Bucharest Studio Utopian Magazine Enri Mato- LUCIAN RACOVITAN

Utopian Magazine Interview Lucian Racovitan, founder of Bucharest Studio

Lucian Racovitan is a licensed architect in Denmark and Romania and loves body aesthetics.

He has been intensively working in renowned architectural offices like BIG and Kengo Kuma and Associates for the past 10 years. Recently he decided to open his own practice that focuses on good quality architecture and visualisations.

Bucharest.studio is an international archviz company with mixed nationalities and language skills – but we keep it to casual English inhouse. Our office is based in Bucharest next to Arcul de Triumf in the city centre. The office is overlooking the aged roofs of the city where we spotted the craziest cats and sunsets in town.

Our modus operandi strength lays in the experience we gathered while working for more then a decade with top-level architectural firms around the world.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the type of work you’ve done? How did you begin making visualizations? Can you describe how Bucharest.Studio developed?

Bucharest.studio is a kind of hybrid child formed by the pollination of two older concepts. In 2018, fresh out of an architectural company – while still living in Denmark – I participated in my first and last architecture competition ever – a kindergarten in Reykjavik, Iceland.

By this time, I had not yet completely abandoned the idea of continuing with built architecture. Surprisingly, right after the Christmas holidays that year, in 2018, I received a phone call informing me that I won the second place in the competition and that Reykjavik City Hall would like to buy the rights to publish the project. It couldn’t be a better timing for my future career.

With these funds, I founded the visualization company lucianr.com in Copenhagen. Right after opening up this company, many people who knew me from the offices I had previously worked at – Kengo Kuma and Bjarke Ingels – and who had either migrated to other companies or were still at the same companies, had the confidence to trust me with their projects’ renders. During this period we did loads of work in collaboration with BIG, OMA, Jan Gehl, Henning Larsen, Snohetta and others.

Although I wanted to keep both firms, both the design and the visualization one, I had to make a sacrifice. Because in the world of architecture we still didn’t have anything concrete and too serious – plus that several months of uncertainty would have followed – we decided that visual architecture is directly viable. I was in a period where I had also lost some interest in architecture because of the very long implementation process. I wanted to finish the projects as quickly as possible and with as little white hair as possible. So the decision was in favor of renderings and against built architecture.

After about 6 months, Ovi – with whom I had worked together at BIG in Copenhagen for 5 years joined lucianr.com as a partner. After about another 6 months, also because we both missed home and family – at the end of 2019, just a little before the pandemics – we decided to return to Romania. We closed the company in Copenhagen and by November we were in Bucharest. Right after, our first Romanian colleagues, Mircea – who is now a partner in bucharest.studio – and Pasma joined us.

During this period of early 2020, we were still working under the name lucianr.com, although we had begun to understand that we needed a binding name for the whole team and a common identity. Because the office had some appeal and attracted people from different cultures and countries, the name was kind of a no-brainer. The city and the name itself: bucharest is something that binds us all in the office – for good and bad – a name and a city that we all have in common and with which we all resonate.

From the first office in 2018 in Copenhagen, which I shared with several other young professionals, until now, we have changed 4 offices and about 30 colleagues. At the moment we are 20 artists in Bucharest and we aim to be 24 by the beginning of the summer. At the end of 2023 beginning of 2024, I hope we will reach around 30-40 desks – only if the situation in Europe, and globally is not affected by current events.

Can you share more details about Bucharest Studio’s typical client workflow from start to finish of a project?

The process is pretty straight forward in the industry. Firstly you have an introduction meeting with the client. Regardless if you know them or not – right after the first meeting – they will provide a 3D model of some sort and material references, together with a small brief describing the project.

Once you have this intelligence you are good to go. Along the process you feed them constantly with few drafts. If you’re doing animations you keep the drafts simple – snips directly from the 3d software, nothing rendered. If you’re doing stills, you can give some small res drafts along the way before the final product. Around 2-3 drafts for stills and 1-2 drafts for animations. Between each drafts you get the rounds of comments from clients. In an ideal world you implement all the comments from your clients and everyone’s happy.

Alternatively you play the cool artist and ignore the comments and someone else has to pick up your render in the last day. And just before the deadline has to put extra hours at night to finish your work.

We try to avoid the latter option and have an open door constantly with our clients while still making sure we don’t compromise our style and work ethics.

Has your process changed much?

