While finishing Architecture school at the University of Houston, Chris Castaneda has become skilled at balancing school life with professional life. Working at the Houston-based Studio, RED Architects, he has gotten to experience everything from small scale commercial projects to large worship facilities for regional churches. His time has been primarily focused on the design and documentation of a number of performing art facilities, both in the greater Houston area and in a variety of states across the country.
Typically splitting his time between AutoCAD and Revit projects, Castaneda first discovered the “Render in the Cloud” feature in his third year of University. “I had used other products to render previously and it was a slow and nerve-wracking experience waiting for a render to finish and hoping that your computer doesn’t shut down. When I first tried the render in cloud feature of Revit, I was blown away by the quality of the rendering and the continuous workflow it allowed me to have. It didn’t slow my computer and it allowed me to continually see what the end product would look like as I was working.”
This featured “School Project” is one of Castaneda’s 4th year studio projects in which students were tasked to design a middle school in Houston for KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program). “The question I faced was, ‘Could school design aid the children in their learning abilities?’” Castaneda says. “This had to be a place the children could enjoy (KIPP has a 6 day school week and longer school hours than public school), and it had to be a place that could be constructed on a tight budget. “
Materials and shading were critical elements in the design. He started by working through quick schemes and test renders for the exterior shading devices and the interior materials. “As Houston is very hot, I wanted to create opportunities for the kids to go outside and play and still be comfortable,” Castaneda states. “I used the building massing and the exterior shading devices to shape the spaces where the kids could enjoy the outdoors. Cloud rendering allowed me to go through different schemes for the shading devices to see how the light really worked, and how effective my designs actually were.”
The Museum in Helsinki/Museum Gallery project is another notable rendering that Castaneda shared in the public rendering gallery.
A current project for his final studio at the University of Houston, Castaneda used the prompt for the Helsinki Guggenheim Competition and was tasked with the challenge of designing a museum that could be identified as a Guggenheim but also a museum that respected and fit into the local context.
“My design teammate, Gabriela Soto, and I both felt strongly that the “iconic-ness” of this Guggenheim would be shown best through its landscape and the visible connections we made to that landscape,” Castaneda stated. “We relied heavily upon wood as a material for this project, as a symbol of Finland’s forestry industry. We used this wood to create a screen-forest that surrounds the museum, with large openings in the screen that creates viewing corridors to key signs like the harbor and parks of the surrounding area.”
They also aimed to incorporate a connection to the sky in the gallery spaces. Soto and Castaneda created a design that used light monitors and fritted glass to diffuse the lighting in the gallery spaces where light levels were critical. They removed the fritted glass panels from light monitors above the stairs and replaced them with clear glass, so as guests ascend the stairs from the level below, they have a clear view of the sky (this can be seen in the upper right hand corner of the Museum Gallery rendering).
Castaneda also makes heavy use of an underappreciated cloud render setting: Illuminance rendering. “We’ve used Illuminance renderings a number of times to aid our design for the museum gallery space to make sure that we can reach the appropriate light levels for the space. It is great for using while in school to add depth and realism to a design and it is completely applicable to architectural professional world as well,” Castaneda insists.
“There is nothing more rewarding as a designer than to have a client or juror say that what you have created is going to be a great space. Through photorealistic renderings I can convey more than just architectural materials and lighting, I can convey a feeling about the space. I get to show you how strongly I feel about the qualities of a design, like the serenity of a gallery space, or the bright, personable qualities of a lobby area. The ease of conveying emotion is what I enjoy most about the photorealistic renderings the cloud renderer produces. It really is a great tool!”