Are Renderings Means or Ends?

There's a question we've run into that has to do with the extent to which architectural renderings track reality. Obviously, the way most renderings are currently populated, there is a lack of correlation between the homogeneity of the rendered demographic and the actual racial demographics of many of the areas being represented. The correction of that imbalance is one of the fundamental aims of this project. 

But what about economic representation? In addition to being mostly young and white, the stereotypical entourage person also tends to appear wealthy and fashionable. It's the classic advertising strategy of showing happy, beautiful, well-off people in order to sell a product, or in this case, a design. But in many of the locations in which those designs are supposed to be manifested, the population isn't wealthy at all. The use of exclusively trendy individuals in a rendering for a low-income site constitutes an intellectual gentrification that frames the project in a significant way before real gentrification ever starts to take hold. 

It's not clear that the opposite approach is right either though. To populate renderings with low-income, even homeless individuals feels in some ways like a resignation to the existing economic inequality that belies architecture's transformative potential. The issue turns on the notion of whether renderings are meant to be a kind of utopian vision for the future, or whether they instead constitute a discrete step toward that greater aspiration. Different projects probably take different approaches, but it's important that we recognize the message we're sending with our representational decisions.

Our goal is to expand this collection of images to encompass a range of economic realities, ages, body types, etc., while recognizing that these diverse traits can be used in both productive and damaging ways. An unconsidered use of a homeless person in a rendering, or the use thereof for the purpose of establishing a more gritty, real aesthetic might be insensitive or even outright offensive if the project doesn't conceptually and normatively engage issues of homelessness. 

But ultimately, in order to address real issues, architecture has to recognize and represent them. Not every project can - or should - address every issue, but our intention here is to provide student architects with a range of possibilities that allow for thoughtful representation of real people. As always, this is meant to be an ongoing dialogue, so please express your thoughts below, or by sending us an email!