Despite what some architects might wish, image is frequently everything. In a discipline predisposed to the visual and in an age saturated with design confections, a high-quality rendering can help a project stand out from a crowded field. Achieving this goal is the task of Guillaume Paturel, the director of By-Encore, a Brooklyn, N.Y.–based architectural visualization firm.
For even for the most complex project, renderings can communicate the essence of the design concisely. In this capacity, they become powerful—and persuasive—tools. Calling them “absolutely essential,” Roger Soto, a senior vice president at HOK and the design director of its Houston office, says, “You must have quality renderings in order to compete effectively.”
Or, as Paturel simply puts it, “Renderings win competitions.”
Their benefits extend beyond the competitive edge, though. Sudhir Jambhekar, a senior partner at New York–based FXFowle Architects, has worked with Paturel on more than 15 projects. “Clients expect visualization. They want to see what the buildings look like,” he says. But renderings also offer the designers themselves a chance to examine a project. “Internally, we study the project, test our own ideas, see if what we have designed is right,” Jambhekar notes, adding, “I would recommend highly that visualization is done by outside consultants. It brings in a different perspective, and it frees up valuable time for design.”
Yet not all renderings are created equal. The best communicate “more than just the raw realism of a project,” says Soto. “They have a story to tell. They should capture the spirit of a site.” This is where hiring a specialist such as By-Encore is critical. Colin Montoute, a senior designer at FXFowle, says the firm is “exceptional at creating context, understanding … the place in which the architecture sits.” Jambhekar agrees: “The sky is not the same in New York as it is in Dubai. The blueness is very different. By-Encore captures that.”
For Paturel, architectural renderings are an art. As such, they should not just meticulously convey a project’s program and design elements—they should also convey light and shadow, what he calls the “heart” of a project. And Paturel aims to convey a single message with each image. “You have to show just one thing, whether it’s one building, one aspect of a building, or one effect,” he explains. “When you look at a rendering and you understand quickly what’s happening, then you’ve got it.”
Likening renderings to film, Paturel underscores the importance of frame and shot. “The most important thing is the point of view,” he says. “I find the place to establish the perspective.” This, he suggests, is key to a quality rendering. Drawing a distinction from physical models, which lay projects bare and allow anyone to view them flexibly, Paturel cites the rendering’s capacity to dictate perspective. “You have to control what the person sees,” he explains. “I want you to look in this direction in this particular moment.”
As with many fields, architectural visualization has undergone systemic changes because of technological advances. “When I first started, for about eight years, I worked with pastels and collage,” says Paturel, who studied architecture in his hometown of Marseilles, France. With a passion to create images, the young artist started a firm in Paris in the mid-1990s, working with a kit of now-outdated tools. Seven years ago, however, Paturel turned to digital technologies—primarily Autodesk 3ds Max and Photoshop—and has used them ever since to execute renderings.
The artistry, however, remains. “The tools today are very powerful, but you have to know how to use them well,” says Paturel. “If you buy a great guitar, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to play beautiful music. Even though I do all my work on computer, that early experience was very valuable.”
Over 15 years, Paturel has rebranded himself periodically (previous monikers have included Graphic Work and Louis & Fils), and he has maintained a presence in France and New York for several years. When he relocated to New York in 2007—his office currently has fewer than a dozen employees—he created By-Encore to reflect this new shift.
And his clients couldn’t be happier. “There is a definite artistry in what By-Encore does,” says HOK’s Soto, “with the way they manipulate light, express materials, do the entourage,”—the people that appear in renderings—“and with the views they select. They don’t just inform,” he concludes. “They seduce.”
But despite the technology available to Paturel and the expertise he possesses, it still comes down to the product itself. “The best way to do a nice rendering is to have a nice building,” says Paturel. “It’s very difficult to make a good rendering with bad architecture.”