( Courtesy of the artist <a href="http://touchon.com/" target="_blank">Cecil Touchon</a> and the <a href="http://searspeyton.com/html/artistresults.asp?artist=80&testing=true">Sears/Peyton Gallery</a> i
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Bloomberg Tower was completed in 2005. The New York Times Tower was completed in 2007. In their planning stages, they were each depicted in complex renderings available for view online, intended to show how they would fit in with their surroundings.
These virtual constructions, designed for marketing purposes, have no real utility in construction, but they can mean everything to big-name architects called "starchitects" and newcomers alike.
Geoff Manaugh is senior editor at Dwell Magazine. He says that architects are waking up to the fact that if you can post a sexy rendering of some building that may never be made, online, you can increase the likelihood that it actually will be made. GEOFF MANAUGH: Suddenly people are going to want to see that building. They're going to want to see it happen in the way that we see a preview come up on the Internet for a movie that doesn't come out ‘til next summer, and you're sort of building up hype.
I mean, the rendering software that the architects are now using do produce renderings that are almost hypnotic. You could look at buildings that don't exist for hours because they're so beautiful.
And there's a lot of software that is actually crisscrossing back and forth between architecture and special effects industries, especially in Hollywood, where the exact same software that people used to model say explosions or CGI for the film Iron Man, that same software package is now being used by architecture firms. And so the new public appeal of architecture is almost entirely visual. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you talk about buildings that don't yet exist. You may also be talking about buildings that can't exist. There's been some controversy over some of these renderings where the trees and the scale and so much of it simply doesn't reflect the kind of environment it's going to be in or could be in. And, if you show an aerial rendering, it seems to reduce its imprint on the surrounding environment. GEOFF MANAUGH: The way I sort of describe it is that they're almost like science fiction stories, that it's a way of presenting the world so that it looks vaguely the same but there's something not quite right, and that's that you have added a building or an entire complex of buildings or an entire city to the skyline.
And so, you're dealing with a kind of collective fantasy, that you're presenting a view of the world as it may exist, you're not trying to reflect the world as it is.
A good analogy though is to stick with this film idea which is that a rendering produced by an architecture firm is very much like the description of a film that a director would give you. I mean, if Steven Spielberg says that, you know, he's just directed the greatest action film of all time with non-stop laughs and it's fun for the whole family, you're not going to just post that onto your blog and say, oh this is the film coming out from Steven Spielberg. You're going to question that a little bit. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or when Wolf says that CNN has the best political [LAUGHING] team on television? GEOFF MANAUGH: [LAUGHS] Yeah, that's Wolf's rendering of CNN, as it were. So, I mean, that's really all an architect is doing. They're just presenting literally the bestlooking image they possibly can of their building, and they're doing it not only as a standalone artwork but they're doing it as an act of persuasion. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are there any telltale signs that a rendering is out to manipulate you? GEOFF MANAUGH: To be honest, I mean, the very act of it being a rendering is sort of inherently out to mislead you, in the sense that that's kind of the point, you know. There was a time where producing renderings was almost irrelevant.
I have found quite frequently that when you get in touch with an architect because you're interested in a certain project that they're doing, that they don't even have renderings of it. They have floor plans or they have sections or they have other forms of project documentation that are actually useful for constructors or useful for the contractor or for developers or for the people that are going to move in.
But the rendering as a kind of unified floor-to-ceiling visual image of architecture isn't even something that is necessary in order to grasp a project. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You say that these renderings aren't the best way to penetrate to the truth of an architectural idea. But in the movies, you always have that scene of the master builder standing in front of his, you know, 3-D design. GEOFF MANAUGH: There's the scene in Die Hard where the German terrorists have seized the Nakatomi Building in Century City, Los Angeles, and they sit down with the head of the Nakatomi Corporation and they're at a table that's covered in models, models of all these high-rise buildings that this corporation wants to building all over the world. [CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] ALAN RICKMAN AS HANS GRUBER: When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. Oh, that's beautiful. I always enjoyed to make models when I was a boy, the exactness, the attention to every conceivable detail. It's beautiful. [END CLIP] GEOFF MANAUGH: And there's this kind of idea that architects are all sort of power-mad and that, you know, urban planners, architects, military generals sort of lurk in a dark room hovering over an architectural model, spying on the city that they want to take over.
There are famous photographs of Saddam Hussein pointing down at architectural models of the Baghdad to come that, you know, obviously he never had a chance to build, or of Hitler and his architect, Albert Speer looking down at their plans for Germania, which was going to be, you know, Berlin 2.0, this gigantic city of marble statuary and huge capital domes.
The model of this kind of future city or future architecture is definitely something that is supposed to bring out the power-mad or bring out hubris or ambition in people who gaze upon it. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Geoff, thank you so much. GEOFF MANAUGH: You're welcome. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Geoff Manaugh blogs about architectural conjecture, urban speculation and landscape futures at Bldgblog – building blog - .blogspot.com, and is an editor at Dwell Magazine.