perot, says Mayne “understood the building could be a teaching tool. The way he thinks about sustainability and materials is creative and rigorous.”

With its Cartesian cube and its free-flowing, lavalike plinth, the Perot museum is one of Morphosis’s most remarkable works to date. Like James Stirling’s architecturally synoptic Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart (1984)—“my model,” Mayne notes—the Perot combines traditional roomlike galleries with unconventional halls. It also mixes Euclidean geometry with hyperbolic curves, and juxtaposes fluid and restrained spaces. The striking design evokes the naturally sheared cube of black pyrite from Spain on view in the museum’s Lyda Hill Gems and Mineral Hall. The connection between natural and man-made artifact speaks of a flinty integrity that makes architecture meaningful.


January 12, 2014
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January 12, 2014
“Wayne State University McGregor Memorial Conference Center”

Wayne State University McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan, designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Image courtesy of the Joseph Messana Architectural Image Collection, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

The McGregor Memorial Conference Center, designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki of Yamasaki, Leinweber & Associates, Detroit, Michigan, was constructed in 1957-58. Funding for the building was provided by the McGregor Foundation, and dedicated to the memory of the foundation founders – philanthropists Tracy McGregor and his wife and widow Katherine Whitney McGregor. The conference center was a gift to Wayne State University, and was to be used as a community conference center. The building was the first component of Yamasaki’s substantial body of work for Detroit’s Wayne State University in the 1956-64 period that also included a master plan for the campus and three other campus buildings and it was the first of his many important commissions in Detroit. The landscaping surrounding the building was designed by Edward Eichstedt, and sculptures by several artists populate the reflecting pools.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan, designed by Minoru Yamaski. Image courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan, designed by Minoru Yamaski. Image courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library.

Wayne State University McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan, designed by Minoru Yamasaki.

Wayne State University McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan, designed by Minoru Yamasaki.

The McGregor Memorial Conference Center is a two-story steel-frame and concrete folded slab Modernist building designed in the International style. The building stands on a platform raised several steps above street level. The square-shaped structure is divided into east and west halves separated by a glass atrium. In each half of the building are conference rooms that can be divided into various shapes. The center of the building’s first floor contains a lobby space with a two-story ceiling and view to the atrium skylight. The building’s exposed triangular section frames form ceilings beneath the support floors and roof. The triangular design influenced other design elements including the diamond-patterned atrium skylight and the aluminum sculptural door screens. The building is sheathed in Roman travertine marble and tinted grey glass, while the thin square-plan columns of shallow east and west porticos are finished in white marble.

Binno Savage, Rebecca. “McGregor Memorial Conference Center National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” State Historic Preservation Office, Lansing, Michigan, 2010.

Note for image of Wayne State University McGregor Memorial Conference Center: All rights, including those of further reproduction and/or publication, are reserved in full by the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. Under no circumstances can the user distribute the image(s). All image inquiries are to be forwarded to the Walter P. Reuther Library’s Audiovisual Department. Photographic reproductions may be protected by U.S. copyright law (U.S. Title 17). The user is fully responsible for copyright infringement.

January 12, 2014
“McAllen, Texas / Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Minneapolis”

2013 AIA Honor Awards: McAllen Main Library - Architect Magazine

At 124,500 square feet, this former Wal-Mart has been transformed into the largest single-story library in the country. The architects needed to introduce a variety of uses into the former big-box store and make the space navigable. They created quadrants for the primary areas—community meeting rooms, the children’s library, the adult services area, and the staff area—and designed two main spines, one for central services and a second for community and staff areas. The material palette and design concept was inspired by the city’s abundant natural history, including the migration patterns of many birds, insects, and mammals.

Jury: “While many of the external site characteristics could not be changed, the design team signaled that 21st-century attitudes toward design are evolving quickly.”

Client: “This library doesn’t look like a traditional library, and you can see it on people’s faces when they walk in. They are amazed. The library has become not just a place for books and quiet study, but also a community center. We’re now averaging 65,000 people a month.” —Kate Horan, library director

For more images : http://www.architectmagazine.com/projects/view/mcallen-main-library/1312/

January 12, 2014
“Abuzz with students using interactive technologies in brightly colored interiors, Snøhetta’s aluminum-and-glass addition to North Carolina State University is anything but quiet.”

James B. Hunt Jr. Library, Designed by Snøhetta - Architect Magazine

A trellis marking the library’s main entrance on the east façade echoes the patterns of vertical aluminum louver deployment along the east- and west-facing elevations.

A collection of more than 60 types of designer furnishings, selected by library staff, is arranged by type around the reading rooms; Arne Jacobsen egg chairs populate the Rain Garden Reading Lounge (pictured), and Züco’s Perillo chairs line the fourth-floor balcony above. Benches built into the staircase, fitted with outlets, serve as impromptu meeting areas.

The Rain Garden Reading Lounge receives ample daylight through the vertical louvers on its east-facing façade, while allowing views outward to the southern end of the Academic Oval.

