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Bake in digital visualization

by Matthew Gifford

Visual outputs have become less like stand-alone works of art and more like sketches of yore. Through the use of new architectural technologies, we’ve been able to reconfigure our design process to incorporate space visualization in real time, adding a level of fluidity and immediacy that was lacking in the past.


Previously, visualization of spaces was accomplished by creating renderings (digital or by hand), completely separate from the design process. These undertakings were labor intensive, requiring both huge time and monetary investments. As such, renderings were often treated as an additional service for clients.

“Digital visualization is an exciting—and valuable—way to enrich the design process.”

Matthew Gifford, AIA, director, Shepley Bulfinch

Today, we are able to integrate visualization into our design process. Using software, such as Enscape, designers can render three-dimensional spaces almost automatically—allowing teams to see the manifestation of a design much more quickly, and utilize images to improve outcomes. While the images are not quite photo-real, they convey enough contextual information (color, texture, lighting, etc.) to allow an ‘outside’ stakeholder to easily understand the building.

So, what’s the key to making this shift work for your project? Bake visualization into the design process:

  • Create a work flow that incorporates the use of visualization for day-to-day, week-to-week, design check-ins.
  • Utilize visualization as a design tool rather than just a result of ‘design.’
  • Think of the outputs as sketches, not renderings.


It takes the right team and there is a bit of tech learning curve, but digital visualization is an exciting—and valuable—way to enrich the design process.

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