The quest for formal schemes is an essential mission of architectural design. When making design decisions about architectural forms, the designer gives intellectual efforts of conception, formalization, and evaluation that are interconnected in coherent feedback loops. As architectural visualization yields important evaluative data about designed forms, the form-finding workflow will be much more productive if the designer extensively utilizes and incorporates visualization data. Preferably, visualization should be a pre-design action: it starts before any formal ideas come to the designer and continually exists and evolves in the information feedback loop of design decision-making.
Spearheading the form-finding efforts, pre-design visualization may play several roles in different design stages, integrating visual data with other essential design information for the designer:
- Visualization of Physical Contexts
In the early stage of design, the designer analyzes many contextual factors, combing through varieties of cultural, social, economic, physical, and technological conditions that situate the project. For projects in the urban environment, physical environments surrounding the project site are particularly influential for the designer who ardently pursues qualities of daylighting, views, streetscape, way-finding, and spatial cognition. Applying a pre-design visualization approach, the designer will be able to draft 3D formal concepts with reference of accurate visual representations of geometries, colors, materials, tones, and shadows in the context. Such a workflow will prompt the designer to effectively engage some design issues (e.g. the intricate interplay of light, shadows, and tones between existing and proposed structures; conflicting views for occupants of neighboring buildings) in early concepts, constituting a significant comparative advantage over the conventional design process based on post-design visualization. For beginning designers, this is especially precious as they may not consider these issues early on for the lack of experience.
- Visualization of Design Statistics
Architectural design typically requires the designer to recognize and coordinate many interrelated, quantifiable design variables, such as floor area ratio, population/unit density, coverage, etc. For designers, it is a vital capability (and a sign of maturity as well) to give inspired formal solutions with all key design variables meeting the project’s financial and regulatory requirements. In a traditional design process, the visual implications of abstract design variables are not immediately available when the designer conceives a preliminary scheme. Pre-design visualization can afford very efficient information feedback loops by combining the display of design variables with the visualization of building forms. On-screen widgets can provide the designer with statistic information of design variables in correspondence with adapting building forms.
- Simulation of Human Vision and Behaviors
Through senses and behaviors, users interact with the built environment in many delicate and complex ways. Yet, architectural designers have been lacking means to immediately evaluate the sensual and behavioral implications of their proposals under development. Thanks to the technological advancements in gaming industry, computer-generated architectural visualization today can precisely simulate humans’ visual perception and behaviors in real world. With pre-design visualization, the designer can be informed with a range of evaluative data about how human users may visually and behaviorally respond to a designed form and revise the scheme accordingly. For example, a sophisticated real-time visualization from the first-person perspective simulates how human eyes observes the physical environment through natural mechanisms such as automatic depth of field (DOF) and adaptive exposure, prompting the designer to modify the spatial layout to optimize human visual experiences. A third-person perspective visualization may generate visual evidence about how a human’s body position can adjust to different physical dimensions.