Yes it did. When we were a smaller firm we had to focus mainly on still images. These days it seems it’s all about the reels. All the media platforms prefer reels more than stills. This impacted our industry too. Stills are now becoming animations. And an artist alone cannot do an animation on its own. Its truly a team work. That’s why we also needed to expand our team. We now have two other partners, Mircea and Nic. Animations are really resources demanding, and not only hardware alone but we also require much stronger and skilled teams.

What do you enjoy about creating visualizations?

I personally have been living too much in this world to know anything else. I cannot even see reality the way I saw it before archivz. If I look around on my desk I see every object and surface split into maps. I sense the wind affecting the geometry of the napkins. I see the displacement on the wooden table and the refraction of the semi empty glass.

I cannot imagine the world without 3D anymore. It became a lifestyle.

But most enjoyable and rewarding part of archviz is innovation. There’s nothing more pleasing than finding a new script that eases your life in 3D, or a new special blend material or map, or perhaps a new AI-cutout trick in photoshop. Discovering new tricks like these makes you feel worthy a Nobel prize.

Which architects do you particularly enjoy working with?

Our clients and projects vary dramatically in scale and media footprint. From little-known artists who design mouse-traps or design pins and paper clips to the architectural titans and starchitects who develop global and interplanetary masterplans.

Now we collaborate with Sou Fujimoto, MVRDV, Zaha Hadid Architects, BIG, OMA, Norman Foster, UNStudio, Kengo Kuma, SOM, Snohetta, Chipperfield, 3XN, Atkins, Henning Larsen, Dorte Mandrup, Paolo Portoghesi to name a few.

We also worked with artists . Talos – a former class mate and good friend of mine – who meanwhile is a very versatile and highly regarded Irish singer-songwriter recently asked us to render the cover for his latest album.

In the last period – basically in the last year – we were working on a lot of animations and fewer stills. This situation somehow pushed us into a totally uncomfortable zone. It’s more the world of film and VFX and less of architecture. Stuff we are not used to.

But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – that’s what happens with bucharest.studio. I hope that in the near future we will make a transition from an archviz studio to an advertising or even film company. Apart from the presentation of the architecture itself, we can take care of the whole image of a project: logo, images, animation, website, branding, media, merchandise, etc.

I do believe this transition would do have a serious impact not only on our interior structure, but also on our client database and skills infrastructure. With change comes challenges but more so growth.

Can you define the balance between Pure Render and Post Production in your work?

I strongly believe that there are simply just two schools of archviz. Other industries, like painting, arts and film – which are the better looking cousins of archviz – do have endless amounts of styles and schools of thoughts. In archviz we all pan from fully CG scenes to matte painting.

The fully CG scenes are becoming better and better and more accessible for everyone – especially, with the development of aerial perspective, environmental fog, decals, dirt and distance maps, animated clouds and so on. Yet these scenes when done fast – and fast is the pace in archviz – tend to look rather rushed and not too realistic. These scenes heavily rely on special moods. A two week full CG commissioned render does have to be moody – otherwise it looks flat and not appealing.

On the other end of the spectrum lies the matte painting. This technique does give you a lot of freedom and more realism. Even though is a faster and easier job and still more realistic than full CG it does has its own disadvantages. Perhaps the one and most unfriendly part of matte painting is that it doesn’t allow you to have a moving camera in the scene. Matte painting – at least in archviz – is mainly used for stills. And once you have to do an animation you cannot show a client a matte painting that no artist will be able to replicate in a moving camera sequence.

What kind of hardware do you use?

We went quite hardcore on the specs from early on. We only render CPU and that limits one to using strong processors. We now use Threadrippers on all our PCs. In the range of 32 to 128 threads. Rest is just alloy that supports the processor – RTX 3080/3090ti, 128RAM on all PCs, SSDs. One big 32inch horizontal monitor and a full HD vertical monitor. This monitor combo is insanely eye pleasing. We do all have an architectural background in our office – so aesthetics is crucial for us. Our farm is all Threadrippers with 128 threads. Unfortunately we are still on 1GbE infrastructure but that is about to change soon.

How much time do you spend working on an image usually?

Lately things have changed drastically in archviz. Because hardware is getting stronger and stronger artists get faster and faster. Our modus operandi is shaped by the industry more so than our own internal strategies. If industry becomes fast we need to keep up. Traditionally an artist would have about 2 weeks for an image. Today an artist has less than a week. But images are slowly becoming a thing of the past. A reminiscence of a different still world. Today it feels that the industry is only interested in fast cameras and fast results.

