What's in a rendering

At lunch last week my friend Nick asked me "what's an architectural rendering?" and I was a little bit taken aback. In my own vocabulary I count 'sketch' and 'model' at least on the same level as 'rendering'.. and doesn't everyone know what sketches and models are?

Rendering from a recent design project.
Total-block design set in the San Juan Barrio of Quito, Ecuador.

For some reason when my friend asked about architectural renderings though I was taken by surprise. In my mind, a rendering is the natural culmination of an architectural design proposal. It's the picture that allows someone to enter into the world of the 3D model and experience in glossy 2D what exactly has been proposed as an architectural design.

Perhaps my reasoning for this is unfounded, but ever since my first day of college the idea of 2D 'representation' as a medium for communicating a spatial architectural message was the modus operandi of the design process.  I call this idea a 'rendering' and around other students I haven't had to question the idea much.

But in fact an architectural rendering is not just the end product of a spatial visualization.  It's not just the money shot  that gets thrown around archdaily and suckerpunch.

Architectural rendering, courtesy of Bjarke Ingalls Group. Would any of this
actually happen at once? Probably not. But isn't that the idea.

I'm beginning to realize that a rendering is an immersion not into the actual world of a design, but into the conceptual world that a designer has imagined; it is something of a best-of-all-possible-worlds scenario where just like the picture above, things may happen in a 2D image that would never happen contemporaneously. The sort of thing that makes you ask, 'is that a couple making out on a balcony as kids play on snow-covered car? Oh, but there's a building in there also and I guess that's what I'm supposed to be looking at.'

Is this an architectural rendering? I'd say yes but just barely.
Image courtesy of SuckerPUNCH

In my opinion the Merriam-Webster definition of render does little to support the public knowledge of what an architectural rendering actually means.  After three definitions that seem to indicate 'render' as an act of passing an object along to someone by means of physical conveyance, the fourth definition strikes perhaps closest to what I would call the proper definition of an architectural rendering.

4 b (1) :  to reproduce or represent by artistic means.

But even this definition falls short; I propose that a rendering is not only the artistic means of reproduction or representation, but also the immersion of the viewer into a world created by the artist/designer. For that reason some of my favorite architectural renders are those like the work created by concept artist Bruno Werneck; allusional but not defined. Atmospheric, but not intangible.  If architectural drawings could expand to include this sort of rendering style, I think it would broaden the horizon of the profession to encompass a much more immersive experience than what is commonly associated with architectural design proposals.

Bruno Werneck concept sketch from the game 1313