Sunday, July 8, 2012

Truth and Artistic License

A review of the truth, or lack of truth in architectural renderings.

Truth in Advertising...  We are always “spinning.”  Humans tend to exaggerate, massage and forget the past, and the same applies to the way we present ourselves and our work to others.  I once knew a couple who always acted insanely happy with their marriage, children, house, careers… everything.  I later learned that they had all the same trouble and disappointments as the rest of us; they simply “sold” it all as wonderful.  There have been few projects I have worked on that were strictly honest.  The preliminary sketch below was part of a legal presentation to prospective owners, and was truthful in all aspects from the brick color to the placement of streetlights to the typical angle of the afternoon sun.  It is hardly my favorite rendering, but accurate it is.

A typical honest lie is the use of axonometric drawings.  There are times, such as the long street shown below, when a street level perspective simply can’t show the entire space.  An axonometric drawing can present information but at the same time be completely unreal.

Similarly, if something is standing in between you and the object you want to see, an illustrator can eliminate it.  The preliminary sketch of my rendering of I MPei’s Louvre shows the underground architecture by dissolving the foreground plaza.  The glass pyramid is revealed to be a brilliant solution to an old circulation problem, as well as a brash architectural statement.

Interior illustrators have always wrestled with the problem of looking through walls.  This corporate headquarters staircase would have been distorted if I hadn’t backed up through an existing wall.  The outline of the wall opening can be seen in the faint dotted line on the left.

Computer renderings deal with the same interior wall problem by having cutting planes that can be placed in various places in the model.  The lobby below is being viewed from outside the glass curtainwall.  The mullions and glass have been eliminated in the original model.

The smaller the space the more distortion you can expect.  Elevator cabs are a special case in that any normal perspective would distort the ceiling or the floor or both.  A computer rendering would have a problem with this, but a hand layout can solve the problem easily by simple using a sliding vanishing point.  If you locate the vanishing point for the ceiling and floor in the drawing below you will find that they don’t correspond, but are slightly shifted vertically so as to lessen the distortion.

Sometimes the client will want to see something which is useful to know, but which is not a real situation.  The color sketch below shows a private terminal at JFK airport.  It is all perfectly accurate, but the silhouette of the Manhattan skyline (just below and left of center) cannot be seen from there.  You would have to level parts of Brooklyn and Queens to have a line of sight, and even then it would be smaller.  However, for people unfamiliar with New York City the silhouette provides a useful landmark to orient themselves and the terminal.

Finally, there is the problem of glass, and how much you can see of an interior during daylight.  The answer in the real world is “not much”.  In the layout below you can see that I wished away the glass (and some of the structure) so as to see straight through the building.  In the photo of the finished building you can see into the building, but it is at dusk, when the artificial light can challenge the dying daylight. 

Viewers of an illustration will go far to believe an interesting story, and will forgive much fudging to experience more of a building than is normally possible.  It is a delicate balance which becomes easier as you experience and observe the different buildings, materials and lighting.  An old artist friend once said to me, “if it’s right but looks wrong it’s wrong, and if it’s wrong but looks right, it’s right”.  My own motto is “establish the facts first, then lie and manipulate as needed.”  Or more delicately stated, “get out the old Artistic License”.

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