August 2012 – Inver Grove Heights, Minn. – Where did all the protractors go? What about the colored pencils, drafting boards and sketch paper? Sketched floor plans or models representing an architectural design are few and far between these days. Instead, when a client sits down to meet with an architect, he or she most likely will find a series of SketchUp vignettes or a photorealistic walkthrough. For many, the great thing about this advancement is how it brings the project to life and bridges the gap between what the designer visualizes and what the client sees.

For most people, 2D floorplans and other standard drawings can be difficult to read. As programs such as SketchUp, Revit and 3D Max continue to evolve, renderings and walk-through animations become more and more realistic. Additions like functionality for custom materials, lighting and finishes begin to give these renderings an almost photographic quality. “Clients not only see what the space looks like but they can discover what it would be like to be in it,” says Kevin Dummer, KOMA designer. “They can see where their windows will be and how their desks may feel.” The better someone understands the proposed outcome the more they can relate to it, feel it and get excited about it – it becomes real and it becomes theirs.

Renderings and 3D drawings are not just a benefit for the client. “I have an idea in my head and getting it into 3D helps me to understand it better. And it helps to explore it, play with it and modify it,” says Corey Schmitt, KOMA Designer. It is a tool that can easily bring to life what is imagined. “SketchUp  changed the industry in a way that made it easier for designers to do what they’re trained to do in their heads,” adds KOMA Principal Architect, Steve Iaria.

So what’s next? Using advanced programs for smartphones and iPads there is the ability to “see” projects virtually. “I can create a model, upload it to your phone and you would be able to actually go to the future site and virtually see your building and walk through it using the phone as the viewing glass,” says Dummer. With advances like this and other virtual reality programs, clients as well as the design and construction teams will be able to further understand and experience a project before construction even begins.

The future of architectural visualization is an exciting one. Still, it is important not to forget about the protractors, colored pencils and drafting boards. Iaria says, “Sketching is still an integral tool for design. But the exciting new technology tools that we have at our fingertips give us the ability to do more than we were ever able to do before. When it all comes together, the sky is the limit.”