5 Types of 3D Visualization Used by Architectural Design Firms for CGI Projects


This post looks at different 3D visualization services for architectural design and CGI projects. Digital devices have become ubiquitous, not only in the academic and industrial fields but also in our personal lives. Communication technologies, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are becoming more pervasive to the point where they play massive roles in how the world works. No one can escape the effects of technology; in fact, more people realize how reliant they are on digital technologies by the day. Some say this dependence is probably a bad thing because, after all, electronics are not insusceptible to malfunctions.

Imagine a power outage, which should not happen to a modern power grid yet can happen anyway, or a widespread malware attack severe enough to cripple the computer system of an entire government. Glitches and errors sometimes occur, but technology improves every instance. When people utilize technologies to benefit society, improvements also become more attainable. Take the architectural industry, for example. About fifty years ago, architects and design engineering specialists had to rely on pencils and paper to determine whether a multi-story car park could cope with the enormous weight of hundreds of vehicles sitting on every floor.

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Now they can come up with a definitive answer and an animated simulation in just weeks, if not days, thanks to modern technologies. As technology evolves, it is rare for architectural projects that don’t use digital tools. From a kitchen remodel in a residential building to the brand-new construction of massive skyscrapers, everyone turns to a laptop for design and fabrication. With CAD and rendering software, architects can show what a building should look like long before a worker mixes the first batch of concrete.

The rise of architectural visualization

The proliferation of digital technologies promises a positive change to how we understand architectural perspectives. For architects, the computer—with all its power of artificial intelligence to do calculations of countless variables and make predictions from loads of data—promotes innovations in design and inventions in the construction industry. It will be a while before we see a robot operating a crane or installing windows because we need humans to make decisions about style and workflow management.

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Style is subjective and emotional; you cannot entrust a robot or a machine to form an opinion. What digital technologies can do in the architectural context is interpret an architect’s design thinking visually. Computers propose a solution to a problem within the boundaries of parameters determined by the users, hence parametric design. Architects are still in charge of setting up the rules and limitations to govern how far a machine can influence decision-making. Architects still have the final say on the design output and the most effective workflow to achieve it.

3D Architectural visualization services are nothing new. Some historians suggest that the practice of design drawing began in the Renaissance and then gradually became more sophisticated in the nineteenth century with the introduction of geometry-based architectural images. Despite being early in adoption, the modern digital age came a bit late to the architectural world. Only in the late 20th century did the industry emphasize using digital tools and techniques to design and produce architecture.

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The first industries to fully utilize digital fabrication tools were aviation, aeronautical, manufacturing, shipbuilding, automobile, and animation. Architecture adopted the same technologies from the late 1980s. Computers were already commonly used, followed by the invention of design software, which forever transformed how architects design and realize projects. 


Early digital explorations

From the mid-1970s and early 1980s, when the United States was amid economic crises and recession, many architects found themselves in the safety of the academic paradigm. They began to recalibrate their methods and explore new ways to improve the discipline. Those architects turned to other industries for inspiration and sophistication. By then, the automobile, aeronautical, and shipbuilding industries had been using CAD (computer-aided design) drafting designers for decades.

Major architecture firms such as FOA and NOX engaged in the experimental practice of using CAD to build complex structures. For the first time, architects could utilize a 3D spline instead of the conventional two-dimensional lines along an X or Y axis. Starting from those early digital explorations, CAD has become an indispensable tool for the design process and architectural visualizations. As technology develops and CAD software grows in features, architects are now spoiled with myriad computer programs to help rationalize form and make sense of the construction process, even in a highly complex project.

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In 1987, the internationally acclaimed American architect Peter Eisenman introduced the Biocenter, one of the first architectural projects to use computers to determine design output. Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and architectural visualizations have come a long way in complexity and sophistication. In the first decade of digital technology adoption, architectural drawings still appeared like glorified sketches, but in recent years visualizations have reached beyond photorealism.

Popular types of 3D visualization for architectural design

Currently, there are five widely used types of visualization that architectural planning and design professionals use. Each has its appeal, but they share the common purpose of conveying an architect’s design perspectives and winning the admiration of clients.

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Interior visualization

When applied to interior design, CGI-based architectural visualization reflects the occupant’s lifestyle. The visualization creates a virtual, hyper-realistic space to illustrate the architect’s idea of the relationship between the occupants and their living arrangements. For an interior visualization to efficiently convey its message, it must showcase a variety of objects that the occupants cannot readily abandon.

These objects hold sentimental value and therefore are regarded as extensions of the self, for example, decorations, artworks, furniture pieces, color schemes, layout, and everything else that reflects the occupants’ personalities. Detailed designs from 3D architectural rendering companies help buyers think the concept through and settle their expectations. Furthermore, interior visualization is intended to introduce a potential living space before the structure is ready for inhabitants.

Nothing has been built yet, so there is time to make changes and improve the interior according to buyers’ preferences. Advanced visualization techniques also showcase the atmosphere of the space during different times of the day and seasons of the year by simulating changes in light and background views. Residential interior visualization accentuates the emotional aspect of living space, and viewers develop an idea of what it is like to occupy the environment.

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Modern CAD software offers numerous tools to trigger an emotional response by visualizing furniture design and placement, lighting options, themed decorations, flooring materials, and contextual elements to shape an atmosphere. The addition of fixtures and amenities also represents the idea of functionality and convenience. Choosing the right viewing angles may help highlight spaciousness as well. For commercial and non-residential settings, 3d furniture rendering specialists use 3D visualizations that call attention to the experience factor.

It is about how people feel and what they can do in the available space with all the provided features. The commercial setting needs a heightened sense of safety, sociability, friendliness, and bountifulness. Every detail must be grander than an interior residential visualization while maintaining familiarity. There might not be many personalized decorations and playful details, but the architect can create an airy atmosphere with reassuring brightness and high-grade appliances.

