Posts by Cristhian Barajas

Visual representation has catapulted to an entire new level with the introduction of virtual reality technology. Virtual Reality (VR) technology propelled dedicated headset hardware and smartphones, especially the Samsung Galaxy line, to the forefront of user interaction and experience.

On the other hand, when it comes to software, apps like Pokémon GO introduced Augmented Reality (AR) – the combination of real world imagery with a layer of added imagery for a ‘holographic’ effects – to the masses. Both are examples of mass-market technological pioneers in the realm of VR and AR.

It’s not only individual users around the globe enjoying and using these technologies; private entities are also beginning to introduce these tools as a way to incorporate innovation and education in the firm-to-client relationship. The architectural design disciplines are no exception.

Today we live in a time of great change, and it’s imperative to be aware of emerging technologies. Just a couple of years ago, I wrote about the trend of incorporating gaming platforms to enhance the field of visual representation as part of my master’s degree. At that time, CryEngine 3, Unreal Engine 4, Unity 5, Frostbite 3 and Source were all promising platforms vying for leadership for architectural design applications. However, no firm was truly paying attention to these platforms since each requires hiring professional game developers or people fluent in gaming programming language in order to achieve the desired effects.

Photos by Cristhian Barajas

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Following up our introduction to virtual representation in the field of landscape architecture, today we move on to focus upon the various recognized 3D-rendering visualization types of our practice, each serving different purposes utilizing a variety of different styles: plan views, elevations, perspectives, and even sections. The following list compiles various types of illustrations and their applications used today.

Visualization Modes (listed by function):

All images by Cristhian Barajas unless otherwise attributed.

Sketch: Done either by hand or using digital tools, the messy line work of a sketch is its primary component. A sketch can be black and white, grayscale, or even rendered in color as shown above.

Image by WangWang using Piranesi; BuyPiranesi.co.uk

Painting: A representation in the style of a watercolor, realistic, or an impressionistic painting. The main characteristic is a hand-drawn effect that characterizes the composition. Piranesi is an example software used to digitally achieve this effect.

Technical Drawing: Characterized by straight lines and clear edges, a technical drawing lands somewhere between the sketch and the wireframe modes. When combined with other visualization techniques like clay (below), a technical drawing can reflect great character, and can be used as a study model. [Example]


Wireframe: A wireframe offers many advantages by only displaying the model’s edges and profiles. It not only permits faster rendering display (requiring less memory, sans surface textures or color), it also facilitates the study of elevations and the alignment of elements, representing the skeleton of the design.


Clay: A step further from wireframe is the monochromatic visualization mode known as clay. Limited to grayscale gradients, clay is a great tool for studying the design and indirect lighting. When using V-Ray or other rendering engines, sometimes an independent clay model is rendered apart from the colored image to achieve the ambient occlusion effect, enhancing highlights and shadows to add realism to the image. No linework is shown in this mode, but it can be combined with a wireframe or technical drawing to achieve an even greater level of model accuracy.


Architectural Photomontage: Composed using photographs or a 3D model as its base (or created from scratch), this composited visualization is a workflow-oriented solution relying heavily upon photo manipulation techniques rather than 3D modeling to achieve its intended effect. [Example 1, Example 2].


Conceptual: A 3D model does not always need to be textured. A conceptual model uses transparencies, emphasizing only certain materials like solid surfaces, glass, lights, and vegetation – an effective tool for presenting ideas early in a project. It often portrays the existing context in its surroundings, with a primary object as its main focal point, resembling a physical model of the site. [Example 1, Example 2, Example 3]


Realistic/Shaded: A 3D rendered image – generally unprocessed – showing textures representing intended materials in context of the project. The level of detail in these textures do not always need to be configured to the highest output, foregoing effects like reflection, refractions, etc. This mode is applicable for studying textured materials, lighting, UV mapping, and combination of colors. It does not require high quality vegetation or shadows. [Example 1, Example 2]


Fantasy: A fantasy rendering involves any type of representation in which the ambience, rather than the object itself, is the main focal point. It is often accompanied by color filters to enhance the environment. [Example 1, Example 2]

Image by werner22brigitte; CC0 Public Domain

Digital Art: The emphasis of digital art is placed equally onto the object and also its surrounding environment. However, the main attribute is the composition of abstract/surrealist elements. Digital art relies heavily upon photo manipulation and artistry, often incorporating signature touches of an artist. With digital art, it is often unclear where the objects end and where the context begins, and is most often used for gaming development, storyboards, concept art, and portfolio purposes. Utopian, dystopian, or the ‘cyberpunk’ aesthetic is represented prominently in this genre.


