Design research project analysing visual language and strategies of Bratislava’s real-estate developer companies, specifically connected to the controversial development of the new city centre. The project points out the unrealistic nature of architecture visualisations and deceiving PR strategies, based on which the developer companies are generating public consent with their projects.
By creating hyper-unrealistic speculative collages, I want to shed light on the thin line between widely acceptable manipulative nature of advertising and the moral duty to use transparent visual communication to inform public about private development plans in the city.
At the moment, there is a new modern city centre full of skyscrapers growing in the former industrial area of Bratislava. Different real estate companies are building multiple projects on a relatively small site, what causes concerns about the density of population, traffic load and last but not least gentrification of the new and neighbouring districts. A lot has been written and said about this radical development and its consequences. However, there was not enough space for a proper public and professional discussion, as it seems the private interests are overshadowing the fact that the development of such scale and importance should include general public in the process as well. I am not here to judge the quality of architecture, nor to evaluate the urban planning. What I focus on is the level of transparency of architecture visualisations and other visual materials presenting the projects in the media.
Most of the future “Downtown” projects visualisations are lacking details of the neighbouring planned development or buildings that are already being built by other companies. The citizens are getting information about the projects from already visually pre-filtered reality with just a small disclaimer about the illustrative nature of the visualisations.
Why does such an atmospheric and enchanting vision have priority over realistic depiction of the future city development?
European Commission requires the cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and waterpipe tobacco to carry combined health warnings consisting of a picture from the EU picture library (a graphic content depicting possible health consequences of smoking), a text warning and information on stop smoking services. The warnings should cover 65% of the front and back of packages. Another European Commission regulation ensures that food supplements packages are not enclosed with misleading information, such as the healing effects of herbs etc. Considering these measures, it’s striking that there are no regulations on forms of visual communication that affect the public decision making – architecture visualisations being just one example of many.
In the media we read about the affairs, when one manipulated photograph affected political opinions of thousands of people and artificially generated faces of celebrities were performing in porn videos they never seen before. Artificial intelligence is able to generate photorealistic visuals of our physical world which can’t be detected as fake by the human eyes. What does it mean for the daily visual reality and what are the consequences on the trustworthiness of visual communication? Now more than ever we need functional mechanisms on spotting the visual fakes and/or regulations on the deliberate use of non-transparent visuals in the media.
In the context of architecture visualisations it’s understandable that the architects want to be able to communicate their uncompromized artistic vision. Because we are already used to looking at highly idealised visuals from retouched imagery in the media or on Instagram, their work is facing the same absurd “beauty standards” and aesthetic expectations to get permission to circulate over the internet to gain its glory. This unfortunately often leads to prioritising the aesthetics over realism. The visualisations are getting more important than the physical architecture itself. If it’s possible to win an architecture prize only based on the architecture visualisation, without the commitee members actually visiting the site, what does it mean for the former criteria of a good architecture? This schizophrenia between striving for the most aesthetic magic realism in the visualisations and the physical reality for which the architecture was designed leads to the two completely separated realms. One is the dream, which sells the architecture and the other one is the – often very sad – final form of new districts. Contemporary architecture imagery becomes a representations of an ideology rather than depiction of reality.
(to be continued)
Source of the original visualisations: JTRE & PENTA