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The Art of Rendering: 11 Trending Non-Realistic Styles in Architectural Visualization

Send us a rendering. Tell us a story. Win $2,500! Sign up for the next One Rendering Challenge competition for a shot at major prizes and global publication: Pre-register for the competition (launches January 2022)

Photo-realistic rendering has become a new standard in presenting architectural projects. Its proliferation has become controversial as its technical capabilities allowed architects to misrepresent their projects, often swaying business decisions based on . Beautiful realistic imagery engages laymen and professionals alike, and its role in real estate marketing, though legitimate, has greatly overshadowed other forms of architectural representation. Many of the traditional techniques like collages and drawings have taken a back seat in the process of selling ideas, though these are still used within studios whose work concerns itself with city development.

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While hyperrealistic representation leaves little to the imagination (best case scenario, what you see is what you get), more abstract techniques have strong expressive capacity and often best communicate designers’ main concepts, visual style and ethos.

Here are some rendering styles that take a more abstract and artistic approach, often using realistic 3D elements to create surreal, otherworldly environments.

1. KooZA/rch Artists

Image by Olga Tarasova for Yury Grigoryan Studio

Image by Ekin Bilal

KooZA/rch is an experimental digital platform founded by architect Federica Sofia Zambeletti as a place where architectural drawing can evolve and stimulate architectural dialogue. The inspiration of the visual style of the content found on the website can be traced back to the 1960s visuals by Superstudio and Archigram.

In an Interview for Metropolis Magazine, Zambeletti explained the role drawing has in communicating architecture:’’… Here, the drawings enter a much larger dialogue, not only about the visual identity of the project but the narrative, context, and identity of both project and architect. The image produced is as much of the finished product as it is of the driving conceptual forces that developed it.”

2. Viar Estudio

Images by Viar Estudio Arquitectura

Spanish Viar Estudio creates beautiful abstract visuals and use different techniques to create something that’s in between diagram, axonometry and perspectival image.

3. OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen

Image by OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen

OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, an architectural practice based in Bruxelles, Belgium, often uses a painterly style to illustrate their more speculative projects. Pastel colors dominate their visual language and their drawings and collages form an independent body of work.


Images by KOSMOS

Moscow-based KOSMOS Architects are a multidisciplinary studio that combines art and technology. Their visuals often take on the aesthetic of naïve art, fauvism, with hints of Mark Chagall. This image of their Hidden Park proposal in Switzerland channels Henri Rousseau’s jungle vibes.

5. Massimo Colonna

Image by Massimo Colonna

When it comes to using 3D software to create surreal and abstract environments, Italian digital artist Massimo Colonna is a great example. He renders minimalist spaces that evoke a sense of melancholia, and is often inspired by film and painting.

6. Visual Citizens

Images by Visual Citizens

Visual Citizens create surreal architectural renderings that allow them to collaborate with designers across different disciplines. “Visualizations are an escape from the reality of practical design constraints, allowing us to render surreal environments and fill them with fantastical objects,” explained studio founders Shali Moodley and Adam Kelly in an interview for gestalten.

7. Michele Durazzi

Images by Michele Durazzi

Italian designer Michele Durazzi creates imaginary cityscapes, focusing on the relationship between architecture and its users. Many of his images play with scale, placing humans at the center of the architectural narrative.

8. Alexis Christodoulou

Images by Alexis Christodoulou

Digital artist Alexis Christodoulou produces abstract architectural renders that have garnered him a huge social media following. He is one of the most successful artists to sell their work via crypto art marketplaces.

9. Paul Milinski

Image by Paul Milinski

If you have an Instagram account, chances are you’ve come across Paul Milinski’s retro futuristic dreamscapes. These images feature lush landscapes combined with man-made structures in unexpected ways.

10. Peter Tarka

Image by Peter Tarka

Peter Tarka’s abstract 3d compositions have become a staple in the area of digital design. He has collaborated with renowned brands- from car manufacturers to tech giants, using his recognizable artistic approach to 3D to create playful and immersive environments.

