Reality Check

Now in its seventh year, the Canadian Architect Art of CAD competition attracted a total of 45 entries for 2001. This is off last year’s record showing of 63, but is consistent with previous years’ numbers. Applied Renderings continued to dominate submissions with 26. While this is down from last year’s 37, as a proportion of the total this category remained virtually identical to previous years. Entries to the Theoretical Rendering category bounced back from last year’s low of three to six, and submissions to the Applied Dynamic category shrank from 2000’s high of 18 back to 1999’s previous record of eight. Theoretical Dynamic entries remained consistent with last year at five.

Generally speaking, submissions to this year’s competition backed away from the more experimental flavour of previous editions of the Art of CAD. Whereas last year’s competition attracted a number of dynamic entries that embraced provocative graphics, sophisticated soundtracks and underlying narratives from popular culture, this year the jury was presented with a selection of more conventionally architectural presentations. This may be a measure of how mainstream, even workaday, CAD rendering has become within architectural practice, as compared to the more cutting-edge status it enjoyed just a few years ago.

The competition was once again sponsored by Autodesk, Southam, and Edmonton’s Works Festival, where selected entries will be exhibited from June 22 to July 4, 2001. Prizes for the winners in the various categories are: for Applied Rendering, Autodesk Architectural Desktop R3; for Theoretical Rendering, AutoCad LT 2000i; for Applied Dynamic, 3D Studio VIZ R3i; and for Theoretical Dynamic, a $1,000 cash prize from Southam.

This year’s jurors were Douglas MacLeod of Canmore, Alberta and Magnus Clarke of Toronto. MacLeod is a contributing editor to Canadian Architect and a specialist in computer aided design. He is director of projects for NetEra Alliance for advanced computing and networking in Alberta. Clarke is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Architecture and Vice President of Design and Simulation at Design Vision Inc., a Toronto-based consulting firm offering a wide variety of branding, media and identity design services. Clarke is in charge of environmental design and simulation, with a focus on retail design. Recent clients include Eatons, Nike, The Hudson’s Bay Company, Shoppers Drug Mart and Rogers. Design Vision’s entry Save the Seventh Floor (College Park Restoration) was selected as the winner of the 1999 Art of CAD Applied Dynamic category. MP

Jury Comments

This year’s submissions show that CAD and 3D modeling have become everyday tools of the industry. In some parts of the country, such as Montreal, there is a strong regional style developing in the work that we saw, and many conventions are beginning to evolve across the board. The downside to this increasing familiarity with the tools–which is perhaps encouraged by inexpensive machine power and software–is less innovation in how these tools are used.

Previously, the investment of time and resources required to produce three-dimensional work was so great that there was perhaps more thought as to how it should or could be used. When a single frame took many hours to render there was a fair amount of time left to contemplate the composition of each and every camera move. Today, with a fraction of yesterday’s investment one can render minutes of footage overnight.

I wonder whether we have begun to trade off qualitative aspects of the work for quantitative ones. I know from my own experience that some of my favourite rendering software has been “optimized” to offer faster performance, but with an obvious trade-off in the quality of the finished product. It is possible, however, to imagine that the same forces of competition that compel designers to optimize the quantitative aspects of their process will encourage the development of the qualitative aspects of 3D through innovation and exploration.

The strongest work this year showed a level of maturity in lighting, composition, and camera work. This year’s musical artist of choice as heard on a number of soundtracks was Moby, a milder choice than last year’s Nine Inch Nails, which indicates a possible aversion to offending one’s audience. It was noteworthy that many dynamic entries had little to offer in the way of audio at all! There was none of the music video approach that was seen previously, which is surprising, as it seems that this is a visual language that resonates with today’s media-savvy public. Perhaps there is a schism between conventional architectural representation and the frenetic media that we experience daily that could be explored further through these tools. Hopefully in the future we’ll see work that continues to build on the exploration of the Art of CAD seen in this year’s entries. Magnus Clarke

Here is the secret to winning a prize in the Art of CAD competition: submit something–anything–in the theoretical rendering category. In the past, theoretical projects dominated the competition but in recent years this category has been consistently under-represented. As judges we would be delighted to see more renderings like the one by Schawn Jasmann that won the competition in 1997. This category cries out for more abstract, edgy, off-the-wall work. I know it’s being produced in droves in our schools of architecture, so what’s stopping students from submitting it?

Overall, this year’s entries were more prosaic than last year. Gone were the sex clubs and the soundtracks by Nine Inch Nails, replaced with a multitude of practical projects that are actually under construction. No CDs or Web-based materials were submitted but there were plenty of videos. In other words, architects have lots of real work this year and this was reflected in the submissions.

The work also demonstrated how CAD has become a commodity. It is so fully integrated into office practice that it seems to be taken for granted. While as recently as last year a number of the submissions were created on powerful Hewlett-Packard or Silicon Graphics workstations, this year all the winners and honourable mentions were created on Apple or Intel machines. This gave many of the entries a more home-made feel than before, but it emphasizes that you no longer have to be a programming genius with access to supercomputers to produce credible renderings.

Over the past few years it has also become evident that there is a distinctive Montreal approach to rendering. From videos by Saucier + Perrotte in 1997 to those of N.o.m.a.d.e. this year, there seems to be a shared and consistent sense of light and shadow, Modernist styling, night scenes and sophistication (Martin Leblanc, who worked on both these submissions, is the common denominator in this equation). As CAD becomes capable of richer forms of expression, we may see the development of additional regional and personal styles. Douglas MacLeod