Is 3D Modeling and Rendering the Future for Architectural Design Firms?

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The field of architectural design is always moving forward. As new technologies and innovative concepts are developed, at least one firm tends to apply them in order to gain an edge in a highly competitive market. While this can be a risky maneuver, new technologies often provide such significant benefits that others soon see the advantages of using them as well. Eventually, they become the industry standard and pave the way for future developments.

This occurred in the mid-1970s when computer-aided design (CAD) programs gained popularity in the field of architectural design. CAD programs had been around since the mid-1960s, but up until that point had only the advantage of providing designers with a digital space to work with, which made revisions to plans slightly easier. In the 1970s, though, solid modeling became an increasingly common feature in CAD programs, which greatly expanded their capabilities and usefulness to designers.

Architecture firms could reliably use CAD software to build three-dimensional solid projections of buildings using polygons that could be viewed from any angle, and different departments could work simultaneously to add in the different components of a building such as electrical wiring, plumbing, and exterior design. This also helped reduce design error.

Finally, CAD software automated many time-consuming elements of drafting, which allowed engineers extra time to fine-tune designs or focus on different aspects of a large project. While profits from switching to computer-generated drafting were initially only marginal, eventually the true scale of the benefits became clear due to the need to purchase specialized programs and then train engineers to use the new technology. Now, CAD programs are almost ubiquitous in the architectural design industry.

So, what new technology is rising to the forefront of the architectural design industry today? Many architects and designers would say that 3D rendering is the process that is bringing a new wave of innovation and creativity to architecture firms. Over the past four decades, computers have gotten smaller and more portable while their processing power has increased exponentially. Software has developed along a similar path, making use of modern hardware’s enhanced processing speeds, expanded hard drive space, and available memory.

This potent combination has brought major change to the field of architectural design. The incorporation of 3D solid modeling into CAD programming was only the tip of the iceberg. 3D rendering software makes use of modern computers’ high screen resolution and incredible color display. It has extended the capabilities of present-day CAD software far beyond the simple ability to create plans for structures that have a solid shape and can be viewed from all angles.

Below, we’ll discuss some advantages of using 3D rendering for architectural design. We’ll then evaluate if 3D rendering is a truly groundbreaking innovation in the field of architectural design, and take a look at some ways that firms around the world are pioneering its use in a wide range of projects.

3D rendering, otherwise known as 3D visualization, is a specialized form of 3D modeling that can be distinguished from other types of modeling by its extreme photorealism. The images that result from 3D rendering are so lifelike that they are often mistaken for photographs.

Designers begin the process of creating a 3D rendering just as they would begin any other modeling project, by using a set of generic polygons to build out the three-dimensional space occupied by an object. Once these basic shapes are set in place, designers then begin the painstaking process of refining them until they represent the object in as detailed a manner as possible.

If they are making a rendering of a smaller object, they may use a high-density mesh of photographs to aid them in the creation of their digital product. If the object in question is on the scale of a building, however, they may generate a series of diagrams or pull from reference material to ensure accuracy. After all, in the context of architectural design, 3D rendering is an advanced form of visualization and drafting and must be as accurate as possible.

After the three-dimensional shape is refined, designers can then add in the layers of detail that make 3D rendering so impressive. They will use true-to-life color, recreate textures and qualities of different building materials, and can even add in realistic backgrounds to place the image in a relevant setting.

Advantages of 3D Rendering

Architectural design firms are embracing the advantages that 3D rendering offers the design process, and using this new technology to push the boundaries of the field. The photorealism of 3D rendering is extremely useful to architectural design firms, as it allows them to create detailed visualizations of buildings before a site is even cleared, and removes the need to build a physical model.

These renderings can be examined from any angle, and can even be designed with interactive capabilities such as a walk-through or panoramic view. This gives design firms the ability to immediately present potential clients with a fully realized visualization of their planned project, which increases the chance of client approval. Beyond this, it aids communication between engineers and clients from the start, making sure that both parties are on the same page regarding the scope and goals of the project.

When 3D rendering first became popular, the resulting products were more detailed than the previous solid models but were still little more than highly realistic exterior shells. Other forms of CAD software and hand-drawn plans remained the predominant methods for mapping out the layers of technical information that construction crews would actually utilize onsite.

Modern 3D rendering, however, has eliminated this disconnect. A rendering of a building not only shows the exterior in a realistic way, but also contains MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) specifications rendered with the same level of detail.

A 3D rendering file can be shared between different departments in an architectural firm, which is efficient, cost-effective, and eliminates design error and miscommunications. And for older engineers and designers who have considerable experience in the field but may be resistant to new technologies, or for construction crews that are used to working from two-dimensional blueprints or technical plans, 3D renderings can be turned into traditional schematics. Many architectural design firms use 3D rendering for this purpose, since it helps smoothly bridge the gap between old and new technologies.

Looking Ahead

3D rendering has been the “hot new technology” in the architectural design industry for a few years now. And at this point, it’s time to consider two very important questions. Is 3D modeling and rendering just a transient trend in the field, or is it the future for architectural design firms? And if the industry really is shifting towards 3D visualization, where can the capabilities of this technology bring the field of architectural design? Here, we’ll look at three ways that 3D rendering can provide lasting benefits to architectural design firms, and examine some ways that firms are making use of the technology.

3D rendering provides significant client-facing advantages to architectural design firms

Having a team of talented engineers is obviously the most important quality of a successful architectural design firm. However, without good client relations, marketing strategies, and the ability to consistently attract a high volume of paying clients, even the most talented firms will suffer in the long term.

By using 3D rendering, many architectural design firms have been able to increase the effectiveness of their marketing tactics and improve their communication with clients. How have they accomplished this? First, they have taken advantage of the ability to easily conceptualize and visualize large-scale products with incredible realism. As mentioned above, this gives clients tangible images to interact with and critique. However, it can also attract clients with more buying power.