Send us a rendering. Tell us a story. Win $2,500! Sign up for the next One Rendering Challenge competition for a shot at major prizes and global publication: Pre-register for the competition (launches January 2022)

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Skyboat // XinY Structural Consultants

Project Status: BuiltYear: 2019Size: 5000 sqft – 10,000 sqftBudget: 5M – 10M

Text description provided by the architects.

Project: SkyboatClient : Guangxi Leye Dashi Wei Tourism Development Co., LtdArchitect : Zhong Huaying Studio, Nanjing UniversityStructural Engineers : XinY & YuanlizhuCo-design : LiLi Studio & Shanghai ZhongJian Architectural DesignPrincipal Contractor : China Railway 25th Group 6th CompanyLocation : Leye, ChinaCompleted: 2019Skyboat (also called BigGoose) is a two-storey building comprising a construction area of 495m2 and covers a plan dimension of 10metres by 80metres.

© XinY Structural Consultants

Both ends of the building cantilevers out by 34metres and 22metres respectively. The project is located in the world heritage site, Dashiwei Tiankeng Sinkhole which iswahsed by the powerful underground rivers for thousands of years and then formed a 613-metre-deep sinkhole with vertical walls on all sides. The top of the sinkhole is extremely narrow which can only accommodate a small passageway.

© XinY Structural Consultants

BigGoose is proposed to span over the passageway and cantilever out to each side of the mountain ridge. Similar to the tumbler toys, it is proposed to lower the structure centre of gravity and utilize the minimum area (10metres by 30metres), in which way, the self-balance of the structure is therefore achieved.

An existing crack, which is circa 10cm wide and 400m long, exists at the top of the ridge indicating the site is not stable.

© XinY Structural Consultants

Apart from grouting the existing crack, it is also proposed to have the key struts at each ends of the building inclining towards the ridge, the horizontal component forces from which then provided the embracing forces to the ridge and hence improved the stability of the site.

To avoid bearing vertical force destroyed the mountian, the rock under the shadow of the building which has the same weight as the structural self-weight has been removed.

Having the front balustrades as part of the truss structure enables the front cantilever to be as thin and light as possible.

By increasing the key strut lengths, the pre-cambering of the front cantilever structure is then achieved, which can compensate the deflections under the dead loads and some of the live loads.

© XinY Structural Consultants

This also protects the glazings from large deformations..

© XinY Structural Consultants

Skyboat Gallery

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Designs of the Decade: The World’s Best Architecture Visualizations From 2012 To Today

Get your work published internationally this year through the 10th Annual A+Awards! The Main Entry Deadline is December 17, 2021. Click here to start your entry today.

Models and renders are one of the most important components of a design package. The way a project is represented can be a big deciding factor while choosing which design wins a competition or a contract. Moreover, the act of visualization itself is also an important part of the development process for architectural ideas. Indeed, visualizing conceptual projects allows some studios to express revolutionary ideas for city planning, residential design and cultural hubs.

Architecture visualization has come a long way from rudimentary SketchUp models and handcrafted physical models. Computational design and 3D printing have made it possible for architects to create previously unimaginable forms, challenging the long-standing ideas of what various typologies should look like. Photorealistic renders also help imagine the true nature of spaces.

Enter the 10th Annual A+Awards

At Architizer, we celebrate architecture as a process, rather than a product. Over the past decade, we have been acknowledging unbuilt designs for their ingenuity and risk-taking efforts with A+Awards categories like Architecture +Models & Rendering. We’ve rounded up the best of these award-winning projects, allowing you to discover how much the field has changed over the past decade.

2012-13: University of Iowa School of Music: Suspended Theatroacoustic System

LMN Architects | Iowa City, Iowa

Popular Choice and Jury Winner, 2013 A+Awards, Architecture +Modeling

The 700-seat concert hall proposal sits within a six-story structure. The use of parametric modeling helped devise 946 unique panels that incorporate acoustics, lighting and mechanical design, audio and visual design and fire protection — all integrated within one unified system. A 3-axis CNC mill was used to fabricate components for testing purposes.

