Artist Makes Work of Architects Come Alive : Vivid Illustrations Help Potential Investors, Governmental Agencies to Visualize Projects


Illustrator Carlos Diniz is passionate about architecture. For more than 30 years in his architectural illustration studio, Carlos Diniz Associates has been instrumental in creating portrayals of planned projects for architects and developers across the United States.

These vivid pictures help CDA’s clients sell their designs and projects to potential backers and public agencies that need to visualize what their buildings will look like when completed.

“My aim is to provide a professional service to architects and their clients where elements of scale, human environment and architectural drama are portrayed as a marketing tool,” Diniz explained.

“But my love of architecture goes well beyond mere illustration. Increasingly, I am involved in the preliminary stages of the design, helping architects see their ideas as they evolve, suggesting alternative strategies, generating concepts. Architects trust me because they know how sympathetic I am to their endeavors to develop a design and sell it to a client.”


Some of the many architects and developers with whom Diniz has collaborated were included in a recent exhibition of his studio’s drawings at the USC School of Architecture.

Titled “Building Illusion: The Art of Carlos Diniz,” the USC exhibit featured portrayals of such projects as the U.S. embassy in Moscow for Skidmore Owings & Merrill and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood for Cesar Pelli in 1976, the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston in 1980, New York City’s South Street Seaport in 1983 and Washington, D.C. Union Station rehabilitation for Benjamin Thompson Associates of Cambridge, Mass., and Manhattan’s World Financial Center for developers Olympia & York in 1986.

CDA’s largest commission to date has been the proposed 12-million-square-foot, $2-billion, U.S.-financed Canary Wharf development on the Thames River in London.

Involving a series of 22 paintings prepared at a cost of $750,000, the Canary Wharf illustrations were intended as a walk-through to show investors and British public authorities what the massive mini-city of office, retail and residential sectors would look and feel like if it were built.


“When the architects and developers came to us, the Canary Wharf project was only very sketchily designed,” Diniz said. “We helped dream up the Neo-classical and Post-Modern architecture the architects felt might be appropriate to this ancient waterway.

“We drew our inspiration from such sources as Canaletto’s famous 17th-Century oils of the Thames and from prints of the river in Victorian times, to show how the presently run-down section known as the Isle of Dogs could be transformed into an instant urban scenario. The architects relied heavily on our imagination to fill in the blanks in their design.”

Computer Assisted

Diniz explained that such huge commissions as Canary Wharf would have been too complex for him and his 15 associates before the advent of computer-aided design technology.

“CAD systems can create and manipulate visual imagery so much faster than the pen,” he said. “Canary Wharf would have taken months of painful labor to accomplish in the old days of pen and ink. Now you can set up the drawings and alter them at the touch of a button.

“The programmed computer does all the donkey work--but the artist is still king. His imagination, his capacity to conceptualize something solid out of thin air, are the seeds from which everything still springs.”

Trained as a graphic artist, Diniz worked as an illustrator in the office of Gruen Associates before setting up his own studio in the Spanish Colonial Granada Building near Lafayette Park in 1957.

His ambition was to make architectural illustration less “a kind of afterthought, a pretty picture to hang on a designer’s office wall,” and more of a vital element in the marketing strategy for selling a project.


Architectural Backgrounds

He staffed his studio with artists who had some architectural background and who grasped the need to visualize buildings in a way that made practical sense to a client. At the same time, he has always tried to honor the designer’s vision.

This fusion of sensitivity to architecture with shrewd commercial savvy has made CDA one of the leading design illustration studios in the United States. The studio can provide every form of graphics and packaging involved in marketing a development, including audio and slide productions for use on television or in a sales office.

“So much of the process of funding large building projects today is marketing them in a highly competitive climate,” he said. “In essence, you are asking investors to commit large sums before they can see what they’re getting.

“We help them get close to the end result at the time they are called upon to make their major financial decisions. You’ve no idea how excited a developer can get when he sees one of our visualizations.”