What is Architectural Visualisation?

Peter Mitchell
Director | Ocean CGI
16th January 2020

Architectural visualisation is the process of creating digital models of structures, buildings, and spaces using complex modelling methods and powerful rendering computers. The field gives architectural and property developers a deep cache of tools and techniques to play with, from virtual reality-enabled tours to highly accurate verified views used to support planning applications.

At its core arch viz (as it’s often abbreviated to) is a powerful tool for communication. In a visual field like architecture, the practice is the language that presents the client’s vision--and an architect’s skill--in a more creative light than any 2D sketch or technical blueprint.


(Architectural Animation & CGI Flythroughs | Ocean CGI)

Yet these digital drawings are more than just impressive photos. The best architectural visualisation projects communicate critical information like depth and scale across various teams and stakeholders. As hyper realistic and aesthetically pleasing images, they also represent powerful assets for sales and marketing departments. giving consumers a realistic image of their potential new home before it’s even been built.

Below are some of the ways arch viz can improve efficiency, communication and sales in various industry sectors, including but not exclusive to property development.

Helps land contracts

In the business of architecture, presentation is key. Architects often find themselves pitching ideas for clients, whilst property development firms vie for council approval to develop multi-million pound, neighbourhood-wide projects.

It’s a competitive field, having the best ideas won’t be enough to automatically make you stand out--you also need to know how to present them creatively. This is where architectural visualisation comes in. High-level CGI representations show that architects understand a client’s needs and have the technical skills needed to execute their vision. Property development firms will also use verified views to win planning permits from local councils.

Enables smoother collaborative work

The planning phase of a project can be long and confusing. Details can slip between the cracks of endless emails sent back and forth, resulting in conflict, dissatisfied clients, and longer feedback cycles.

Architectural visualisation lets architects and clients work together more efficiently. Today’s technology already lets designers change key components like materials or cladding in the middle of the design phase without it taking a week to render. Changes can be presented in record time, further cutting the time to construction.

Streamlines communications, lessens disappointment

Designs can be communicated far more effectively through images. A photorealistic CGI helps bridge expectations across all stakeholders in a project. When decision makers at the very top and project managers are looking at the same image there is less risk of certain elements disappointing or coming into question somewhere down the line during construction. 

By streamlining communication, architectural visualisation also hastens the time to process approvals and actually start building. Images can be sent anywhere in the world, and informed decisions regarding changes to the design can be made quickly with all parties involved.

Sells imagined spaces

Humans are visual creatures, and we buy with our eyes and emotions. And photos are the best marketing tools that property developers have in their arsenal for locking in pre-selling units or investment money.

Dramatic lighting and polished, artfully presented elements like furniture and fixtures establish a story that helps buyers connect with a property well before the first brick is laid. Even proof-of-life aspects added during the last stages of conception, like cars and human figures, lend a sense of scale that grounds the viewer and makes it easier for them to perceive actually living or working in these spaces.

Reduces costly mistakes

Mistakes can hide amidst numerous sketches and files, only rearing their costly head after construction gets underway. An awning that stretches a little too far past permitted zones, or window placements that magnify glare - all these can cost a development firm many tens of thousands of pounds in remodelling and corrective actions.

Architectural visualisation helps companies spot design flaws early on. Incorporating real life specifications like photos and data from surveyors helps architects make more accurate and informed design decisions.

Finding the Right Architectural Visualisation Partner

Creating breathtaking architectural designs takes a very specialised skill set that knows how to use the right software and the right techniques to get the job done. That’s why many property development firms choose to outsource to professional arch viz studios or experts, who are dedicated to the modelling and designing of imagined spaces, often just from a set of architectural plans or blueprints.

Here are some factors to consider and questions to ask to ensure you find an arch viz expert or studio that can meet your needs:

  • Cost: While CGI projects aren’t as pricey as they were a few years ago, costs can still quickly build-up. To get the best rates and avoid sticker shock at the end of the partnership, create a definite list of the number and type of images you’ll need before the project starts.
  • Time to complete and deadlines: Render farms are the backbone of the image creation process and a powerful setup can considerably expedite the creation process. It’s worth remembering that not all design firms work at the same pace so you’re going to want to make sure the partner you choose has the inhouse computing power to meet your deadlines without rushing the work.
  • Your method of communication: Communication is crucial for any partnership and especially so in a visual field like architectural visualisation. Before signing on a design firm it’s best to iron out how feedback will be handled, who will be the main point person, and when you can contact them.
  • The number of revisions you’re permitted for free: Clients are typically allowed a number of revisions for free. Make sure limitations are clear to avoid conflict and surprise additional fees.
  • The kind of software they use: The type of software used is a good mark of a firm’s capability. Obviously, you’ll want to choose a partner that uses technology on the cutting-edge of architectural visualisation. We use Autodesk 3ds Max for our modelling and the rendering plugin we use within 3ds Max is Chaos Group's V-Ray (this controls the lights, materials and algorithms for the actual rendering process). These are the industry standard for Arch-Viz meaning they have the widest range of compatibility with various files and 3D resources (pre designed models such as 3D cars, trees and furniture). For post processing Adobe Creative Suite is the standard (Photoshop for stills and After Effects and Premiere for video).

About the Author:

Peter Mitchell is the director of Bristol based Arch Viz Studio, Ocean CGI.

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