Simply put, the archviz companies are dealing with digesting insanely complex constructs belonging to architects, developers, engineers, landscape architects and even botanists or gardeners. I remember we even had comments from some of our clients’ wives.

In a way this also shaped our approach to archviz and made us define our modus operandi: Two weeks heuristics.

Who do you consider as a source of inspiration… Where do you go to find it?

Years ago we would look at other office’s work. Today we are mostly inspired by nature. Nature has infinite depth and detail. But I don’t mean nature – as in natural – but rather good and bad nature. Concrete nature, asphalt nature, average pedestrians nature but also trees and mountains nature, lakes and sunsets.

Looking at nature and drawing a parallel to 3D is the best exercise an artist can try. Replicating nature is so hard but yet so rewarding. Trees have leaves, leaves have translucency. Translucency behaves so different in different light conditions. Wind has a great effect on leaves. All of a sudden for a simple tree in a 3D scene you have so many parameters to work with. Wind simulation, SSS materials, sun parameters, environment, forest pack or scatter leaves just to name a few.

When we don’t have time to observe nature we try to look at realistic photos that don’t rely too much on post production. One can easily find a good photo reference and try to replicate in 3D – it’s the easiest and fastest way to understand realism.

Any other activities besides work going on in Bucharest Studio, like personal projects, hobbies, etc.

Archviz is the little brother of photography. We do have some talented photographers inhouse. Moise, one of our colleagues likes to take great pictures in the spare time. Hopefully in the future he will build a great folder that we can use internally for both inspiration and cutouts.  

We also have loads of plants in the office. Thanks to Valentin our office is slowly transforming into a jungle. There are few plants that are simply out of control and slowly growing all over the shop.

We used to do ping pong champions when we had an office garden but slowly we lost interest since we moved to another place. We did recently bring a chess board inhouse and hopefully people will find interest and initiate some tournaments.

One future project is to form a running team and compete on some of the half marathons the city is organizing once in a while.

Can you share with us some interesting stories about memorable projects / famous project you been working on – some inside stories you can share.

One day we got approached by Walmart’s CEO – billionaire and owner of the NBA team Minnesota Timberwolves – Marc Lore. His team thought we are also designers and believed that we could help them design a future city for 5 million people in Nevada desert called Telosa.

At the time we were 4 people working in the office. My partner and I completely freaked out. We were running around the office smoking 4 cigarettes at the time (and we are not really smokers). After some lame thinking we concluded that the project has to be a scam and we should not commit to it. We contacted and passed the project to Kai-Uwe Bergmann, one of BIG NYC’s partners with whom we have a great relationship. We never heard back about this project.

Until one day – months later – when BIG approached us saying that the project is moving forward and if we are interested to commit with the visualization part. Only that this time the news were even bigger – none other but Mick Jagger was to be involved in the project as the buyer for the very first developing plots. Of course we said yes. And little we knew how much publicity this project would bring over to our humble office in Bucharest. Not only that the project made it on the cover news for BBC and all the architectural related blogs, but James Corden himself  presented the city of Telosa on Late night show, using our images. It was huge exposure for us. We are still waiting to be paid though.

Another cool project we did was for Jason Ballard, the CEO of Icon Inc. They recently received half a billion US dollars from Biden administration and are looking into developing fast 3D printed housing habitats on Mars. We didn’t have much more information nor a 3D model from them. It was a very fast paced project and we only knew it’s going to be public soon after submission. We sat 2 weeks building our own 3D models and rendering few interior and exteriors. Once submitted the project – once again – we never heard back from the client. It was only a month later we got an email with a link to a beautiful TED talk where Icon’s Design Director, Melodie Yashar presented our images to a huge audience.

After our huge success with Mars project, the same client – Icon Inc got us involved with NASA’s team to produce some renders for the very first built project on the Moon. A 3D printed launching and landing pad on none other but Earth’s natural satellite. It was our first project to be featured on the cover of NASA’s website.

One other project we rendered at the end of last year – a floating city in Busan south Korea – ended up on the United Nations round table.

Its really not everyday you see your renders at TED talk, James Corden’s Late night show, NASA’s website and UN (United Nations) round table.

Enri Mato

​Founder & Concept creator: UTOPIAN Magazine
Talks about #media, #artist, #magazine, #urbanism, #architects & #landscape