The Secret Lives of the Tiny People In Architectural Renderings
By Alissa Walker
19 March 2015
Selling a big urban idea isn't easy. More than ever, architects rely on jaw-dropping images to convince their clients to spend millions on their projects. And to do it, they fill their fantastical renderings with people—people who have a story all their own.
These denizens of the designed future are the subject of Designing People, a show that's up through May 19. From refined watercolors of the early 1900s to today's hip urban landscapes, the architectural rendering has evolved from an elegant illustration to a high-tech marketing tool, and the people populating them have evolved as well.
After arriving at Berkeley's archives 17 years ago, co-curator Waverly Lowell found herself tucking away intriguing architectural drawings as she stumbled upon them, especially ones which incorporated an usual aesthetic. With her fellow curator Chris Marino, she quickly realized there wasn't much available in books about the history of the people who populated these drawings.
The "scalies" themselves reveal much about prevailing social norms. Many of the images in Designing People are from the midcentury modern era and it's not just the fashion that reveals current trends. The drawings were illustrating the architecture, says Lowell, but it was the people who were marketing an aspirational lifestyle. "They were selling the idea to the client."
In the last few years, architectural renderings have undergone a strange revolution, becoming almost over-the-top parodies of themselves. As projects evolve to concern more about parks and public spaces, they're not as much about bombastic design as they are about community-focused improvements, so the people and how they're actually using the space become even more important.
Today, even if the plans themselves are half-baked, you'll rarely see a hand-drawn person. People need to see people—faces, expressions, clothing, lifestyles that they immediately identify with. They need to see representations of themselves.