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The same applies to non-commercial structures like educational, government, and health facilities. The most challenging part of interior visualizations, both residential and non-residential, is finding the right balance between the space and the elements inside. It is more about creating a visual harmony with positive vibes.


Exterior visualization

Architects and engineers can use technical drawings and blueprints from CAD drawing agencies to communicate the design, workflow, and challenges in the construction process. Blueprints are detailed enough among architecture professionals but sometimes too complicated for everyone to understand. An exterior 3D visualization gives a more user-friendly view of a planned project thanks to photorealistic depictions of the structure. Although it doesn’t contain much detail about a building’s internals, the rendered image illustrates the outer shell with an extreme resemblance to the architect’s vision.

Building components, including doors, windows, walls, driveway, and roof, are all pictured in detail. Some visualizations also include the surrounding environment, such as roads and vegetation. Photorealistic rendering projects, created on a computer in a rendering process, translate the design features from the technical language of architecture professionals into a straightforward visual for stakeholders or clients. Implementing texturing and light simulation with CAD software produces a digital drawing of true-to-life quality.

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A 3D visualization wraps some intangible design concepts and delivers the package to the viewers. A rendered image is drawn entirely based on sketches and information provided by the architects or designers because the structure does not exist yet. Exterior visualization of a residential facility, such as a house or an apartment building, highlights the design approach or theme of the overall plan. In many cases, the visualization also depicts the environment surrounding the location of the building. It can be a house in a suburban setting, near a vacation retreat, or on the outskirts of town beside the highway.

When showcasing an exterior design, the area encircling the property is almost as important as the building itself. Non-residential exterior visualization must clearly express the purpose of the construction, whether industrial, educational, religious, business, or institutional. It is more complex than its residential counterpart because the imagery depicts people using the facilities. For example, a rendering of a business establishment may have an interaction between buyer and seller. In contrast, an educational facility might include students conversing in front of a hall.

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The presence of people engaging in various activities helps create a story around what the building is all about. The next crucial bit is the outdoor setting. The 3d exterior rendering professional design provides only an outside view, so it is necessary to include some outdoor elements in the visualization. Perfect weather is the first thing that comes to mind; a sunny day with blue sky and white clouds, along with greenery and reflections off the water. The visualization can include all those elements if an architect wants to showcase the building at night during a lightning storm. 

Panorama 360-degree view

Both interior and exterior visualizations typically come in a static render format. Although every pixel is computer-generated, the result is as mesmerizing as the work of a professional photographer. But just like a photograph, the visualizations are two-dimensional. The most significant trend in architectural visualization is the use of a 360-degree panoramic rendering company. Viewers can see the architect’s plan from every angle, whether applied to the interior or exterior.

They can rotate and zoom the image to take a closer look at the building or room and inspect every tiny detail they could easily miss in a conventional render. Such a visualization requires more skill and time, but the result is worth the effort. An interactive 360-degree architectural visualization is only possible when displayed on a digital device, such as a computer or smartphone, or the image will lose its interactivity feature. 

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Animated 3D visualization

You can take the sophistication level a step higher with 3D architectural animation services. Animation is essentially a video, so the audience watches as the design of a building unveils itself on screen. Think of it virtually touring every room within a house. The animation can start from any part of the building, depending on how the render artist made it. Assuming it begins with the front door, the audience is expected to feel like they are getting into an actual house. The animation slowly moves the viewing angle to let the audience see all the design highlights.


Photorealism makes it seem like the audience is walking inside a building with detailed furniture, kitchen fixtures, bathroom model, bedroom decorations, flooring, window blinds, and patterned flooring. Since the animation presumes the audience is engaged in a house tour, the visualization is presented in the first-person perspective. For example, the audience will notice that the glass blocks natural light when approaching a window. The bedroom should gradually become brighter if the animation includes a scene where the window slowly opens. Such attention to detail is what triggers an emotional response. An animated 3D architectural modeling expert may also use professional voiceover or background music to make it more interesting.

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Virtual tour

In many respects, a virtual tour is almost identical to animated visualization, except that the audience can interact with certain parts of the house. A 3D virtual tour requires a specialized headset to produce the immersive effect of being physically inside the building. Wearing the headset, the user takes control of the time, and the person can walk to any room without following any pre-determined sequence.

With 3D AR/VR architectural services, the most impressive feature is that a user can interact with the house within the virtual environment, for example, opening a door, operating a faucet, switching the lights on or off, and turning on a TV. Taking a virtual tour is like playing an online game; anybody can take a tour at any time. Even if the house visualized for the term is thousands of miles away, a buyer can put on the headset and explore the property in the virtual world from the comfort of their home.

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Regardless of the type of 3d rendering service employed, the main goal is to illustrate how a space or building will look in real life before anyone can physically walk inside. They are much more than just pretty images; they reflect an architect’s approach to design and perspectives toward the lifelike experience that a building can deliver. The use of visualizations helps develop design ideas more accurately and communicate them with clients and partners.

Furthermore, the drawings allow architects and engineers to identify potential issues during the early development stages to prevent costly mistakes. 3D visualization technology has also changed the buyer’s experience when looking to buy a house or any property for specific purposes. An animated 3D visualization or a virtual tour can take them on a digital exploration where they have the chance to take a detailed look at an architectural product. They become informed buyers who use their experience and knowledge of the property as a foundation for making a purchase decision. 

How Cad Crowd can assist

To make great architectural designs, you’ll need to hire the right people— an expert with great expertise, experience, and software. At Cad Crowd, we have what it takes to give you or your clients impressive designs. Reach out and request a free quote when you need architectural or 3D rendering services. We are here to help.