A Year-End Thanks To You, Reader, And Your Picks For This Blog's Best Posts of 2015

It’s day three (or is it four? I’ve lost count) of the approaching 2015 year-end holiday season. You’re getting sick of reading the same old online sites: Huffpo, NYT, Fox News, what’s the difference? Why not take a break and read what you voted for as this blog's Best of 2015? And don't forget to join the discussion by leaving your comments!

With humble gratitude for your attention, I give you: the best of the 3-D Visualization Blog, 2013


A New Party Game:

Read More

The Best Ways The Digital Revolution Changed My Life-Part One

If you went to architecture or environmental design school back in the day (when you had to use punch cards to enter data into a room-sized computer), you have witnessed the great shift from analog to digital in the design industry. You’re also old enough to have begun taking for granted the many ways the digital revolution changed our professional lives.

As 2013 draws to a close, seems like a reasonable time to share a personal list of “best ways the digital revolution changed my professional life.” Since I tend not to use CAD--arguably the tool that has had the most influence--my list will be different from yours, but please add your own list in the comments section below. (And no, you don’t have to be an architect to play along.)

Jimmy Stewart, from that famous movie

So here we go: my list of the best ways the digital revolution has changed my life:

  1. The internet. Thank you, Tim Berners Lee. Thank you, DARPA (although you also brought us the NSA. Why does every sword have to be double-edged?). Let’s just agree that the internet is the background noise of the new universe described below.

  2. Email. The reigning game changer. Email could have retired after killing the fax machine (bonus points if you knew “fax” was short for facsimile) but it didn’t. It just kept getting better...

Read More

Pitch Your Schematic Design Ideas With Digital Sketches, NOT Digital Or Traditional Architectural Renderings

Presenting schematic architectural and interior design ideas to your client in the digital age can be challenging. The problem? The photo-literalism of digital images can, if presented too early, elicit an equally literal response in your client and put the organic “Concept-to-DD-to-CD” design process at risk.

Like all technological advances, digital architectural rendering presents us with a double edged sword. On the one hand, digital software gives designers the unprecedented power to present schematic design ideas as photorealistic fait accompli. On the other hand

Read More

Use Digital Architectural Sketching To Streamline Client Approvals

It's one week before your next big design meeting. You have multiple ideas to present, but your goal is to secure your client's approval of a single direction so you can complete this phase, bill for it and move your team on to the next.

Your image boards suggest the character you want the project to have without being overly specific, but you're confused as to what kind of 3-d images to present. You want them to be provocative enough to generate a conversation, but not so photo-realistic that your client seizes upon them as proof of "what the project will look like," leaving you no wiggle room to develop your ideas later.

Back in the day, architects solved this problem by presenting loose architectural sketches (with maybe a little color thrown on them), blown up several feet wide so as to wow the client with vagueness...but times have changed and clients have changed with them.

Modern clients have grown up in a world of photo-realistic digital images.Their parents understood that hand drawn sketches and diagrams were a part of the design development process, but this generation has
Read More

Architectural Rendering Techniques: Painting an Architectural Elevation in Watercolor

The world of architectural rendering is changing...or is it? Even in this digital age, architectural renderings need to communicate a specific design while delighting the senses. Whether you use digital architectural rendering techniques or traditional architectural rendering techniques to do that, I hope you enjoy this post documenting the techniques I used creating a traditional architectural rendering in watercolor made for the Yale School of Music (as a gift to the donor giving the funds for the addition at the left of the original building in the photo below).

This is my current set up: computer for email, image research and Pandora; watercolor palette and old school drawing implements, bookshelves and sideyard beyond

With your permission, I'll keep words to a minimum and let the images speak for themselves.

Read More

Traditional Architectural Rendering Plus Digital Architectural Rendering Equals Hybrid Architectural Rendering

Architects have had to be resourceful since the bankers brought the global economy to its knees in 2008. I mean, we taxpayers with jobs couldn't let the bankers starve, could we? Still, after we shared our own after-tax income to save these valuable executives and restore their bonuses, architects (and a few other professions) had the problem of finding work to replace that income. (OK, I'm being silly here. Nothing said the rest of us had to maintain our lifestyles or send our kids to college.) That's when we began re-inventing ourselves: finding new clients, downsizing our firms, exploring more efficient ways to deliver services and get the ball rolling again.

My thanks to my friend Chad Rush for his help in coloring this puppy

One of the ways that architectural renderers have reinvented themselves is to blend the world of traditional architectural rendering with digital architectural rendering, resulting in the so-called hybrid architectural rendering. Some argue that the hybrid architectural rendering combines the best of both into a compelling new form that connects the work with the emotions of the client and helps architects differentiate themselves from the pack. Others just think it looks cool and gives the client more options to quickly explore a mood or time of day.

Here is the original pencil tone drawing of a proposed nightclub terrace in Las Vegas. (Architect's name withheld by request)

Whatever your opinion, I hope you will...

