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In today’s digital universe, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between a photograph and a rendering. Take our visual quiz to see if you can discern: are these architectural images real or renderings?

In the March/April issue of Azure, writer Nicholas Hune-Brown explores the blurring distinction between the modern built environment and the imagery used by firms and photographers to document it. Some parties, he discovered, prefer a realistic approach, while others have no qualms about touching up and Photoshopping objects out. While there’s nothing wrong with showing off a project in the best possible light, ever-improving digital tools have made it almost impossible to discern the real from the unreal, the actual from the doctored.

In this first instalment of an online series on the subject, we challenge you to spot the difference between a photograph of a building and a computer rendering of one. The task is harder than you might expect – a credit to both photographers and rendering artists. The answers are listed at the bottom of the page.


1. Marina One, by Ingenhoven Architects, in Singapore

Ingenhoven Architects’ 360-hectare Marina One is comprised of four green “mountains” that rise around a central landscaped park. Inspired by paddy fields, the terraced building features multi-storey gardens studded with tropical flora. Is this image dreamy or just a dream?


2. Alai, by Zaha Hadid Architects, on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico

The residential building blocks of this ZHA project are connected by an elevated platform that winds through Mayan Riviera greenlands, the Caribbean Sea and Nichupté Lagoon. It’s a celebration of the natural world, but are its images natural?


3. Le Maison des Fondateurs, by BIG, in Le Brassus, Switzerland

Audemars de Piaget, the luxury Swiss watchmaker, enlisted Bjarke Ingels Group to design a spiral structure for its headquarters in the Swiss town of Le Brassus. Housing galleries and workshops, it is meant to be a marvel of engineering precision, just like a Swiss watch. But is this image too good to be true?


4. Fake Hills, by MAD Architects, in Behai, China

In the seaside town of Behai, MAD Architects‘ Fake Hills housing project runs along 800 metres of coast. Featuring a wave-like roofline and hollowed-out portions in its facade, the project brings a mountainous form to the ocean. Fake Hills is a very real project – but are these depictions real or fake?


5. New Aquatics Centre, by Kengo Kuma and Associates, in Copenhagen

Papertown, a 2.9 hectare islet in Copenhagen, was once home to the city’s paper industry. Now, it’s being reimagined as a creative hub, and Kengo Kuma and Associates won a bid to create a pyramid-like cultural centre, with athletic facilities, baths and pools, on its waters. Is this a photo of the New Aquatics Centre itself or a rendering from Kuma’s contest submission?


6. King Abdulaziz Center, by Snøhetta, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

From a distance, the King Abdulaziz Center by Snøhetta resembles a series of pebbles. In reality, it’s a sprawling 10-hectare cultural centre featuring an auditorium, cinema, library and museum. But is this photo – with the sun just peeking over the building’s contours – too good to be true?


Answers: 1. Photo. 2. Rendering. 3. Rendering. 4. Photo. 5. Rendering. 6. Photo.

How’d you fare? Do you think that renderings and architectural photos are becoming too similar to tell apart? E-mail your thoughts to feedback [at] azureonline [dot] com.

Next up: Nicholas Hune-Brown asks: Has architectural photography become fake news?


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