David Li and Dora Cheng: Telling A Story Through Architectural Renderings

Architectural renderings are often the only way student housing developers and managers can share their vision of a space with students. Renderings on billboards, websites and brochures, as well as ads shared through social media can convert viewers into leases.  

Just as a realtor stages a home to help buyers picture their family in that house, 3D renderings must blend art and engineering to help viewers connect with the student housing facility. Today’s state-of-the-art rendering technology and virtual reality capabilities allow artists to interpret blueprints and construction papers to bring a property to life onscreen. These renderings are much more than just a simulation of the property; they help stage the apartment so students can envision themselves in their new home.

Marketing properties using 3D renderings or VR tours can help fill student housing lease-up projects faster and reduce vacancies. Photorealistic renderings and virtual tours created from those renderings achieve high viewership levels. The more realistic and relatable the model is — the better it tells the story of the student housing center — the more likely those views will convert into leases, especially since more and more students choose housing sight unseen.

Creating 3D renderings is an art and a science where many factors come into play to tell the story of your student housing development. 

Consider your audience and demographics. 

Who is the intended audience? What are the demographics of the region? Consider these questions at the start of your project because every marketing or advertising campaign should speak to this audience. Every detail created in the artistic rendering should be relevant, purposeful, and targeted to your demographic. The better you can communicate your demographic and your needs to the artists doing the rendering, the more successful your campaigns will be. 

A lease-up intended for a liberal arts college will differ from a Division A university where the students live and breathe football. Quiet spaces, meandering wooded paths and a well-stocked yet cozy library will appear to the first while a fun student lounge with a giant TV screen and choice of game systems will attract the latter.

Staging common areas and apartments so students feel right at home when they look at renderings requires sophisticated art and science, along with a close collaboration with the marketing personnel within a student housing development or their agency of choice. 

The team creating your renderings should ask questions about the school’s demographics, the most popular majors and student clubs, and students’ hobbies and past-times. Only with this information can they create the lifestyle touches that will help students picture themselves at home in off-campus housing. 

In “peopled” renderings, it’s also vital to ensure the chosen models accurately represent the region’s demographics. For instance, college towns with ethnically diverse populations should include a broad range of ethnic groups. Any university property should be populated with individuals between the ages of 18 and 25, interacting with the world in a way your Gen Z future residents can relate to and connect with.  

Depict the surrounding geography to bring the neighborhood to life.

Where is the project? More than just the postal address, what is the vibe of the neighborhood? 

Good renderings will display surrounding buildings, street accessories and neighborhood layout, vegetation, and more. These elements add to the realism of a space — often in a subconscious way. 

For local projects, the development team should explore the area, take photos and note any critical elements of local geography that will help make the space stand out in renderings. International projects often require Google Earth views and site photographs, as well as comprehensive research on local features to ensure accuracy. 

Create a layout and design that is true to the space and will resonate with your audience.

What colors, furniture and accessories will appeal to the intended audience? In a recent case study performed by University Furnishings, Gen Z — today’s college students — indicated a preference for spaces that feature neutral palettes, clean lines, and minimalist comfort. 

Decorations and accessories — in combination with the basic interior design plan — that hint at the lifestyle of those who would live in the space add further realism. For instance, a living room with a gym bag on the floor and a guitar in the corner paints a different picture than a bedroom with fresh flowers and make-up on the dresser.  

Set the mood and achieve the next level of realism through lighting. 

Bright. Open. Cozy. Functional. How would you define your student housing apartments? 3D renderings capture the mood and ambiance that appeals to the local student body. The artist will showcase furniture and décor choices through proper room layouts, and then add light for enhanced realism. 


Above, we have two bedrooms from two different projects. Due to the differences in pricing and demographics, our clients requested the mood for the left one was “elegant,” and on the right, “lounge comfort.”

For the first room, with its much larger space, the artists chose a dusk setting with warm, glowing interior lighting that created soft and subtle shadows that poured over the bed. It is to communicate the above average room size and its top-of-the-line luxurious interiors. The lounge comfort room, on the other hand, needed to communicate a brighter mood to allow viewers to see its true potential even with a smaller footage. The artist rendered morning light with a view of vivid green trees that created immense contrast within the room, emphasizing the varying textures and functional spaces. Light plays a significant role in portraying the mood and telling the story of your student housing facility. 

You can then use these photos on the property site and social media, with accompanying copy that reflects the desired mood and catchy hashtags, to market the property to students. 

Use photorealistic imagery and VR walk-throughs for a more immersive experience.

Putting all the above features together into a photorealistic rendering allows viewers to immerse themselves in the space in a way that typical renderings can’t do. Virtual reality walk-throughs and physically based render (PBR) perspectives, as well as panoramas that accurately depict the space and surrounding geography, help tell the story of your student housing facility to attract students who will feel at home in your apartments or dorms. The optional VR headsets could inject further excitement at your leasing centers or on-campus housing fairs.

— Dora Cheng and David Li are the co-founders of uForis, a company that works at the intersection of real estate and 3D Virtual Reality technologies. uForis creates photorealistic spaces that capture your future residents’ imagination and attract the targeted audience to fill your leasing pipeline – in commercial, multi-family and student housing developments. As the VP of operations, Dora, a veteran Development Director from EA Sports (FIFA and Sim series), Dora heads 3D art and development to ensure the accuracy and the quality of the final renderings. As the VP of sales and customer success, David, a serial entrepreneur in Real Estate technologies and ERP system with IBM, serves as a conduit between developers, management companies and uForis engineers, helping every uForis project tell the story the customer desires in various digital and social media platforms.