Photorealistic: Perhaps the most common commercial rendition, photorealistic modeling presents a higher level of detail than those listed above, incorporating reflections, refractions, bump mapping, normals, displacement, HDRI lighting, etc. This rendering technique is often utilized for marketing and advertisement, and relies heavily upon 3D-rendered raw images, followed by post-production detailing. [Example 1, Example 2]

Hyperrealistic: Representing the highest degree of visual detail in relation to context and object, hyperrealistic renders eliminate fuzziness or visible brush effects from view. Most of the elements are modeled, with post-production playing only a minor role (depending upon the artist’s workflow). Unlike photorealism, UV mapping is carefully planned and output at very high resolutions. Its main applications are for cinema and for portfolio purposes. [Example 1, Example 2, Example 3]

 

Render of the Keck Medical Center of USC. By AHBE Landscape Architects.

The Keck Medical Center of USC. By AHBE Landscape Architects.

The word ‘render’ comes from its Latin root reddere, meaning ‘to give back’, and is often used to describe either an action or a noun related to a ‘representation’ or ‘performance’. Its origins, however, are more associated with the concept of ‘serving’, ‘helping’, or the ‘providence of a service’. And that is exactly what the design disciplines do when executing these visualization services: they portray what a finished product would be to a client. Sometimes virtual illustrations are also generated for studying the design and composition options, or even for mere portfolio purposes.

An artistic rendition of the Crafton Hills College. By AHBE Landscape Architects.

A traditional, non-software artistic rendition of the Crafton Hills College is used here to show plans in relation to site. By Steinberg Architects.

Although a service, rendering includes a very significant artistic constituent, in which the visual artist imprints their style and sense of aesthetics to the product. Unlike art pieces, these are subject to revisions by the clients and by the supervisors, and its ultimate goal is to display the desires of the stakeholders, rather than the communication of emotions, ideals, and expectations of the artist.

We need to think of rendering as a very unique situation were a double artistic goal is expressed, in which the display of two aesthetical elements are involved:

  1. In the design field, the primary goal most of the time is to showcase a design solution, whether architectural, urban, landscape, interior, industrial or graphic. The design itself becomes the artistic object. Such design intent must be clear at all times.
  2. The secondary goal is to represent this solution in an attractive way. It becomes the frame, media and canvas of the art piece, which could potentially add or subtract interest. The render sells the product and advertises the idea using layout, graphic styles, and composition.
Render of the Taiwan Urban Park. By AHBE Landscape Architects

A overhead site plan render of the Taiwan Urban Park. By AHBE Landscape Architects

This complex conjunction of items leads to the situation where the visual artist, when receiving input, cannot deal with critiques such as “it seems a little bit off”, or “something doesn’t read right”. Critique meant for feedback needs to be objective at all times, clear about which goal-element needs to be addressed, whether it be the design component, the representation component, or both (and how, if possible).

It is important to recognize that software and workflow plays an important role in the artistic execution of the process. As any other digital art, the quality of the product will be directly proportional to the skill level and proficiency of the artist using the software.

In Part 2 we’ll explore the different types of 3D-rendering visualizations and the different purposes they serve in landscape architecture…

 

Houston Texas interstate highway; photo from Alan Berger's "Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America".

Houston Texas interstate highway; photo from Alan Berger’s “Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America”.

In our previous post, we read about the typology of wasted surfaces in the urban environment. Professor Alan Berger and writer of Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America, also comes up with a new manifesto for those professionals who would like to venture into the drosscape practices. Today we present a ‘quommentary’ on each of these points, approaching it from the landscape architecture perspective.

The Drosscape Manifesto:

1. “Dross is understood as a natural component of every dynamically evolving city. As such it is an indicator of healthy urban growth.”

Our quommentary: Many have written “never judge the past by the standards of today”. Presentism asserts that current morality is the only valid one. This is fallacious. We have to embrace the industrial processes as what they are, a reflection of progress. We have to acknowledge and accept the fact that industrialization, in some way or another, will always exist. How this process is performed is a whole different topic, and of course, here we can look into all the currents and practices that seek out more sustainable results. Before judging or going rampage against any infrastructure projects or blocking the possibility for progress, we should consider exploring all options that answer how this project can be more beneficial for the environment, for the community, and for the local economy.

2. “Drosscapes accumulate in the wake of socio- and spatio-economic process of deindustrialization, post-Fordism, and technological innovation.”

Our quommentary: “There is an optimum numerical size, beyond which each further increment of inhabitants creates difficulties out of all proportion of the benefits. There is also an optimum area of expansion, beyond which further urban growth tends to paralyze rather than to further important social relationships” — Lewis Mumford in “What Is A City?”.

Of course, Lewis was referring to problems like overpopulation and urban sprawl, but these very factors will determine the number of dross elements in the city and will also condition the manner in which drosscaping should be executed. It is important to accommodate drosscapes in a time frame, addressing a particular problem. But at the same time, a drosscape should also be timeless and inclusive enough to be able to satisfy the needs of all sectors of the population and foster these interpersonal relationships and activities – a perspective Mumfords acknowledges to be the very core of the city.

