ARTICLE: CGIs are essential tools, not just pretty images.
Updated: Sep 16
CGIs have transformed the property industry. What used to be a niche tool for presenting architectural designs, or marketing off-plan properties, is now accepted by most as being the norm.
But with that normalisation comes an increase in the number of cheaper, more 'cost-effective' options, which unfortunately and in many cases, devalue its very purpose.
Because CGI isn't just about having a pretty image. It isn't even just about having a 3D or interactive representation, or the other more obvious advantages that CGI brings over traditional planning, presenting and marketing methods.
It's about communicating complex ideas. It's about solving problems. It's about explaining the whys and the hows and the wherefores.
When 'done properly', CGI is in fact an essential tool that those in the property industry, quite simply, can't afford not to be using.
And here's why…
It secures investment
Architecture, for good reason, is a highly specialised skill that requires many years of training. Investors – as with many other stakeholders involved in the entire conception-to-sale process of a new building – do not typically have these skills or expertise.
Architectural designs, and the plans and elevational drawings that describe them, require a degree of skill, or at the very least some imagination, to understand. This makes it harder to engage people, to explain complexities and to align expectations.
To secure investment and satisfy a client that you understand their needs, you need to highlight the skills, details and unique features that bring value to your proposition. You need to justify the cost of their investment. And you need to prove that it will generate a return.
Good quality CGI enables you to bring precision, accuracy and attention to detail to your designs and proposals, thus presenting – in a way which everyone can easily understand – a realistic and all-questions-answered proposal. Good quality CGI eliminates the risk of the unknown.
It enables you to accurately simulate the different materials – not just ‘wood’, ’stone’, ‘brick’, ‘glass’, ‘metal’ – but illustrating the subtle nuances of their specific types and qualities, and exactly why each one has been chosen. It allows you to present a photo-real quality representation of the design in its exact location. It gives you the opportunity to highlight the sophisticated aspects of your architecture, and justify the costs of the design.
It is hard to convince investors of the importance of using certain solutions from a sketch or plan… and equally so from a basic CGI. Worse still, a believable-looking but detail-lacking CGI can convincingly undersell a project.
But present them with a detailed, accurate, complex CGI and they can see it, understand it, and value it for themselves.
Simply put – clearly show your investors the details behind your design, and you're able to clearly show them its potential for return.
It wins planning
You can design an architectural masterpiece, but without planning approval it is nothing. And as those of us in the industry know only too well, planning departments hold all the cards in that department.
Being able to accurately portray how a design will look 'in situ' is a vital aspect of winning planning, and utilising verified views and other high-quality CGI techniques is the only way to do so without risk of error and costly later adjustments, or worst case – refusal of permission entirely.
CGI gives us the ability to illustrate a design concept so that all questions are already answered. Planning departments can see the design from multiple angles and real-life views, in photo-real quality. A building that may have sounded too tall, or too modern, or too something when presented as a theory, is proven to in fact sit in perfect harmony with its surroundings.
Details that can be easily overlooked from a two-dimensional drawing, such as if a building’s setbacks will visually reduce its mass and sit well with neighbouring properties, or if it’s design at ground-level will positively animate and contribute to the street it is on, can be caught early, adjusted accordingly, and highlighted as having already been considered during your planning application.
Both commercial and residential schemes can be illustrated alongside their real-life infrastructure. Road networks, access points, amenities – all easily seen and understandable, with no explanations, or even words, needed.
Complex CGIs enable all stakeholders to easily understand how a project will look, how it will feel, and how it will relate to its surrounding environment. It provides the ability to consider a project as though at completion, yet before it's even been started. Quite simply, it is the surest way to win the planning permission you need, at the first attempt.
It attracts tenants and buyers
The ultimate win in development is securing tenants, or buyers, before you've even built. Whether that's pre-construction or during, it's the coup all developers are looking for, and it's CGI – and not just 'pretty picture CGI' – that is going to get you there.
Once again, CGI can remove any necessity for imagination to fill in the gaps in understanding. You're able to show your potential buyers exactly what they are getting – down to every last detail: how the space looks when furnished and occupied, where the light falls at all hours throughout a day, the quality of the finishes…
You can communicate the complexities that make the design so special – the eco-friendly features that will enable an occupier to live more sustainably, the design features created specifically to benefit a certain type of tenant.
But it also enables you to elicit an entire set of emotions. It's more than just showing what something looks like, it's visual storytelling… it's aspirational. Your prospects can imagine themselves living or working in your development, because you're able to show them exactly what living or working there will look like. And it's those emotions and that ability that leads to contracts being signed.
We all know that people are more likely to invest in something if they know what they're getting. And when it's a high-value product, even more so. CGI enables you to successfully market your property – with a focus on the smallest of details that reflect the true value of the opportunity – before it's even built.
It saves on costs
Good quality CGI may not seem cheap at first glance – and if you're expecting just a pretty picture, then sure enough, it's not. But when understanding the true value that it can bring, and stopping to consider the cost implications of not using it, its value becomes clear.
As already mentioned, CGI helps you secure planning at the initial stages – no delays, no re-designs needed, and none of the costs that come with that.
It also secures your investors, and your end buyers, more quickly. Again, time and those subsequent costs saved. But more than just that – by illustrating the detail, the quality, the true value of your designs, you're better able to justify the higher costs that your design warrants… and better able to secure the investors, and the buyers, who are prepared to pay them.
Furthermore, high-quality CGIs provide a unique final opportunity – post design development – to pick up on any important design flaws, constraints or worthwhile changes that may have been missed during the design stages… and which may have the potential to significantly impact costs later in the project.
Simply put, CGI has the potential to increase the profitability of a project substantially.
It provides a glimpse into the future. It enables architects and designers to see their imagined masterpiece before it has been built. It enables them to perfect it. And it enables them to accurately present it to others, so that they can believe in it too.
CGI is far more than just a pretty image. And it needs to be far more than only a basic one. If you want to honour your design, and guarantee your project's success, you need to view CGI as an essential part of the process, and you need to invest in it at the same level that you would all other aspects of your design and build.
Using cheap or poor quality CGI not only devalues your product, but it ultimately misses the most critical reasons for using it at all. It misses its very purpose.