Architectural design for CG artists

Architectural blueprint

In this article, we’ll be talking about architectural design. If you want to know how to make a building that looks good with its environment, radiates its purpose and cleans up nicely once you throw in some lights, read on.


Before you pick up a pencil and start designing your building, it’s important to consider where you’re building it. With different environments come different colors, elements, and opportunities. As demonstrated by the picture on the right, working with all those variables and keeping them in mind when making a building can result in a beautiful scene.

This particular building goes nicely with its surroundings, with a color scheme that fits with that of the trees, river, and rocks, not to forget the waterfall it neatly incorporates in its design. If this isn’t your aim, however, there are plenty of ways to create a little (or a lot of) contrast. Some buildings are just meant to stand out, so if that’s what you want, make sure to use some of the following techniques:

  • Use a disruptive color scheme. No, you don’t have to paint your entire building neon-red (although you could), but if you use a color scheme with lots of colors and/or distinctly different colors from the environment it’s bound to stand out.
  • Architecture that looks distortedUse different architecture. If there’s one type of building that doesn’t stand out, it’s a terraced house. They’re all exactly the same, save a different colored windowsill here and there. The exact opposite of this is making a building like the one on the right. There many more shapes you can use, as long as they look different from the environment they’ll add to your buildings stand-out factor

Besides having a different color scheme and unique objects, most environments have a different climate that affects how your building will look. Beach houses in California look different from igloo’s far up North, to take it to the extreme. Depending on what kind of building you want, different environments might be ruled out.

Finally, the environment can play a big part in the story of your scene. A cabin in the woods will have a different feel to it than a mansion on a hill, just like an apartment building in the city feels different from a farm. If you’re not sure what I mean, take some time to read “How to make your scene tell a great story”. I promise you won’t click away disappointed!



Different buildings serve different goals. You probably wouldn’t want to live in a school, while the architecture of your home isn’t ideal for teaching. While there are too many buildings too describe them all in detail, here are a few basics.

Residential buildings

This one should be familiar to you in some way, as you probably live in one. While residential buildings can come in all shapes and sizes, they serve the same purpose: housing people. Because of this, they’re supposed to make whoever lives there feel at home. Different people have different tastes, making their houses look vastly different. When you’re modeling one of these, you have to keep this in mind. To really make your house look lived in, add something that shows who lives there. Putting in some customary blinds, a skateboard on the lawn or even a whole neatly arranged garden can make the difference between creating a stack of bricks and a home.


Civic buildings

Great Amber, beautiful civic buildingBuild by the government for the people, civic buildings all share a specific architectural style. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely have a different look to them, but they usually share the same principles. Meant to make you feel welcome and safe, they contain spacious rooms or try to make rooms look big by using big windows or colors that have an enlarging effect (white and other light, calm colors). With that being said, civic buildings usually tend to give off an air of authority. This can be done by making the building big, elegant or beautiful as the Great Amber, a concert hall in Latvia shows.


Tutorial by CG Geek to make a house



How a store looks partially depends on what it sells. The furniture store where you go to buy a table probably doesn’t look the same as the bakery where you can get bread, for example. When making your design for a shop, consider what needs to fit in there and what kind of customers it’s supposed to attract. Above all, most shops want you to feel comfortable so you’ll come back again later. Different stores attract different kinds of people, so there are no exact rules for making something everyone likes. In general though, people like space, well-done color schemes (more about that here) and a look that fits the store. It’s always good practice to look up some real-life examples of the stores you want to design.



First off, I’m not going to be talking about nodes and such here, this part’s about real-world materials. Look up different buildings on the internet and there’s one thing you’re guaranteed to notice: There are a lot of these. If you take a wooden cabin in the woods and a seemingly all-stone cathedral with complicated stained-glass windows, you can see there’s a lot of variation. While there are lots and lots of variables, the biggest factors in what materials will be used in your building are time and location. Besides that, you’ve also got the big five.



The ColloseumHow old is your building? Is it a remnant from the ancient Romans like the Colosseum or a millionaire’s mansion that’s just been completed? Research what kind of materials where/are available before you start dressing up your building.



Just as with different times, different locations make for a different architecture. You won’t see an igloo on the savannah or a sixteenth-century home from Spain in Japan. Again, look up buildings from your specific location. While you’re at it, imagine in what kind of setting your building was built. City buildings are generally smaller than ones in the country, and natural influences like earthquakes, tsunamis, and extreme weather play a part too.


The big five

Most buildings are made from a combination of the following materials:

  • Concrete. Easy to make, and decently durable. Because of its good cost/durability and its ability to fit any shape, you’ll find this in a lot of buildings.
  • Brick. Depending on your taste, better looking than concrete. Because of its aesthetic appeal, you’ll find this a lot in residential buildings.
  • Stone is a nice alternative to brick, where it not that it’s harder to make (you have to get it from a quarry). The upside is that you don’t need mortar to keep your building from falling apart and that stone looks arguably better than brick. You’ll mostly find this in fancy-looking buildings.
  • Steel. Strong, malleable and not too bad looking. If you see a big building, chances are it’s kept upright by steel.
  • Wood. It’s probably no surprise, but a lot of buildings incorporate wood in their design or even as the main building material. While it’s considerably more vulnerable than all the other materials, it’s got its own nice look and is strong and lightweight. If taken care of, wood can last a long time. There are wooden buildings with a lifespan of more than a thousand years!



Unless you’re a vampire, chances are you like (sun)light. If you do, you’re not alone. While some people might like a rainy day every now and then, nobody wants to sit in the dark. Because of this, most windows are placed to let in light, meaning they aren’t obstructed by large plants or other parts of your building. You don’t have to put your windows directly into the sun, but letting in no light at all defeats their purpose. A good measure to see whether your windows are in the right place is to imagine you’re standing in the building yourself. How would the light fall in during different times of the day?

When placing windows in Blender, consider the effect it will have on the noise in your scene. Either up your samples when rendering, or leave your window as an empty hole to battle this effect. Make sure your windows look a bit more realistic by placing blinds or curtains, or get creative and put something nice on the windowsill.


There you have it, the essential elements to designing a good-looking building. Of course this article is only a brief overview of building design, so keep on learning!


See you next time,

Jesse Davis


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