Henry Goss Architects


BD Online Blog

Is It Real?

“Is that built?” a colleague asked, as he glanced at my computer screen displaying an image of Foster & Partners’ latest Middle Eastern effort. “Not sure,” I replied, squinting at the screen.

The world of computer-generated imagery in architecture has long fascinated me. As a student I was often drawn, like so many, to flashy architectural graphics while casually leafing though the periodicals seeking inspiration for a project.

My initial enthusiasm began to wane during my degree, as I began to discover that all that glistens certainly is not gold – and that all too often upon closer inspection these gleaming examples of architecture’s bright future descended into decidedly mediocre commercial dross with little in the way of meaningful architectural content.

By diploma, a combination of fear of the cussed logic and digital pedantry of the computer, and a determination not to be seduced by the cheap and the tawdry, resulted in my almost total abandonment of computers in favour of the humble pencil.

After being thrust into the big wide world away from university’s sanctuary of amniotic security, the inevitable shift back to the computer had to be made. Struck by this unavoidable truth, the only way to survive was to excel. CGI suddenly had renewed meaning as I now understood the difference between hollow bling and effective graphic use of the tool, and what followed was an enduring love-hate relationship with all things digital.

Views of CGI remain polarised among my colleagues. Some regard it as overly commercial, others think it has become too realistic and lacks the evocative nature of more abstract forms of visual representation, which can encapsulate the essence of an idea so much more effectively.

It is true to say that it is one of the most misused mediums in design and is just as ineffective in the wrong hands as the pencil. The great concern, however, is that to the untrained eye this is not always apparent.

As a manipulative tool to convince clients and planners, it is frequently abused. I have on more than one occasion heard tales of dismayed clients visiting their newly completed “bought-off-plan” houses and realising with shrieks of horror that their 10sq m bedroom isn’t in fact the palatial boudoir the distorted fisheye computer image had them believe.

Having recently set up my own practice, I am once again rediscovering the benefits of CGI as a useful means of exploring and explaining ideas, not to mention the obvious publicity benefits that result.

Having been out of the graphic side of things for a while, what is striking to me is how computer-generated images have almost become an obligatory part of the architect’s normal services. Plans, elevations and 3D sketches will no longer suffice.

In a risk-averse world of instant gratification the idea of seeing – if not experiencing – the finished building before it’s even out of the ground may feel a little like opening your Christmas presents before the big day or finding out the sex of your baby in utero. Where’s the mystery?

I still, however cannot stifle the first-year architecture student inside every time I see the little pixelated dots of the render output gradually coming into sharper focus on the screen, or the anticipation of what may (or may not) have appeared by morning following a night of frenzied micro-processing.

I’m sure my feelings regarding this imaginary graphic world will change many times more in the future. One thing is beyond doubt, however, I’m keeping my pencil.



henry goss