RENDER-(ING)-(S): Language and Image

An interesting discussion is starting around these two articles:

Failed Architecture posted this article, decrying the current practice slapping of trees all over buildings for presentations. What This MVRDV Rendering Says About Architecture and the Media.

MVRDV has responded with this article explaining the role of images in our work. In Defense of Renders And Trees On Top Of Skyscrapers

My biggest question is this: Are we calling the pretty pictures we make renderings or renders? This is important.

I have always loved that rendering also refers to forcing the fat out of something: making waster product usable.  Render has a certain sense of action to it, which might be fun.

What do you think, my beloved community of renderers of all things: what do you call what you make?

Mar 3, 16 10:24 am
Non Sequitur

I use render as the verb and rendering as the product.

Maybe we should add trees on top of trees. That's sustainability!

On the note of renderings, our office does not out-source renderings but it is brought up once in a while at meetings. The main reason is ethics, which is what I push for since I know we can get shiny images for a fraction of the cost through slave farms in countries without the same labour laws. The other reason is that it's just not necessary to hand over creative control of the project's sex-appeal. Although I hardly ever produce renderings anymore (time is better spent on construction admin), when needed, I can pull off quality images in a few hours vs my co-worker's 3 day binges. No trees on infinitely thin roofs though, that's undergrad level work.

Mar 3, 16 10:40 am  · 

Rendering.  This is actually the first time hearing 'renders' - is it a regional thing?

My main problem with the glossiness is exactly what the second article argues: that the end product and the images should, to an extent, match.  As much as they claim that they can execute the lush green buildings, until they are built, it's hard to say.  As a landscape architect it is infuriating when a building architect puts slaps on plants to hide the building's form.  For LA projects, the plants are replaced with smiling kids and butterflies that hide parts of the design that don't work or are 'ugly'.

A professional has an ethical obligation to the client, public, and relevant review boards that the representation of their project is a best effort and not a deliberate attempt at deception.  Whatever that may mean.

Mar 3, 16 10:57 am  · 

rendering, and good on mdrvd for putting some trees in the concrete jungle.

Mar 3, 16 11:10 am  · 

The problem with a "photorealistic" (not that these shiny renderings are at all realistic) renderings is that they do create an unrealistic idea of what the owner will see in the end. They don't account for the details, the little unsightly things that are required to make buildings work.  My approach is to attempt to make a rendering 'incomplete'.  If people are represented, they're a transparent silhouette.  Other pieces can be made as masses, or as diagrammatic versions of themselves.  I've rendered trees as sticks with plastic disks representing the foliage.  This conveys the idea that everything isn't there. It leaves something to the imagination.  

Reading Zumthor kind of lead my to my stance.

Mar 3, 16 11:12 am  · 

Maybe we should call them renditions. 

Mar 3, 16 11:30 am  · 

i agree senator.  that's why it bugs the hell out of me when people here, who should understand the process somewhat, look at these renderings and complain about the craft and detail.  something like a watercolor rendering makes it more obvious that it isn't a finished product yet (or that it isn't a photograph.)

i'd like to think there is a point at which you could just say that this is just a representation of the concept or something like that, but i guess people just don't listen?  or don't understand what that means?

we could call them pictures.  maybe trying to sound less professional would drive home the idea that they aren't supposed to be photographs.

Mar 3, 16 11:36 am  · 

Just my two sense...

There are differences between a "rendering" and an "image".

An image is meant to tell a story and allows a bit more artistic license in what exactly is being shown. An image is built-up (typically in several different programs) with a specific message in mind. Things are hidden and made prettier. These are used primarily to represent a concept or mood. Very aspirational, less literal. 

A rendering is more of a pure export from a rendering program and shows things in a bit more literal light. If people want a more straight forward "photorealistic" representation of exactly what their project will look like, I would call it a rendering. Not hiding things, no bullshitting the view.

Renderings and Images are very different tools for very different jobs.

When using either, it's very important for all parties involved to understand the two different types of representation and know what they are paying for. 

Mar 3, 16 11:38 am  · 

P.S. I would say that Renderings is a more popular term than Renders, from my experience. I cringe when I hear them called Renders. Sounds behind the times to me. 

Mar 3, 16 11:46 am  · 

The way I was taught in my architectural education was to replace the word rendering or render with its equivalent of drawing or draw


I will render an image = I will draw an image

Look at this rendering = Look at this drawing


You wouldn't say "I will drawing an image", or "Look at this draw".

