Photorealistic architectural renderings have long become a norm since the proliferation of advanced rendering software and technologies. While much progress has given us some of the most exceptional perspectival renderings, it has also been seen by many critics as a step backward in terms of focusing on the more important issues and discourses surrounding architecture. Because of this perceived lack of meaningful substance, it is common to see today’s renderings being described as mere “glossy images” or “pretty pictures” that are easily consumable by both the media and the public. Also, critics are concerned about the unrealistic expectations that such attractive renderings create, as we mindlessly buy into the optimistic idealism they generate. As an overview, here is a quick round-up of the most common criticisms of contemporary architectural renderings

1. Perfect or overly dramatic skies

The sky usually takes up a significant amount of space in architectural renderings and more importantly, plays an important role in setting the overall tone and mood of the image. For this reason, it is not uncommon to find renderings set in a range of weather conditions depicted by the perfectly calm, cloudless, blue skies to the forebodingly dark and stormy skies. While these effectively convey atmosphere, critics deem that they often go too far, becoming unrealistic, idealistic, or overly dramatic when buildings get visually bathed in vibrant sunlight or torrential rains.

A round-up of criticisms of photorealistic architectural renderings -1
Rendering with the dark stormy sky;

2. Inaccurate people entourage 

Especially in the architectural renderings of large scale commercial and residential projects, it is common to find people entourage that is in a perpetually pleasant mood, with children happily holding balloons and adults smiling or pointing excitedly towards their immediate surroundings. In addition to this cheerful optimism, critics have also pointed out that these entourages lack racial and cultural diversity. For example, in some renderings, people who don’t belong to the ethnic group- based in the same location as the project, are featured, creating inaccurate depictions of human behavior and population, that could lead to problematic and unreal expectations.

3. Unrealistic greenery

Since the rise of environmentalism in the 2000s, one of the main ways through which the field of architecture conveys its eco-consciousness to the public is by adding a diverse range of greenery to its renderings. From trees lining the streets to plants growing on rooftop and balconies, such practice has been named “greenwashing” by some critics, who deem it unrealistic and impractical for plants and trees to be growing under such perfect conditions, all year round. They point out that a substantial irrigation system is needed for real plants to grow on buildings, and such systems are in reality rarely well-maintained, even if realized.

Rendering with green-washing;

4. Unnecessary effects

In achieving a photorealistic effect, many of the visual special effects of photography have said to been grafted onto contemporary architectural renderings. The lens flare is one of the most commonly used and also more problematic elements. While it helps to create a sleek, photorealistic image, it is usually criticized for being meaningless and irrelevant to the content of the rendering. Other visual effects such as the wide-angle view also depart from how humans normally perceive buildings and their surroundings and create a false sense of perspective. Such effects combine to conjure images that are not only untrue depictions but also hollow in meaning.

 lens flare -3
Rendering with lens flare;

5. Flashy display of skill but dull in spirit

Today’s powerful rendering software has enabled us to create impressively photorealistic renderings that were inconceivable just thirty years back. Our excitement about the possibilities of this new technology has led us to experiment with, and push the limits of photorealism, but critics view such renderings as a flashy display of skill that is not constructive to our understanding of architecture in any way. They also point out that the overemphasis on details and increasing anesthetic similarity among photorealistic renderings made possible by such advancements led to a de-emphasis of the spirit or essence of the building, and of architecture itself.

6. Hiding inconvenient details

An endless number of items potentially fall into this category-absent guardrails around rooftop balconies, a lack of HVAC systems inside buildings, and the removal of a column or street lamp that happens to be right smack in the center of what would be an otherwise perfect view are among many others. While some architects and renderers argue that doing so, allows viewers to better understand the spatial concept and design of a building, critics denounce such practice as deception as it intentionally hides aspects of the building that are deemed unsightly, thus, providing only a partial account of the building and its architectural experience.

7. Aerial perspective 

While several architectural renderings depict buildings from an aerial perspective, critics point out that we would never get to the see the building from that perspective unless we fly by in a helicopter or happen to occupy the 26th floor of the adjacent building. Oftentimes, it is easy for a building to look impressive from a particular angle, but this only reflects the ease with which we can rotate our digital models in modeling programs and not the actual view most people would get in real life. A design that looks splendid from above makes little difference to us and our society if it is not considered and designed from the perspective of its users and the passers-by.

an aerial view-4
Rendering with an aerial view;

Lisa graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in interior design and a few internship experiences. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in art history and studying architectural renderings for her thesis. Her passion is thinking critically about everything architecture: from architectural movements to contemporary professional practices.