Good Design | Enhancing Visualization
By Chris Hainer
Visualization is an important part of architectural design. Few people are comfortable interpreting plans and elevations into buildings or rooms. Therefore, architects use three-dimensional perspectives to show massing, materiality, and other information in a quickly understandable format. Additionally, Bailey Edward uses these internally for design, studies, and client outreach efforts to get a project attention and funding. The easier it is to visualize a project, the more productive discussions can be, and the faster a consensus on design is reached.
However, there is a three-dimensional visualization gap between early design discussions and final photo-realistic design renderings, which Bailey Edward is bridging.
During schematic design, and often further into development, we use SketchUp to create 3D models of a project. SketchUp is a great tool for quickly modeling a design, and has allowed us to look at and show designs in three dimensions throughout the design process to quickly test options, convey complex details, and show how materials will work together. Since a perspective view exported from SketchUp is a simple, but utilitarian view with materials and sunshadows only, it can be hard to read depth accurately, or imagine the view as a real space.
Currently, to show more detail, we typically turn to photorealistic rendering where materials have properties like texture and reflection. Lighting, both solar and artificial, direct and indirect, and a high level of detail can be illustrated. Being a time-consuming process, it is typically only performed at the end of design after consensus has been reached, and only for projects where the cost can be justified. Additionally, while these renderings are beautiful, detailed images, they can overwhelm a viewer with too much information and obscure the elements we are trying to convey. For instance, if we are trying to discuss the massing and scale of a building or space, but are showing materials and detailed furniture, we can easily end up discussing placeholder items such as wall color and types of chairs used, rather than the massing.
We found a way to bridge the gap. It is a process that involves taking a SketchUp model, rendering simple shading, and then combining and further enhancing the images in Photoshop. The crux of this process is a rendering method called ambient occlusion in which software mimics real lighting by shading corners and areas where two objects are near each other. The affect is similar to the lighting on an overcast day. Because the rendering method is only mimicking lighting, we do not need to add lights to the model or adjust lighting levels and exposure in order to get our image. This saves both set-up and rendering time, and allows us to use this method early in design before ceiling plans with lighting have been developed. As necessary, we can quickly add in other elements in Photoshop from more lighting information to helpful entourage (people, photos of equipment, etc.). This final enhanced SketchUp image is a middle stage between a simple perspective view and photorealistic rendering.
With this enhanced SketchUp process, we are able to show clients and users a more easily read perspective at any stage of design, with the hope that this improved visualization will reduce misunderstanding and drive consensus to a design solution. Additionally, we are able to provide clients an image that is closer to a full rendering, even on projects that would not typically have the budget or schedule to allow for a photorealistic rendering.
For more on developing our SketchUp models, please read our article on capturing data through spherical cameras.