Mar 3, 16 11:56 am  · 

render is English like Colour or Centre

Mar 3, 16 1:20 pm  · 

I call them renderings, but I don't really care about the semantics of what we call architectural imagery.  

What I think is interesting is how the rendering can inform the design process from schematic to final execution.  Perfect example is the Broad - their schematic rendering was some 20 min Photoshop exercise that got a thumbs up and they executed a building far beyond what I think most could have given the complexity of where they took the project and still maintaining the original concept and feeling of the rendering.  

Failed renderings happen way to often - we should be trying to use the technology of image making as a target and follow-through. 

Mar 3, 16 2:31 pm  · 

Rendering is what you do in within a program. It's like drafting or 3D modelling.

I'd call an image straight from vray a render.

The compositing of layers - CAD, render(s), patterns, textures & sketches - make up an image.

Visualization is what makes an image interesting. 

Mar 3, 16 6:10 pm  · 

Calling a drawing a render is just very casual use of English, similar to saying "IN-stall" instead of installation.   Saves a syllable, I guess.

Mar 3, 16 8:57 pm  · 

Which is why "renders" in a published article sounds so weird to me. It's late-night studio shorthand.

That said, I enjoy these lines form the MVRDV article: ...renders are used as a translation of the architect’s core business, the technical drawing, to make the building understandable to clients and users...Furthermore, the render is also a tool to create enthusiasm for a plan.

We architects really operate on this balancing wire of communication, technical expertise, and  assisting dreams. 

Mar 3, 16 9:05 pm  · 

Well.. We used to say "Are the renders ready?" "I only did one render today". I don't believe that visualisations are meant to create any expectation that isn't what it should be, if you go to a good studio or freelancer like Dbox, Blur, Ronen or any other the top guys they are there to create a story with each image they create. The image should create a mood and dialogue with the viewer and more importantly the public. 

Mar 4, 16 3:10 am  · 

Speaking of renders vs. rendering- the image fabrications for the BIG stadium project are frustrating. If you look at the skyline in the background and the follow the shoreline, it’s clear that the image is just south of DC on the north side of I90/495/Capitol Beltway as you cross the Woodrow Wilson. Just south of DC is important, because it really is just south of the DC municipal border (once again Synder skirts the city issue, but I digress as usual)- on park service land.

So how do you make it ok to remove a nationally designated historic district? You photoshop out the impound lot to the north along with other city services and apartments, turning it into the farmland you are removing, sans historic significance. Then you do your best to shrink the water treatment plant and make it an image at night to add a bit of smoke and mirrors to it all.

Imo, if we live and work in a time where data and accuracy are all the rage via networks and parametrics, so the images should also confront these realties. Stop hiding behind pastoral images with the claim that “it’s just” context.

(I will not speak of that tumor that crosses over the Potomac)

Mar 17, 16 9:29 am  · 

FWIW Synder is playing Virginia, Maryland, and the District off against one another to see which will give him the best deal so the location is way up in the air. The "Fed Ex" stadium that the team now uses is hardly 20 years old and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The proposed stadium form was given a big thumbs down by the majority of fans who read an article in the Post. They thought the moat around it was way beyond stupid.

Mar 17, 16 9:50 am  · 

Marc, you raise one of the very interesting issues with photo-realistic renderings: People expect that they are REAL, that they will account for every detail. If I do a hand drawn sketch it's understood that I won't show every detail, so I can grey out or blur the stuff I don't want to feature and it's less blatant than if I do it in a photo-realistic rendering.

Mar 17, 16 10:11 am  · 


Add to that the that bringing the team back the RFK/Anacostia site in a new Texas dome sized stadium was a significant issue during the last round of elections in DC. This is just the first image with a specific image, and there is a lot of mention of Oxon Hill on sports sites.


Just to parse hairs, I think this is a real rendering (save the land bridge for the airport) in the sense of being authentic . There are trees, farmland and it's it's a lovely piece of architecture nestled in pastoral landscape. That's why Oxon Hill was designated as a historic place.  And it plays off so many emotions about open space and landscape, making those who support the project feel good about themselves. But it's not a factual rendering, so all the problems of site and adjacency that are very present are suppressed by the contextually sensitive stamp tool and some dodge/burn technique.

Mar 17, 16 10:47 am  · 

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