Visualization Tools: A Quick Debrief on the State of Design Representation in Denver

3d topography model of speculative landscape project, generated in Rhino, rendered over with vray and Rhino. Copyright: Mosenthal, all rights reserved.

3d topography model of speculative landscape project, generated in Rhino, rendered over with vray and Rhino. Copyright: Mosenthal, all rights reserved.ideagram2 water copy

Yesterday I moderated a panel titled, “Visualization Tools” at the CREJ Architecture and Interiors Annual Design Conference.  This was a great opportunity to accomplish the following:(1)  The first benefit was meeting local architects/designers from other firms also fully engaged in the art and practice of visual representation.  Panelists included Drew Marlow, AIA from Acquilano Leslie,  Lynsey Grace, AIA from Burkett Design, and Sarah Barker, IIDA from RNL.  Each panelist had a rich and varied perspective on the importance of visualization as both a design tool and deliverable for clients.  While Marlow hand-renders (often post 3d-modeling) images to create an artful representation of a future space, Grace and Barker utilize tools such as SketchUp, Podium, and 3ds Max to create computer-generated renderings.

(2)  The second benefit of moderating a panel regarding visualization tools involved spurring my thinking about the current tools we are using in Denver’s A&D market at large.  My current perception (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is that in our current market, few firms have adopted programs such as Rhinoceros, prototyping software, or parametric design plug-ins such as Grasshopper to continue to allow their design potentials to evolve in a more complex manner.

Drawing of string art graphic pattern David  Tracy and I generated using grasshopper and Rhinoceros, and translated into Illustrator drawings.  Drawings then delivered to local string artist for final fabrication.  Copyright, Gensler, All Rights reserved.

Drawing of string art graphic pattern David Tracy and I generated using grasshopper and Rhinoceros, and translated into Illustrator drawings. Drawings then delivered to local string artist for final fabrication. Copyright, Gensler, All Rights reserved.

I recently attended a great training hosted by Thornton Thomasetti on how Grasshopper might be used to both optimize material quantities and the environmental impacts of a building’s envelope.  This type of knowledge acquisition has made me curious and optimistic about the impact on quality of design and fabrication of buildings and spaces in Denver if young professionals made a commitment to becoming highly adept at emerging software.   This would benefit Denver greatly; as our city continues to serve as a beacon for start-ups and other great talent, our design abilities and outputs must reflect a high level of sophistication that sets the tone and bar for Denver’s evolving skyline and image.

(3)   The third benefit of participating in the Visualization Tools panel was that it was a great opportunity to reflect on some current issues in today’s market regarding visualization.  In a pre-panel discussion with Marlow, Grace, and Barker, we discussed the realities of creating high-quality renderings, and the time these images often take to produce.  In many firms, there is a knowledge gap between office leaders and clients expecting rendering-level imagery to take only a few short hours.  Like most arts, while our tools have continued to evolve to expedite this process, creating a high-quality rendering can often take a full day to a few weeks depending on the status of the design, the resolution of what the materials will be, and the time it takes to model and carefully set up a scene and lighting to output the “perfect image.”  Another idea that came to light was the notion of our changing, preferred tools for both design and visual communication.  While sketching and hand-modeling remain relevant, 3d modelling has become a necessary and important part of the coordination process with engineers.   We agreed that while our options for software to generate different forms and designs are almost limitless, it is still important to be able to produce a quick hand-sketch to communicate an initial idea.

In conclusion, this is a brief summary of what was discussed, and touches on a few ideas regarding visualization that are relevant in Denver’s current market.

I would like to request that people in Denver’s design community who are experimenting or continuing to work with sophisticated visualization and design techniques reach out to me or comment on this blog regarding what tools you’re using and how they’re impacting design.  Marlow, Grace, and Barker would likely agree with me that it was refreshing to have a forum to discuss how we are communicating with clients as well as pushing our designs forward, and I’d love to keep the conversation going while giving young architects in the Denver community a chance to interact and promote knowledge-sharing, regardless of firm affiliation.  My guess is that by challenging one another to continue to push design and visualization across our market sector, we might not only increase the quality of Denver’s design, but also continue to build a vibrant, emerging architecture community committed to producing architectural design and fabrication methods that pushes boundaries within the broader context of our national architecture community and urban profile.

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