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“Shanty Stack” Depicts a Future World of Explosive Development and Unplanned Architecture

Judging is underway for Architizer’s 3rd Annual One Rendering Challenge. Stay tuned for the Finalists and Winners announcements in the coming weeks.

The 2022 One Rendering Challenge winners have been announced, concluding an incredible competition that celebrates one of the most integral processes in design: rendering. The top winner in the non-student category was “Shanty Stack” by Arnaud Imobersteg, a Swiss designer and illustrator. Architizer is delighted to present him with a grand prize of $2,500 and professional rendering software packages from Chaos Group.

Imobersteg’s winning entry is a highly detailed and atmospheric image that is difficult to place in the real world. The carefully crafted composition contributes to the image’s success. A weighted boat guides the viewer into the scene: the perspective lines of darker post-and-timber buildings frame the foreground and draw the eye back to a misty and seemingly endless Jenga tower of buildings further back. Although those closest to the water seem somewhat precarious, as the eye travels upwards, the wooden construction more and more resembles a jumble of skyscrapers — or do they? While we might expect spindly wood buildings to appear rickety, the longer you look at the image, the more stable some of the buildings appear. The wood itself is carefully hewn, after all.

Indeed, the dense fog makes it difficult to fully comprehend the urban scene. Temporally, the image is equally difficult to place. Are we looking at a scene from the past, the present, or the future? Imobersteg’s evocative text that accompanies the image may fill in some of the blanks, or it at least may further fuel the imagination:

The sun is warming the air as the market is closing now. My shirt is already sticking to my skin
They advised to avoid going out, but I feel good, I’m only coughing.
Uncle Alisha is saying he got sick because it’s not air anymore; he says that, before, we used to see the sky and it was blue. But I don’t know; maybe he’s just getting old, he’s already 37.
The Stack is constantly growing as new people are moving in. Are they coming from Above?

In the following interview, Architizer’s Editor-in-Chief Paul Keskeys discusses the creative process behind the winning rendering — which involved Blender and Photoshop — with Arnaud.

Paul Keskeys: Congratulations on your success! What does winning the 2022 One Rendering Challenge mean to you?

Arnaud Imobersteg: First, it means a lot to have my work recognized by professionals of visuals and architecture. Then it also means a lot to me as this piece is a bit more science-fiction and personal oriented.

What were the primary challenges of conceiving your work, from forming the idea to the actual physical process of rendering?

I knew from the beginning I wanted to build a kind of stacked city with stilts. I’ve been myself in Vietnam and Thailand on those floating markets in the early morning and I kept this in mind. So I spent a few days only on the research part, from India to Vietnam to try to understand the subject better. The research part is something I quite like in every project as it can give core and meaning.

Then I made a mood board with some reference pictures and did a few sketches. I tried to keep it very rough at the beginning to block out shapes or ideas but not lock anything. Once I got one that really fits my taste/idea, I made a quick photobash sketch. Things gets more locked at this stage and I can already save some images I will use later on the process.

I knew from the beginning also that I would use kitbash3D assets, so I had all the assets I wanted on the side, and I added and built all the structure by hand. I prefer it this way instead of endless, not exactly as you want, randomizer stuff (at least for this specific case) I tried to match the sketch I did previously.

Then I rendered it with all render passes Cycles offers, to then rework the light, contrast, colors, add some pictures and atmosphere in Photoshop. I’m trying to push further my renders as it usually means less work in post-production but in the end yeah there always quite a big difference between base render and what you can push further in photoshop.

Did you use your usual techniques and software for creating this rendering? If you tried something different, how did that go?

Yes, I used Blender, Cycles and Photoshop which are usually my main tools. The techniques are more or less the same as I usually use. Although I try to always add some kind of research or test some new workflow bits in every new project. So in this one, for example, I did try some more fine blending with the water using normal pass, some tricks in the final touches too (taught by Romain Jouandeau). This kind of thing. But overall the process was very straightforward as it now gets pretty refined.

What connection does this image have to you and your personal feelings about architecture?

I just love the sculptural shape a building can sometimes have, how well the joints are designed or so, how it plays with space, but I’m also quite interested in the story part and how people actually relate to this place, how things work, more of the world-building part. And I’m also pretty interested in the more philosophical research of spatial organization from Bentham (Panopticon) to Yona Friedman (Grid). So yeah this piece is a bit a mix of all this I guess.

Do you have any other work that compares to this in terms of lighting, atmosphere and composition?

I don’t think so, no. Nothing published yet at least  Well I guess all my pieces are kinda looking a bit towards the same kind of atmospheric feel, which is often pretty heavy/cloudy. I love clouds and how light interacts with it, so I always try to integrate these aspects in my artworks if it fits. Often I like it quite colorful and monochromatic almost, but this piece is quite more brown and natural I would say.

What one tip would you give students and architects looking to win next year’s One Rendering Challenge?

Well, I’m very happy that I won, but I’m not fully sure what decided it or not. Lot of entries were great and could deserve it too. So yeah nothing else then do whatever truly speaks to you. Then people will possibly notice it.

Judging is underway for Architizer’s 3rd Annual One Rendering Challenge. Stay tuned for the Finalists and Winners announcements in the coming weeks.

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