Insights: Do we need digital renderings for our project?


Preface by Matt Fajkus:

Questions of representation are as old as the profession of architecture itself. As drawing and rendering methods evolve, we find that there is no single “silver bullet” way to represent a building or space, but rather it is important to utilize different tools at different times. In this piece, former MF Architecture team member Janet Ni describes the power of renderings as a way to understand and predict the look and feel of a given design.



Digital modeling and renderings are means architects and designers use to further develop and support ideas. While physical models are extremely helpful in visualizing space, they are not without limitations. Built models cannot always convey materiality or atmospheric qualities, so renderings often supplement these shortcomings.

‘What exactly is a rendering?” you may ask. Renderings are images generated from 3D models; rendering softwares allow you to apply materials and lighting conditions to the model so you can imagine the project with all the intended textures and even at a particular time of day.

Rendering and 3D modeling, while not technically essential, have quickly become an integral part of the design workflow because it can help architects imagine a space without the time necessary to build a physical model. In addition to saving time, renderings often help convey the feeling of a space rather than the raw mass and geometry. Renderings capture how light may reflect in the glass of a building or what a space may feel like when it’s activated by a bustling crowd of people.

Another quality that makes rendering so valuable is that it is much more revisable than a physical model. While you can attempt to tear a wall out of a model, it will take a good deal of gentle coaxing and surgical precision to not accidentally rip part of the floor and ceiling out, too. Conversely, a wall can be shifted over a few feet in a matter of seconds in a 3D model.


This is a screenshot of a 3D model straight from the modeling software, Rhinoceros. This is the model that the architect constructs using the plan and section drawings.

 This is the raw render of the same 3D model view. The 3D modeling software will have a rendering plug in through which the architect can add lights and textures to the surfaces in the model to create the render.

Revisability is crucial because 3D modeling and rendering then become part of the design process. Often, physical models aren’t built with the intent of using them as tools to revise and reiterate. In contrast, a render based off of a 3D model can be a tool for discussion between the designer and the client. These convey information that does not always come through plans and sections, so they are often great ways to allow clients to be able participate in design decisions without having a complete understanding of architectural drawing conventions. Then, once those changes have been decided on, the architect can go back into the 3D model and make those alterations with relative ease, and render the scene again.

Written by Janet Ni