Depictions of designs that didn’t hit the mark this year.

This year’s list of the worst architectural renderings starts where last year’s left off: with the sheer volume of bad design produced by the competition for the Guggenheim Helsinki in 2014. Like a noxious magma flow, the Guggenheim contest pumped out one toxic museum concept after another. All 1,715 entries in the open contest are still available for hate-browsing. Last year ended with the museum narrowing down the field to six finalists. They announced the winner in June of this year, and indeed, the entry selected was a bad architectural rendering.

Shrouded in fog, it wins points for Finnish realism, even if it looks like an Anduin River fortification designed for the border between Gondor and Mordor.

Design for the Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki. (Moreau Kusunoki Architectes)

Now, it’s important to note that the project itself may work out just fine in the end. The design by Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, an underdog firm from Paris, conveys a strong single metaphor: the lighthouse. While the differentiated pavilions look familiar—a bit too close to the illuminated volumes of Steven Holl’s Cité de l'Océan et du Surf, perhaps—the overall design may work out well in context. The details are clearer in other concept drawing and renderings.

Design for the Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki. (Moreau Kusunoki Architectes)

Good projects sometimes get bad renderings, and vice versa. It’s often hard to tell which is which with projects that exist only in renderings (“on the boards,” so to speak). Renderings are their own design challenge, independent of the architecture they represent. Some firms spend money and resources on producing renderings in-house; others outsource this work altogether.

So there’s no accounting for what makes a great rendering. The worst renderings, however, speak for themselves. The sheer implausibility of the class of buildings that CityLab calls “treescrapers” shines through the utopian vision of nature and construction working together in harmony. How are north-facing trees that are bathed in perpetual darkness (in the Northern Hemisphere) supposed to grow?

The Stefano Boeri Architetti design for Les Terrasses des Cedres. (Stefano Boeri Architetti)

Then there are the renderings that don’t even bother hiding the truth. A design competition for a new National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., yielded some fantastically inappropriate designs. The best of them—as in, the worst of them—was an inverted doughboy helmet meant to be plopped down over Pershing Park.

One of the more than 350 design entries for the National World War I Memorial. (U.S. World War One Centennial Commission)

Lots of bad renderings from 2015 didn’t fall into any particular category. Some of the projects look impossible. Other renderings look, you know, bad. Of course, making renderings shine is a lot to ask of architects: Not only do they need to design the actual buildings, they have to come up with the right mix of fantasy and photorealism to sell it. With that in mind, here’s a kinder way to put it: These are some of the most memorable renderings of 2015:

The Residences at Marina Gate designed by Aedas for Dubai, is seen in this rendering of . . . what, exactly? It looks like a blackout at dusk, and Marina Gate is the only building with juice. This rendering packs in way too much detail. Whatever it looks like in the evening at nighttime, it won’t be this. (Aedas)
The firm tvsdesign designed the Mall Plaza Los Dominicos for Santiago, but for some reason it appears here in an otherworldly marshy swampscape. (tvsdesign)
The White City Houses, designed by 1100 Architect for Frankfurt-Riedburg, look like they could be a level out of the old Paperboy game. This rendering sacrifices a lot of detail on the individual houses to evoke a stylized neighborhood, but it doesn’t add up to much of a whole. (1100)
Aria on the Bay, an Arquitectonica design for Miami, shines under a glowing light from the heavens. Or is it the building itself that’s responsible for this effect? (Arquitectonica)
La Gota Cultural Center and Tobacco Museum, designed by Losada García Arquitectos for Navalmoral de la Mata, Spain, looks quite nice in the context of the low-density buildings in the neighborhood. It’s handsomely scaled. But the project suffers from a central design pun: It’s a museum dedicated to tobacco that’s built from filters. (Losada García)

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