Read More

Hybrid Architectural Renderings Mix Traditional Architectural Renderings Techniques With Photoshop

We've talked quite a bit about hybrid architectural renderings in this blog. A hybrid architectural rendering is any rendering that mixes traditional and digital techniques so as to leverage the best characteristics of both. 

Traditional architectural rendering, as the argument goes, communicates at some deep level in the human brain, connecting people--even against their will, Don Draper might say--with emotions still stirred by handmade artifacts, as in a handmade drawing or painting. 


Digital architectural rendering techniques, on the other hand, brings advantages no human artifact can compete with: the illusion of photo-realism; the advantages of infinite visual adjustment in very little time, and my favorite:

Read More

New Trends In Traditional and Digital Architectural Rendering

If you are an architect, landscape architect, interior designer or traditional or digital architectural renderer, the world changed in 2008: work dried up, firms cut their payrolls, and up to 50% of us lost our jobs and had to reinvent ourselves.

A hybrid architectural rendering combining digital and traditional techniques to project the accessibility of a proposed children's museum.

Hybrid architectural rendering of seasonal decoration scheme for world's most famous fish marketThose who survived were sobered by the central lesson of the new economic order:

Read More

What Do Architects And Designers Listen To All Day?

Welcome email newsletter subscribers. Please take a moment to share in the comments section below the radio stations, music services and podcasts you listen to throughout the day. We'll share them all in a future newsletter. Thanks!

Hacking Gmail to Keep Track of Your Favorite Internet Discoveries

One of the reasons I love gmail is because of the many ways you can casually hack it. For example, when I come across a post or an idea on the internet that I want to keep track of, I email it to myself with the word "Keeper" (as in fishing) in the title. Then I set up a filter that keeps everything with the word "Keeper" in the title in a folder named Keeper. That way all I have to do is click on the Keeper folder (in the left hand list of folders in my gmail) and boom: everything is right there.

OK, so you already knew that, great. But did you put the following amazing link in your Keeper folder? It's a kind of storyboard that a favorite illustrator of mine, Christoph Nieman, created after hearing an interview between Terry Gross and Maurice Sendak. I'm sure he had help at the NYT turning it into this sweet little video, but please enjoy:


Fast, Low-Cost Architectural Sketches Help Realtors and Prospective Buyers Study Design Options Before Buying

As an architect who specializes in early-stage concept design, architectural sketching and rapid visualization, I get to serve as one-stop shop for realtors, developers and prospective homeowners wanting to study their options before committing to buying an important property, or before engaging a "high profile" architect who, given the pressures of running a large practice, might just assign the exercise to a couple of talented in-house designers anyway.

In the collaboration posted here, I worked with a Boston developer to sketch (in a fraction of the time required by a larger firm) the look and feel of a 120-unit, future-looking condo project in a prosperous Boston suburb. 


Early study based on SketchUp massing study: the Idea of pre-fab, stackable units enters inWe used a combination of traditional and digital architectural rendering techniques to explore her options, culminating in the simple black-and-white digital renderings at the end. Unfortunately, the banking meltdown of 2008 nipped the project in the bud, but...

Read More

Gettin Phunky With Photoshop Hybrid Renderings

The old Fairgrounds in the town where I live have seen brighter days. Nearly destroyed in the great tornado of '95, they fell into a state of extreme neglect when the former owner, angry that he was refused permission to develop year-round off-track betting on the site, allowed the facility to fall apart as an act of spite.

As it turns out, I was invited by the wonderful couple who just bought the Fairgrounds to help communicate their vision for a "gateway to southern Berkshire county" to potential investors. Using their back-of-the-napkin list of vignettes as a guide, we developed a series of hybrid Photoshop renderings, fusing photos of the existing conditions with...

Read More

House Portraits: The Realtors Secret Weapon for Closing Deals and Creating Happy Referrals For Life

Everyone knows that house portraits in watercolor, pen and ink or pencil make striking and memorable gifts. Think of the people you know who have either commissioned or received house portraits. Chances are they hold pride of place in their picture galleries, and they've probably been inspired to print them on holiday cards and stationery as well.

House Portrait of Guest House, Easthampton, NY (w/ Clark Smith)

What is less well known is that house portraits in watercolor, pen and ink or pencil have measurable value when it comes to selling your home. They capture your home in its best light, grabbing attention over the repetitive photographs that fill the storefront window at the realtor's office, or blur together in the the real estate section of the paper. 

Vignette: Main House, Easthampton, NY (w/ Clark Smith)

The modest cost of a high quality house portrait--or its cousins: the architectural rendering of an apartment, or the interactive 3-d model of a NYC loft built in Sketchup--is a drop in the bucket compared to the
Read More

How House Portraits Help Sell The World's Most Beloved Listings (i.e. yours!)