The capacity to provide clients with detailed images of the final product throughout the construction process can help maintain positive client relations even through demanding projects or when things don’t go according to plan.

3D visualization can also be used to increase public interest and engagement. For example, local or state agencies can post pictures of public park improvements. Private contractors can use realistic images of new developments to attract renters or office subletters well before construction is complete, which secures an immediate return on their investment in the project.

Below are two real-world scenarios that demonstrate how advantageous 3D rendering can be to enhance marketing strategies and improve client relations.

Real-World Scenario #1

At the beginning of any project, firms get detailed briefings on the client’s requirements. That briefing would be the basis of a rendering for clients to sign off on. When firms get a brief for a project that would showcase the infrastructure of a facility in detail, they need to make sure they get not only an accurate representation of the interiors but also site-specific backgrounds. All these details would make the rendering more relatable to the client.

To approach this challenge, firms working remotely need to collect details about the project’s facility. That would include site plans and topographical parameters. After creating an initial three-dimensional mock-up detailed enough to represent the potential of the final product, the firm presents it to the client for criticism and feedback. The designers then need to make changes as instructed to better represent the building and surroundings. Once turned into a true rendering, it is checked for accuracy and then sent to the client as a final product.

This demonstrates the speed with which 3D renderings can be brought from concept to product and also highlights that 3D rendering services allow firms to work on projects remotely without ever visiting the site. Finally, designers are able to utilize 3D renderings to not only create detailed visuals but also add the element of animation.

Real-World Scenario #2

Renovations of residential properties generally begin with a set of 3D renderings that would provide the technical basis for the work needed to be done. The designers are briefed about the client’s specific renovation goals such as using the original design of the house to its full potential, reducing echoes and excess noise, and improving the appearance of certain areas throughout the property.

To respond, designers create a portfolio of 3D renderings before presenting to the client. These aid in the decision-making process by providing accurate visuals for the freelance architect’s vision of the renovated space’s final appearance after completion of the project. Once the client approves the designs, more 3D renderings of complicated areas in the house are created and provided to construction crews to ensure accuracy of renovation in these tricky spots. The project is then completed to match the original goals for the renovation.

This demonstrates the usefulness of 3D renderings in communicating with both clients and contractors, and to accurately redesign an existing space with better aesthetics and materials.

3D rendering is changing the process of architectural design itself

In each of the case studies discussed above, architectural design firms were able to take on projects and accomplish goals that would not have been feasible even a few years earlier. And while 3D rendering is indirectly advantageous to engineers and designers because it makes both communicating with clients and developing marketing visuals significantly easier, it is also important to note that it offers just as many direct benefits to the firms themselves.

As is often the case with new technologies, 3D rendering is challenging standard processes and enabling architects to approach the design process in entirely novel ways. This is perhaps some of the strongest evidence that 3D rendering is indeed the direction in which architectural design firms are moving, rather than a passing trend or brief fad.

Like personal computers, smartphones, and the Internet, technological innovations that fundamentally change the way that people approach a set of tasks have earned themselves a place in history, and will later be noted as groundbreaking discoveries.

In many ways, 3D rendering is changing the basics of the design process itself. By reducing the amount of time it takes to create a full draft of a building and removing some of the costs associated with revising a set of plans, 3D rendering has allowed designers to work in a more iterative manner and receive more real-time feedback.

Designers can explore a wide range of possibilities for a space, and can re-draft over and over again until they have the perfect solution – and all without re-crafting a model or having to redo calculations about material specifications and properties.

As mentioned above, 3D renderings contain far more information than just the details of a building’s exterior and interior appearance. The most current software has the capability to store information about electrical currents, airflow, thermal trends throughout the building, stress, load, and much more. Programs will re-calculate this information as a designer edits a building’s plans. This can pre-solve a majority of construction problems, and can also remove discrepancies between CAD-generated plans and how builders interpret them onsite.

Contests and crowdsourcing are also relatively new trends that 3D rendering has brought to the field of architectural design. Involving freelance engineers and drafters is a creative way for firms to outsource work and to obtain the best designs in a cost-effective way. An initial contract can also lead to a beneficial business relationship for both firms and freelance designers.

3D rendering offers new functionalities for digital drafting systems

No article covering future trends based on 3D rendering would be complete without touching on augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). Although the technology for building virtual reality landscapes has existed for a few years now, only a few architectural design firms have started to explore the possibilities of applying virtual reality to marketing and drafting.

An architect could present a three-dimensional walk-through tour of a proposed project and clients could not only see a photorealistic representation of their idea but could walk through it and interact with the building’s component parts. This is an additional way to troubleshoot designs before construction begins, as the virtual reality angle may offer a different perspective and bring small design issues or inconveniences to an architect’s attention.

There are other up-and-coming trends in the architectural design industry that are also based in 3D rendering. Building information modeling (BIM) is one of these trends, and has been adopted by some of the top firms in the industry.

BIM is an integrated process that relies on a set of virtual 3D models and their associated data, and uses a proprietary system of data management to synchronize communication between project teams and collect metadata. Using a BIM workflow is only possible with 3D rendering. New functionalities such as BIM and VR prove that 3D rendering is becoming a cornerstone of the architectural design industry, and that bigger and better technologies will soon follow.

As an architect or engineer, how can you capitalize on the advantages offered by 3D rendering? Cad Crowd can help you get connected with an experienced professional who can bring your projects to life, create three-dimensional walk-throughs, and integrate essential technical information with perfectly detailed visuals. You can get a quote with no commitments, just so you can have a better idea of what it might involve.

If you’re a freelance 3D designer, take a look through the Cad Crowd contests – it might be your next big break!