It is exciting to see how far architecture visualization has evolved in just a few years. Parametric design and hyperrealistic renders might seem like a norm now, but they were still not as advanced in 2013, as is seen in the overall shapes of the forms, which are angular and geometric rather than fluid. This design takes a very advanced approach to assessing complex problems and providing highly functional solutions.

2015: The Strand

Raad Studio | London, United Kingdom

Popular Choice, 2015 A+Awards, Architecture +Rendering

Raw concrete is the star of the show in the reimagination of an abandoned Brutalist edifice in Central London. The studio added a slope right in the middle of the structure to break up the parallel horizontal lines. This diagonal plane starts from the ruins of the Roman bath underground and navigates through a garden, the building lobby, circulation corridor right, going straight to the top. The surface also creates multiple public spaces within the building.

While we can see a lot more lifelike material rendering, one can still easily tell that this is a computer-generated image. But that does not take away from the nearly tangible effect of the spaces in the pictures. This structure unifies a contemporary design language with robust tones and textures that celebrate its original identity.

2016: Sanguine Lily, 1916 Centenary Chapel at Glasnevin Cemetery

Form4 Architecture | Dublin, Ireland

Jury Winner, 2016 A+Awards, Architecture +Rendering

The curved structure of this chapel, surrounded by three reflecting pools, is meant to look like a petal of an Easter lily floating on a pool of water. Large glass panels cover the north and south façades to bring in ample natural light into the space. The upper windows in these walls can be opened for natural ventilation. Furthermore, the roof is also designed to release warm air. 232 suspended glass spheres inside the building are a nod to the 232 casualties of the uprising in 1916 and create a medley of floating lights that is visible from the outside.

Over the years, we have seen the increasing use of large, column-free domes or organic forms made possible by advanced engineering and material technologies. Santiago Calatrava’s work is a great example of this style. This particular design is a very unique take on a traditional chapel. Its overall geometry is more likely to be associated with a corporate entity or a museum space than a cemetery chapel. The tones used in the renders also reflect the architectural atmosphere — one based around a melancholy experience that is rooted in the past. The chapel is meant to be a relatively quiet place meant for introspection.

2017: Peckham Hospice Care Home

Jerome Ng | London, United Kingdom

Jury Winner, 2017 A+Awards, Architecture +Models & Rendering

This artful proposal aims to improve the lives of terminally ill adults and children. It also creates awareness about the fact that people in hospice care facilities actually live longer lives. The main driver of this design is flexibility. The façade is retained to preserve the character of the neighborhood and the interior spaces have movable parts to accommodate changing social and private spaces as per the patients’ needs.

End-of-life care is a difficult subject to approach, but it is slowly becoming an important conversation — especially over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, there isn’t much awareness regarding palliative care in design education. Architects and designers have the ability to make a huge impact on patients with limited life spans by developing spaces that are not only functional but also add value to their lives. This design represents an exemplary step in that direction.

2018: Champ du Chateau, Geneva

Brick Visual | Communicating Architecture | Geneva, Switzerland

Popular Choice and Jury Winner, 2018 A+Awards, Plus – Architecture +Models & Rendering

Brick Visual created these masterful renderings for a conceptual design by Swiss architecture firm Favre+Guth. A continuous plane of glass twists and curves to create a roof, walls and canopies. Triangular metal frames help divide and support this massive form.

One can see the gradual evolution of forms in commercial or public spaces. Lineal walls, box-like forms and conventional construction materials are being pushed aside in favor of glass facades and curvilinear designs. This design has a sculptural and fluid quality to it and it pushes the boundaries of structural engineering.