Using a house portrait (or architectural rendering of your building) instead of a photograph for your real estate listing can make the difference between capturing a qualified buyer's interest in the heat of the moment, and disappearing into the background noise of everyday real estate advertising.

Next time you walk by the storefront of a real estate office, look at what's going on. Prospective buyers, shy about going inside and committing to a relationship with a stranger, can be seen...
Read More

How To Create A Kickstarter Video To Explain Your Startup

Kickstarter is all the rage, but don't bother to apply for crowdfunding on the site until you have created a video that explains your idea in a brief engaging way. How do you do that? Well, I recently found at least one satisfying answer to that question in the form of a video made by my favorite illustrator (and frequent contributor to the New York Times), Christoph Niemann. As the story goes, Niemann was in his car en route to picking up his young daughter at a party when he randomly caught the last few minutes of a Terry Gross interview with Maurice Sendak (click link below). He was so moved by the segment that he went home and...


It delivers a world of infinite convenience and selection to our fingertips...



Read More

My Friend Tom Is Cool

My friend Tom Schaller is cool. Back in the 1980s, he just about single-handedly brought back the tradition of architectural watercolor rendering (it had long-since been replaced by pen-and-ink) when he wrote a book called Architectural Rendering in Watercolor. Along with Steve Oles' books, they were mandatory reading for any aspiring architectural illustrator at the time, and for a lot of architects, too.

I remember going to the bookstore at the Helmsley House on Madison Ave. to get my copy in 1990. Clark and I used to keep it open on our desks when we were working together like I told you. Tom sort of blew everyone's mind because he did these images for himself and for his books, with no client involved. Did you ever have friends like that? That's when you know a true artist. So there we are trying to figure out how this guy does these amazing architectural renderings in watercolor and these amazing watercolor techniques, and just when you think you may have figured out one of his moves, like underpainting, which sounds like "underpanting" but isn't, which Tom, because he is actually a pretty wild and crazy guy would probably laugh at if you did it to somebody, he...

Read More

A Great Book To Read For People Who Love Understanding The Underlying Structure of Things, Including Designers, Architects and Architectural Renderers

If you like learning about the underlying structures that shape the physical, economic and political landscape of our country since day one, then I have a book for you: Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845 by John Stilgoe. As alluded to in an earlier post, the book provides timeless insight into the collisions of culture that continue to shape the contemporary American experience, right up to yesterday's 2013 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, and, I dare say, the most recent TV or newspaper story you watched or read today.

John Stilgoe's Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845, is a classic book and required reading of all first year students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

John Stilgoe's Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845, is a classic book and required reading of all first year students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. I've got an architectural watercolor rendering to do today (Yay!) so I'll keep my part of this post short, but check out the excerpt below from the chapter on the history of schoolhouses on the subject of a book written by Jedidiah Morse in 1789 called The American Geography.The book was an off-the-charts bestseller which coincided with the growing movement, eventually mandated by the "tyrannical" federal government, to educate all American children in communal schoolhouses, almost always one-room affairs which have a fascinating history relative to where they were built (usually the most central place, or on a piece of waste land donated by a farmer, but almost invariably in the most difficult-to-get-to and foreboding locations within each school district). Due to its fortuitous timing, the book had perhaps a disproportionate influence on the opinions of generations of young Americans, and is even given credit for much of the misinformation which started the California Gold Rush of 1849. As Stilgoe sets it up: "Topographical knowledge no longer only derived from topographical experience: Morse filled his books with maps, charts and lengthy prose descriptions of states, regions, rivers, territories, forests, soils and agricultural and mineral riches...Morse emphasized that his information was scientific and reliable, and schoolmasters commanded students to memorize it. Scholars learned that New Hampshire was filled with mountains and cascades, that North Carolina "abounds with medicinal plants and roots"...and that the Spanish Dominions truly needed American improvement." Now here's where it gets crazy (and racist)...

Read More

The Thing I Don't Get About The People Who Hate Clinton and/or Obama

One of the things that has always confused this architectural renderer is that the same people who hate Clinton and Obama tend to also be the same people who praise the virtues of hard work and independence. So which kind of a president would you rather have running things: the "hard working" George W Bush, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, ex-party boy and Yale frat boy class comedian who cynically "found" born-again Jesus to get more votes; or Bill Clinton, the son of a hairdresser who bootstrapped himself into Yale (and Oxford and Georgetown) by his own wits? Then there's Barack Obama, the black son of a single mom and Kenyan dad who got himself into Harvard. I mean, do conservatives who praise these traits of character see the disconnect?

Reflection in a puddle in the parking lot of Haven Restaurant in Lenox, MA. Did you figure out it's upside down?

Of course, it's not really about that, is it? It's not about preferring to have the guy in there who will be more thoughtful about the decisions he makes, from starting wars to repairing the nation's infrastructure to providing opportunity to the maximum number of people who, by no fault of their own get dealt dramatically different hands at birth. It's about conveniently forgetting the...

Read More