Whether it’s for a prospective client, a jury, or the public, architects often face the task of conveying their three-dimensional visions in just two dimensions. Though PowerPoint has become the de facto choice for slide-style business presentations, a variety of tools and programs are available. And as these four architects have found, a winning presentation is not so much about a singular showpiece, but rather an exhibition that curates responses born from video, animation, stills, and conviction.


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    Credit: Peter Arkle

Eric Keune, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

“I always like to begin by telling the audience that I’ll present things in interpretive dance,” says Erik Keune, AIA, design director at SOM’s Chicago office. Inevitably, he launches a PowerPoint deck, “but within that there are variations and eddies that come off that river,” he says.

For example, to present interior spaces such as lobbies and public spaces, “We model it digitally using either Autodesk 3DS Max (Autodesk, $3,495) or Rhino (Robert McNeel & Associates, $995) and then stitch it together in a panorama,” he says. The result has been enlivened by iPads, which change screen imagery in response to how one moves the device. “It’s more immediate than doing it on your computer. But, you can only hold it from a single vantage point. If we were to use video-game software modeling that allows a large database of imagery at low resolution, then that would be the next logical extension.”

After the firm started using the panoramas last year, “you’d see people running around the office holding iPads,” Keune says. “Now that it’s been six months, the frothy euphoria has worn off. But I still think there’s some blood left in that stone.”


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    Credit: Peter Arkle

Yan Krymsky, Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design

“When doing a presentation, a lot of times we’ll have PowerPoint on one screen,” says Yan Krymsky, senior designer at Yazdani Studio in Los Angeles. “Then there are 3D applications like Autodesk Showcase (Autodesk, $995) or 3DS Max where we can move the models around in real time. We’re trying to use gaming engines, but I don’t think we’ve used that successfully with a client yet.”

That’s because Crysis (Electronic Arts, $20), the gaming engine Krymsky likes best, involves “a guy running around with a gun,” he says. “You can’t seem to get rid of it. But it has great things about it. You can make contact with the objects in the space, and that adds a level of reality.” The program is also “multiuser for people to interact together. The ability to see somebody else’s avatar and take a tour with them—there’s a lot of potential,” Krymsky says. “One of the things that we take for granted is the sense of the design you can get from operating the controls. In a gaming environment, you can feel the space in a much more realistic way.”


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    Credit: Peter Arkle

John Peterson, Public Architecture

Although San Francisco–based, nonprofit firm Public Architecture (PA) uses PowerPoint, it has been looking for other affordable alternatives. Prezi (Prezi, free to $159 per year), a cloud-based presentation software that the firm has tried, is “like a spider diagram,” says PA’s founder and president John Peterson, AIA. “You’re pulling things forward and pushing them back.” Prezi allows users to zoom in and out of broader, wall-like conglomerations of circle- and square-shaped slots of information. Prezi isn’t just a tweaked version of PowerPoint, Peterson says: “It’s … about presenting in a new way, rather than just improving what we’re already doing.”

But Peterson believes that it’s a mistake to rely solely on projector-based presentations. “The dynamic changes completely when the light’s out and everyone’s staring at the same thing at the same time,” he says. “So often we’re presenting by handing out a bound book. When you leave behind printed materials, people can revisit it. Publishing’s gotten so cheap now that you can do one-off books or a short run very inexpensively. And one thing with the iPad is that you can have a presentation that’s digital, but everyone can move through it at their own pace.”


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    Credit: Peter Arkle

Jonathan Smith, Lake|Flato Architects

“Lately we’ve begun by using blogs as our client interaction, even before the interview,” says Jonathan Smith, AIA, of Lake|Flato Architects in San Antonio. “We will set up a blog using Ning (Ning, $19.95 to $599.90 per year) and typically invite the consultant teams to join it at that stage. It’s password protected, and you can see all of the members: your landscape architect, sustainability consultant, engineer. We encourage people to post with site photos, analysis, and items of inspiration. Anyone on the team can comment on any of the blog posts, and you can also have discussions.”

Lake|Flato first set up a blog for a project interview “where we were one of the few firms that wasn’t local,” Smith says. “It was a way of showing the client that we already had a well-oiled team and were already communicating. We … use it to demonstrate how the team is working together and having fun. It allows you to show more of your personality. We typically invite the client, then, to join the blog and see the process that went into the initial design. Clients have responded pretty well. We also try to have that same blog live on through the life of the job. The interview blog on many jobs morphs into something focused not just on clients but also on user groups.”