3. “Drosscapes require the designer to shift thinking from tacit and explicit knowledge (designer as sole expert and authority) to complex interactive and responsive processing (designer as collaborator and negotiator).”

Our quommentary: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” — Cesar E. Chavez.

Interdisciplinary teams, public agencies, and the community should work together as one entity to pursue a better environment. The designer is a catalyst – the piece that starts unscrambling the puzzle of the complexity of the site – allowing themselves to interpret the opportunities offered by this situation as a gamma that may suit the needs of the community, it shall never be a single-minded, one-sided answer for the sake of mere creativity. (more…)

A spread from "Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America"

A spread from “Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America”

The concept of ‘drosscapes’ was coined by Alan Berger in 2006 in his book, Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America. In his preface, he addresses landscape architecture as a discipline blind to the opportunities that drosscapes represented, an blindspot that still affects us today. Academic programs should adopt and be adapted to other outside-the-box philosophies. For example, the first time I heard about Resilient Urbanism was during the UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia. Planners, architects, landscape architects, interior designers, industrial designers, engineers, and other disciplines are coming up with theoretical models as an alternative to challenge our current system and to develop ideas from concept to the object.

Berger’s framework is one of those models encouraging landscape architects to achieve a more holistic, forward-looking planning. A drosscape as Berger defines it is “the creation of a new condition in which vast, wasted, or wasteful land surfaces are modeled in accordance with new programs or new sets of values that remove or replace real or perceived wasteful aspects of geographical space (i.e., redevelopment, toxic waste removal, tax revenues, etc.)”. As a verb, he sees the ‘drosscaping’ as the practice incorporating social programs and activities into the transformed waste landscape. One must not commit the mistake to call an abandoned train station by itself a drosscape, for example. In this instance, a drosscape would be the integration of new horizons onto the unused site, which by itself it is only dross.

In an attempt to understand these urban wastelands according to their perception, Berger proposed classifying a differentiation between waste landscapes (places that store, manage or process urban or industrial waste), wasted landscapes (polluted or abandoned sites), and wasteful landscapes (huge extensions of developed land with virtually no use for the community).

Fashion Island and its surroundings in Newport Beach, CA. Newport center, its parking lots and its surrounding golf clubs may be a good example of a combination of wasteful landscapes. As Berger comments on golf courses, these spaces are the most representative Waste Landscapes of Dwelling (LODs). The city of Newport Beach has around 6 golf courses inland and in its coast, surpassing by far the total acreage by local neighborhood parks and even the Bay Nature Reserve. Besides the beach, there are no urban parks capable of housing big masses recreational activities, most of the recreation areas are located in these residential ‘voids’. Creative Commons Photo by WPPilot

Fashion Island and its surroundings in Newport Beach, CA. Newport center, its parking lots and its surrounding golf clubs may be a good example of a combination of wasteful landscapes. As Berger comments on golf courses, these spaces are the most representative Waste Landscapes of Dwelling (LODs). The city of Newport Beach has around 6 golf courses inland and in its coast, surpassing by far the total acreage by local neighborhood parks and even the Bay Nature Reserve. Besides the beach, there are no urban parks capable of housing big masses recreational activities, most of the recreation areas are located in these residential ‘voids’. Creative Commons Photo by WPPilot

In terms of use, Berger suggests the following classification for these wastelands:

  • Waste Landscapes of Dwelling (LODs).
    In this category we can find amenities that serve nearby residents of housing developments, like trail networks and private golf courses, either open to the public or private facilities. Landscape vegetation areas which serve as reserves or transitions between the infrastructure are also included in this category.
  • Waste Landscapes of Transition (LOTs)
    Here we have those spaces that are victims of real-estate speculation, designed as interstitial land uses: “staging areas, storage yards, parking surfaces, transfer stations, etc.”. One can even say that some of these waste spaces are product of past investment trends, like self-storage facilities, for instance.
  • Waste Landscapes of Infrastructure (LINs)
    In this list we have “easements, setbacks and rights-of-way associated with transportation, electric transmissions, oil and gas pipelines, waterways and railways”. Some of these ROWs have been already explore in the past AHBE Lab posts.
  • Waste Landscapes of Obsolescence (LOOs)
    Places that are built specifically to allocate waste, such as landfills, salvage yards, wastewater treatment facilities and reclamation plants.
  • Waste Landscapes of Exchange (LEXs)
    This category encloses semi-active or non-active urban developments such as decaying shopping centers and vacant regional malls. Supercenters also enter in this category, big individual stores that for one reason or another end up closing to the public.
  • Wasted Landscapes of Contamination (LOCOs)
    Sites here vary a lot more in comparison to the previous categories, since it includes “airports, military bases, ammunition depots and training grounds, and sites used for mining, petroleum and chemical operations”. It entails all those abandoned facilities that are polluted. Most of the sites targeted by the NPL belong to this category.

Have you identified potential sites around you that could be drosscaped? What type of projects would you envision in such places? What would be the impact for the community?