January 12, 2014

10 Architectural Rendering Clichés (Confessions of an Architectural Illustrator)

10 Architectural Rendering Clichés 
(Confessions of an Architectural Illustrator)

The New York Times recently ran an article on the power of a rendering to sell (or scuttle) high-profile projects. At their core, architectural illustrators are storytellers; we create pictures worth 1000 words that allow the viewer to imagine an environment before it’s even drawn or detailed. Regardless of the software or hardware used, Architectural illustrators have a bag of tricks that they reach into pretty regularly, with varying degrees of success. Just like the Wilhem scream once you know what to look for, you will start to see these tricks used in renderings all around you. 

1. Wet pavement
I’ve seen large tanker trucks hosing down the streets before a film shoot for a car commercial in order to create a shimmering reflection of the car from below. We love seeing our buildings, landscapes, cars, people and furniture reflected up from the ground, like they’re floating on a sea, or a sheet of ice. It makes the horizon line irrelevant and allows the building to reach right out to our toes. The fact is, we love rendering so much, we want to do it twice: once in its real position, and once in reverse; skewed and faded on the glassy pavement below. 

 2. Senseless Reflections
Take a daytime walk in the city and look at the windows; they tend to be a mildly gray reflective surface that is only occasionally interesting.
Glass can be a surprisingly boring material in reality, so we need to “sex it up” with some reflections; often of objects that aren’t even in the scene. There’s a real balance between the reflectivity and translucency of glass in physics that illustrators rarely obey. Occasionally, we render what’s on the other side of the glass with equal fervor as what’s being reflected. 

3. Glow-ey lights and Lens Flares
"Look toward the light" is a mantra used by many illustrators. What might blind you in reality, or at least leave you seeing spots, creates "drama" in a rendering. Long before JJ Abrams used it in every scene of every movie he ever directed, illustrators were using this as a way of casting an ethereal glow on the subject. Pointing a camera directly at a light source is problematic for the exposure of the photo, but in a rendering it’s an opportunity to create flares and streaks and blurs that harken to the afterlife. And speaking of blurs…. 

4. People are a blur
Populating a rendering causes a unique set of problems. They immediately draw our focus regardless of our compositional tactics. More unsettlingly, when there are people in a scene, our subconscious is no longer free to roam the environment because we feel as though we’re not alone. (Stupid subconscious… always surfacing at the most inappropriate times) However, we need to show that the space is not a wasteland, devoid of scale or population, so we tend to show our people in silhouette, or blurred in motion… or sometimes both. This allows us to look through the blur of people running around with better things to do than wonder why you are standing alone staring at a building, like you’re casing it for a robbery. 

5. Flock of Seagulls
If I can show a cluster of birds somewhere in the sky, I will. It’s a metaphor for how our hearts will soar in reaction to this new building or landscape. 

6. Building Skins
This isn’t so much an illustrator cliché as a designer cliché, but illustrators are, at the very least, accomplices. The day-to-day function of a building is not that exciting. Typical floor plates and walls, and bathroom partitions and elevators don’t lend themselves to all of the crazy shapes that we can generate algorithmically on the computer. Our solution is to skin the building with a screen of some crazy perforated, translucent, or lattice type surface, which we rarely have any idea how to construct or fabricate. Who cares, it looks so good… 

7. Vignettes
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try and focus the composition, we worry that the viewer will get a mind of his/her own and decide to scoot right off the edge of the page. We solve this by adding a false border, or vignette, to the edge of the page. In traditional media, this is done by letting the paper fade to white at the edges, or leaving some foreground items unpainted; keeping your eye focused on the color and detail of the rendering. In a computer rendering, this is done by fading the edges, just slightly, to black; drawing you into the composition. 
Which leads us to… 

8. Creepy Guy in the Bushes
In an effort to create that vignette and focus the composition, we sometimes add a tree branch or bushes silhouetted in the foreground. This helps frame the subject in a natural way, but it also make dangerous allegations about the viewer:

"What are you doing hiding in the bushes?"
"I just love architecture so much; I didn’t want to disturb anyone with my… passion."
Of course, sometimes we need to back up so far to capture the scene; we just end up in the bushes. 

9. Twilight, without all the sparkly vampires
Sunsets are sexy; what more can I say? If I was photographing a building, I would do it at dusk when the light creates the most evocative shadows and colorful ambience. It’s no different for renderings; but admittedly, we sometimes go too far with the amber hues of the sky. It’s a way of diverting attention away from the boring material choices and toward the feeling of the building as a whole. 

10. Two-Point perspective
Last, but certainly not least, is this stubborn rejection of the 3rd point of perspective. And there is no end in sight; I know it’s fake, but I like 2-point better, just like everyone else in the industry. Many 3D software applications have included camera types that skew the perspective into 2-point… just for architects. No other industry renders their images with the verticals perfectly parallel to the image borders. As architects, we just own our crazy, even though we know we’re drawing skyscrapers that, in reality, would flare out dangerously over 100 floors if built that way. 

So there you go; there are probably many more, but these are the most egregious clichés that I have used on numerous projects, and have seen across continents and generations. They may be clichés, but they work; continually eliciting that emotional response to the beauty of architecture we always strive for.  

 Bridge Square

Gary Jacobs has been illustrating architecture for over fifteen years. He also teaches the young whippersnappers in the School of Design at RIT. You can see more of his work at www.jacobsillustration.com