Like a lacklustre cherry on top, architectural designers tend to put little effort into choosing the appropriate scale figures to represent their design. Whilst these figures uphold the best version of us, designers never consider their existence further than a measuring tool. Thus, the issue of diversity dawns upon them only post-rendering, resulting in situations where there is zero people of colour in a scene. The lack of diversity in scale figures has come up as a contemporary issue, some partial explanations for this matter are: people just don’t care, or seeing white-abled human figures equals to a safe/approachable area. Through this short ridicule, I hope you can reinvestigate your own decision in plotting human figures for your next project, as well as thinking critically at the renderings you would see later on.

The turning point of today’s architectural representation stemmed from the modernist perception of the human-building relationship.

The post-war era greatly influenced the modernist thinkers to opt for capable human figures, ones that can handle new technology, can adapt to the revamped metropolitan, and ultimately, are not locking the building. The result of this brought us to an idealised form of scale figure that is masculine and faceless. These features reinforce the gendered functionality of most built spaces during modernism: robust, productive, and capable. We don’t know who this person is, nor their ethnicity, their life story, their comfort level, their feelings, and whether or not they wish to be there. But all is none of our concern, it is their anonymity that make them versatile for all kinds of scenarios that the architects then have set up. The beginning of scale figures in architecture established the model citizen for many other renderings during this era, faceless and anonymous. [1]

During the age of Lumion and V-Ray, most of them exist as an army of scale figures, lining up next to each other on the webs, quietly waiting to be included in the next hot architecture renderings. In the schematic phase of a project, architects turn to the existing site for its community, landmarks, and inhabitants. As empowering as the strength-based approach to design, the final renderings usually illustrate a sleek, mint condition, with neatly dressed figurines staged and posed to the architects’ liking. It is evident that scale figures now give contextual clues to the area demographic. However, the effect of an idealised version of scale makes it challenging to find people of colour in this army of predominantly Caucasian scale figures, as they are assumed as the main occupants to high-end architecture projects.

The lack of diversity in architecture renderings synchronises with the stock photos industry, where it is also occupied by a homogeneous demographic of white figures, with the token person of colour in group shots. Dreamstime Stocks, Happy diverse professional business team stand in office looking at camera, smiling young and old multiracial workers.

On, a free png page for scale figures, There are six sections for ethnicity, followed by the number of figures they each have: African (1,422), Asian (982), Indian (63), Hispanic (1,804), Arabic (137), and Caucasian (6,073). The bias on this web page is that they fail to realise the imbalance in their “human resources”, where the sum of all other ethnicities combined can’t even match up with the single Caucasian ethnicity. Through this insight, the question on inclusivity persists through superficial intervention, even if it is the last thing to do for an architectural rendering, does it mean we design for human, using human as reference, scale, and inspiration, yet, we neglect our/human’s own background and existing cultural pride?

We should recognize the issues of the normalised components of a good render, in this case, focusing on the majority of Caucasian and heteronormative figures in renderings. Featuring the wrong demographic is also considered a “sin” in lack of representation in renderings. For instance, Fosters+Partners designed a new headquarters for VietinBank, located in Hanoi, Vietnam (my home country), disappointingly, the key render did not feature any Vietnamese/Asian people (first row).

Actions taken to build more inclusive public space would be obsolete if the renderings failed to represent the neighbourhood diversity. Those community engagement workshops would be nothing more than lip-service and false promises if the renderings failed to represent the people that will actually use the space. Usually preoccupied with HVAC and structural details, architects forget that representations in rendering scenes, at the least, must reflect the pre-existing community and public space that allow the project to exist and prosper.

Adding an “ethnic” section to a cut-out figure Website Somehow passed the bare minimum for diversity and inclusion.

The final question to ponder on is “why does adding figures to the render the last thing on the list?” Maybe the act of making a folder of human figures that represent the project’s demographic can be a solution. Not only does this relieve the architect off of the last-minute stress, it can be the first step to a more conscious representation process. Besides building one’s own figure army ahead of time, one can opt for a human figure website with more diversity, a few recognizable ones are vector_vault, black-img, escalalatina, and nonscandinavia. Until today, the resources for people of colour cut-outs are still sparse, so it is necessary to have more engagement and contributions to these websites. Stemming from this subtle issue within architecture rendering, it allures a larger lack of representation in the  architecture curriculum. A responsible choice in who/what you show in a render is crucial and contributes to the larger awareness of this systematic issue we as a discipline endures.