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Renderings vs. reality (commentary)


In the latest Barber Brief, Alicia Barber discussed how (and why) to evaluate images of proposed development projects. For the full missive, click here.

By Alicia Barber

With Reno City Council still on its summer hiatus and no Planning Commission meeting this week, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss something that plays a large (and largely under-examined) role in the perceptions of a proposed development project: architectural renderings.

Renderings, of course, are those colorful digital images that architects, builders, planners, and developers generate to depict what a proposed building, complex, or larger project would look like in three dimensions.

They are used to secure investment or funding (think new university buildings). They are often submitted along with other plans and drawings as part of the application process for various permits. They can be released to the media to generate excitement and community buy-in. And when a project is subject to public review, they are included in the applicant’s presentation to help secure its approval.

Renderings are enormously helpful, since many of us find it difficult, if not impossible, to look at a structure’s floor plan or elevation (a drawing of a single façade) and picture what it would look like in the real world.  Renderings solve that problem for us. And because they do what most of us cannot, it’s easy to take them at face value. We want to know how a building will look in a place, and renderings give us the answer.

Or do they? As with anything produced by humans as a means to an end—whether it’s a press release, an advertisement, or an Instagram post—renderings are created to show their subject in the very best light. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily intended to deceive or mislead, but it does mean that they–quite literally–don’t always present the full picture.

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The devil in the details (commentary)

Reno City Council returns this Wednesday, July 26th with some major decisions related to downtown revitalization.