Before we can tell a story, we must think about the type of story we want to tell, and whether it’s worth telling at all. The stories we tell through our proposals are not so different from those of novels, movies, and plays; all stories contain certain elements.

What does it mean to render? When we look it up in the dictionary, the expected definition appears: “to represent by artistic or verbal means.” As designers, this is our day-to-day: expressing our designs to clients and community members, making incredible spaces and places, and capturing the essence of a project. However, this isn’t the only definition of “render.” The first definition on the page is “to melt down, to extract by melting.”

Architecture’s success is often narrowly judged by what a building is and what it looks like, not by how it performs or what it provides. Enter: every design award carousel filled with static images without people (or with the few people in motion-blurred appliqué), the provocative aerial illustrating a swooping landscape never perceived by those not in a helicopter, and the sexy rendering that displays an eye-popping level of photorealism. Beautiful “design,” but to what end?

The erosion of downtowns is not new, and is a complex issue rooted in politics, geography, economics, topography, and history. In the South, small towns were originally connected by two-lane highways that ran through the center of town. Then came the phenomenon of the bypass highway, which drove development of big boxes and outparcel restaurants on the edge of towns.