The Architect's Blog

Visualization Tools for Commercial and Residential Architecture Design



I have heard people talk about transformational experiences; The first time they got a laugh for telling a joke they knew that they wanted to be onstage as a comedian, or the first time they boarded an airplane they knew they wanted to be a pilot. Though not nearly as glamourous, one of my early transformational moments occurred while watching the 1984 movie “Electric Dreams”. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about an architect who buys the latest and most powerful model of computer to help him with his work. A freak accident allows the computer to gain self awareness. The computer and its owner then both end up falling for the same attractive neighbor.

As with most movies that portray evolving technology, much about this movie fell within the spectrum of outlandish to corny. The part of the movie, however, that I found both believable and fascinating was the computer’s ability to generate complex images. 30 years later computer generated visualization programs have become so commonplace that it is almost assumed that they will be part of the architect’s standard services.

Sketch-up and more complex building information modeling (BIM) software, make visualization of an unbuilt structure much more available to clients and much easier and more cost effective for architects and designers to produce than any time in the past. Additionally, visualization is a useful tool that can help to prevent oversight as well as help resolve complicated detailing questions. We have also found that the 3D sketches we produce allow us to more quickly obtain design review approval, likely because the design review board can easily understand the design intent.

commercial architecture long beach 3d

A rendering that used to cost a client thousands of dollars can now be done for a few hundred. Additionally, current computer generated 3D models provide the ability for the client to do a “fly-thru” of the building – see the building as if they were quickly walking through it. This type of 3D visualization can help resolve interior design and spacial relationship questions.

While there are so many powerful and useful computer programs that can produce visualization in three dimensions, we have found that the Sketch-up pro version works well for quickly rendering our residential and smaller commercial projects. We have begun experimenting with BIM software to see if there is an application for residential work, but find it continues to be best suited for larger commercial projects.

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