Computer-generated renderings of new development buildings in New York City have become ubiquitous and often hyper-realistic in the past decade, in turn shaking up an industry that has become increasingly more dependent on technology.
Real estate blog YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), a play on NIMBY (Not In My Backyard), probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for renderings. The site, which focuses primarily on new development, frequently “unveilsˮ newly-released renderings of buildings under development.
To many, renderings are real estate design porn — like a trailer previewing a movie, it’s a highlight reel of what’s to come.
When Two Trees Development released renderings created by SHoP Architects of its planned mixed-use project at the former Domino Sugar Factory site on the South Williamsburg Waterfront, the stunning visuals were featured in New York Magazine in a report on the project.
Up until the mid to late 1990’s, renderings, or 3D visualizations, were still hand-drawn by artists.
“The technology has steadily changed with the introduction of AutoCAD in the early 90’s, and as we migrate through the advancement of technology, so has the ability to render,” said Marc Spector, principal at architectural firm Spector Group, a NYC-based firm that creates all of its renderings in-house.
“Now the technology is so good…you can’t tell the difference between a photo of the finished product and the renderings.”
For Spector, who went to architecture school in the 1980’s, the slide ruler was the standard tool, (which he still keeps on his desk and uses “every dayˮ) rather than AutoCAD or Grasshopper 3D.
“It’s a critical part of education that you can come out knowing how to do 3D Max and Revit, and all this technology,” said Spector. “We look for that when we interview and hire.”
While some firms like The Spector Group create renderings in-house, digital design firms like Dbox, which recently did the impressive renderings for 2WTC, are often hired by developers.
Giuseppe Sama, principal of his firm, Giuseppe Sama Architect, has been in the business for a decade. The company works on range of projects, from hospitality and residential to retail and commercial, including a restaurant in New Jersey and a luxury private residence on Staten Island.
Sama, who studied architecture at Roma Tre University in Italy, learned how to use 2D software like AutoCAD and Adobe Photoshop while in school, but it wasn’t until after he graduated that he took courses in 3D graphics using programs Autodesk 3D Studio Max and Rhinoceros.
“3D modeling programs have added new features that allow architects and designers the opportunity to create extremely photorealistic renderings,” said Sama.
The lighting is the most important part of a rendering, he said.
“It provides an illusion, adding greater depth and realism,” said Sama. “Without lighting, the rendering appears flat.”
Indeed, the overwhelming majority of recently-released renderings from high-profile projects are shiny works of art, bathed in gorgeous lighting.
The process of creating a rendering often includes everyone involved in the project — the developer, marketing team, and design and architect team. This provides a foundation in terms of concept and direction, said Sama.
“Creating a rendering is a time-intensive and expensive process,” he said. “We also conduct several tests to see which material — such as stone, glass, brick, etc. — is right for the project.
“Having to re-create a rendering can slow down an actual process. Once everything is agreed upon during the drafting stage, the actual rendering is created by the designer.”
A big misconception in the industry is the time it takes to create a rendering, said Sama.
“Many times I’m asked, ‘Can you do this rendering by tonight? Or by tomorrow?’” he said. “The answer is usually no. It takes about seven to 15 hours to create a high resolution rendering. So when you want to get a quality product, you have to build in the time to get one.”
And it’s not just time firms have to factor into their plans — it’s money, too.
“Good renderings aren’t cheap,” said Deborah Rieders, a marketing and salesperson at Corcoran who is currently working on sales at 212 North 9th Street in Williamsburg.
Rieders said they can range from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on the quality of the rendering. And those numbers are per individual rendering.
“These days, developers are selling things before the building is even complete, so to have renderings is extremely important — it allows you to market early,” she said. “People have a hard time walking through a construction site. I think without renderings, it’s almost impossible to stare at an empty space and understand what a space can accommodate.”
Though the costs seem high, in making the renderings, the sky’s the limit in terms of the furniture and accessories that appear in them.
“When we get renderings made, we pick out furniture and they spec it based on real furniture,” said Rieders. “We’ll go to our favorite furniture stores in Manhattan and pick out a $50,000 sofa that we’d never use (in staging),” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to spend a lot of money without actually spending money.”
One potential drawback to such sophisticated imagery is someone’s expectation vs. reality. What if the delivered product wasn’t what they expected from seeing the renderings?
For Sama and Spector, it hasn’t been an issue.
“We make it very clear that these are artistic renderings and, to the best of our ability, we will reflect the project but not a guarantee by any means,” said Spector.
“The renderings that I do are very detailed, and because we have worked together collaboratively in the drafting stage, the customer is vey satisfied with the finished product,” said Sama.
“Fortunately, the end result has always been in line with the expectations of my clients.”