Rendering Redux: A Humorous Weekly Investigation Into Architectural Image Making. This Week: Baku White City

Architizer Editors Architizer Editors

Rendering Redux is a weekly examination of architectural rendering practices. While many architects evaluate these images based on sheer effect, we take a more humorous approach, documenting the inconsistencies and incongruous scale figures that populate the architectural imagination. Each week, we take a look at a different project, decoding its renderings so you don’t have to.

This week, we are taking a look at Baku White City, a proposed master plan for the capital of Azerbaijan. Baku White City gets its name from an aspired-to reversal of destiny; the development is slated to replace a district formerly known as the “Black City” due to its industrial buildings.

Baku White City includes multiple neighborhood districts, some with high-rise office complexes and others with single-family homes. The master plan as a whole demonstrates an extremely urban intention, though at times this is thwarted by the sheer glitziness of its glass towers and tree-lined boulevards.

While at first glance the proposed buildings look adventurous, a lot of its forms come directly out of the new-hyper-capitalist-development playbook. Baku White City has some pretty hefty firms as partners, including Atkins, Foster + Partners, and F+A Architects, which certainly helps add some seriousness to the proposal. Nonetheless, renderings found on BWC’s website betray a bit more shakiness. Does Baku, a truly great world city, deserve more?

Post-Soviet oil city development checklist: Calatrava-esque bridge, check; ferris wheel, check; skyscrapers with mile upon mile of mirrored glass, check; large expanses of roofscape, check; rigidization of social hierarchies, check.

A strong showing in the exercise of mix n’ match: a domed entry with anonymous glass towers that seem to invade a stone facade. Similarly, the buildings set in a greenscape and back from the street mark this as a place for the automobile (walkers won’t cross the grass). Also, nice cul de sac, bro.

Ah, the White City! Yes, this looks like it could be a Washington, D.C., suburb or perhaps Las Vegas. The bridge that crosses either a road or a puddle is just so Venetian Hotel and Casino. Also, what’s with all those ghost buildings in the background?

In case all that glass was making you nervous, here’s a house that manages to mix Beaux Arts style and Azeri vernacular so heavily it’s impossible to tell which is which. Here the decor is somewhat restrained, though approximately five minutes after the first tenant moves in, we’ll start to see plaster lawn statuary and multiple BMWs in the drive.

Flower balls weigh the virtuous like the scales of justice. The lights above them seem to be extremely avant-garde with the bulbs perched to one side, rendering their containers useless. Is this a commentary on energy wealth? Beyond that, they seem to cast little light on the dark plaza below. Watch the steps!

This looks like a rendering out of the newest SimCity; one wonders when Dr. Vu will appear. It’s a nice park, though unless those white volumes are tents, it seems like someone just couldn’t be bothered to finish the image.

This street view has everything! Car sales, Soviet-era tenements for the 21st century, a piece of cardboard on a stick disguised as a flag, tetris buildings. Oh, and FURNITURE.

This is our favorite. First, let’s tackle the exterior: those buildings beyond the glass read like Syfy Channel with a tinge of Steampunk. Perhaps taking inspiration from shipping container architecture, their composition seems from this vantage point a bit accidental. Now for the interior: that is a chair that will never be occupied, save by Amun-Ra as he ferries the sun across the sky. Or maybe it’s not a chair but rather a giant fruit bowl. Who’s to say? Meanwhile, that lamp peeps in from outside the frame, conveniently blocking the sunset from view.

This leads us to note a problem in the rendering setup. Look at the mullion shadows. First off, those are thin mullions. Secondly, the shadows point to the sun as if it were the vanishing point for the perspective view. This is WRONG. The shadows should be coming straight back to the viewer. Instead, those are the type of shadows that would be coming from a point source such as a lightbulb, rather than the parallel rays that come from the sun. Those are 2D shadows, not 3D.

Spooky…those ghost buildings still haunt the city. And though Baku is a very cosmopolitan city with a lot of great European architecture, it isn’t Paris, and this isn’t the Rue St. Germain. Still, this is an inviting streetscape, though it gets a bit trickier against the white blob across the way.

Aha! Here are the ghost buildings emitting their ghostly rays!

A black hole has opened up a vortex in the cityscape, tearing this building asunder. People are trapped helplessly inside the accretion disk, while buildings beyond its immediate pull have all color and texture ripped away.

Harry Potter has found the golden snitch! After book seven, it grew to enormous size, turned silver, and became the “Modern Art Pavilion.” While it is a feat to get such reflectivity in a rendering, the glare off of that surface will be intense. Maybe that’s why that couple on the bench in the foreground is not having a good time.

But Baku, you already have a Zaha building! Oh, this is just a knockoff. Ok, nevermind.

This building is a shoe. That dimple at the corner is just an inverse ankle.

All images from Baku White City/Azerbaijan Development Company

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