2019: M50 Art Hotel

MUDA-Architects | Sichuan, China

Popular Choice Winner, 2019 A+Awards, Plus – Architecture +Models & Rendering

Given that this design is based in Pingle, Sichuan — a town whose plan is musically themed — a song became the primary inspiration for the proposal. The shape is derived from the motion of the plucked string of a guqin, a Chinese instrument, at the climax of the song “Feng Qiu Huang”. For this reason, the studio wove in local culture and lore with a futuristic design language. The dip in the curve creates the main entrance and the horizontal lines on the surface give the illusion of strings. The studio has also incorporated vegetation in the interiors.

This project was on the forefront of the of recent trend in curved white forms, which continue to grow more and more popular. However, while such designs are becoming more contemporary, many architects are still trying to tie them back to the local culture and history.

2020: 8850 Sunset Boulevard

Kilograph | Los Angeles, California

Popular Choice and Jury Winner, 2020 A+Awards, Plus – Architecture +Models & Rendering

This winning competition entry is a mixed-use project in West Hollywood’s Sunset strip. The structure comprises 115 hotel rooms, 31 condos, 10 affordable housing units, a gym and spa, a restaurant and a rooftop pool. It also features an 820 square foot (250 square meter) billboard for advertising in this prime location. The structure has two main components: a residential glass tower and an abstract white form that is connected to the tower on the top. The connecting bridge on the top houses the recreational amenities.

Like the award-winning designs in the previous years, expansive panels of glass and striking white lines dominate this design. One can also see the evolution of abstract forms and complex structural framework. There is also a focus on incorporating nature within the design by adding vegetation on vertical surfaces.

2021: Powered by Ulsteinvik

Kaleidoscope | Ulsteinvik, Norway

Jury Winner, 2021 A+Awards, Plus – Architecture +Models & Rendering

Images by KVANT-1 and Kaleidoscope

A strong example of sustainable design, this solar-powered mixed-use complex features housing, an innovation hub, recreational spaces and a garden. The studio uses photovoltaic ‘SmartPERGOLA’ modules in meeting places and photovoltaic panels in its SmartHUB to generate energy. The housing complex, also known as GrowHOUSE, features a system to harvest rainwater.

This structure represents the shift towards green architecture. Buildings of the future will not only have to consume energy efficiently but also find ways to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. Modular construction, such as the prefabricated CLT blocks proposed in this design, also makes projects more sustainable, less harmful to the environment and quicker to execute.

2022: ???

Could your project complete our decade of inspirational design? Submit it for the 10th Anniversary A+Awards for a chance to take the final place in this collection! Enter your work before December 17th, 2021 to get your firm in the running for global recognition:

Enter the 10th Annual A+Awards

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Mogan Valley // line+

Project Status: BuiltYear: 2020Size: 100,000 sqft – 300,000 sqftBudget: Unknown

Text description provided by the architects.

Different from the normal community and village, we’d like to create a new rural community, which is rustic and refined. The design concept is driven by the organization of the traditional settlements and relates to the context. It is located at the eastern foot of Mogan Mountain, born between five original valleys.

© line+

© line+

The existing farmland texture and valley view corridor shock us firstly. Organize the space by 15 buildings with small volumes to enjoy this natural view. As for the specific layout, take the buildings’ main orientations, sloping terrain, sunlight resources into account. It seems that these residential groups with courtyard are set randomly, but in fact it is a precise planning.

© line+

© line+

Like other organic villages in China, it fits perfectly with the terrain. On the other hand, there are a lot of irregular outdoor spaces enclosed by buildings of different orientations, which is for residents’ activities. The wall is made of the local and sustainable materials – rammed earth, bamboo and wood wall panels, emphasizing the growth and locality of the buildings.

© line+

© line+

The interior is made of the same materials of the building façade – rammed earth texture, rendering the demarcation between inside/outside ambiguous and making it different from the residential buildings in the city. Just importantly, the residents could get the rural feeling whether indoors or outdoors, which is the project aims to do.

© line+

© line+

In addition, lawn platform in front of the book bar as a hub to be enjoyed by everyone provides universal access to the public spaces and home..

© line+

© line+

Mogan Valley Gallery

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