In our experience, there seems to be common interest among landscape architects as to what design software other firms are using in their offices. As technology is rapidly changing, the only constant is that we must regularly decide if the latest and greatest software has potential for our specific practice. Knowing what other successful firms are utilizing might be helpful as we wrestle with these decisions. Similarly, academics are curious of the latest practices in an effort to either integrate or validate course objectives. It’s with this curiosity in mind that we talked with 15 recent ASLA award-winning firms from across the country about the software they use in creating illustrative perspectives. The firms surveyed range in size but altogether represent 40% of the National ASLA awards in General Design and Analysis & Planning for the past 3 years.
For context, most high-end perspectives are created across a series of software programs. Typically, a 2D drafting program is used to build the site in plan view, a 3D modeling program projects up the site plan into 3-dimensional space, a rendering program exports 2D graphics with advanced materials and lighting, and a post-processing program is used for touch-ups and final edits. The results of the survey are broken into these 4 categories and are shown below.
Not surprisingly, AutoCAD was almost ubiquitously favored at every firm we contacted. In a few instances, however, firms were also using additional 2D drafting tools like Vectorworks and Revit. What might be a surprise to some is that Rhino 3D was the most widely used 3D modeling program, with 87% of the firms preferring this software. SketchUp Pro was also well represented with 53% of firms surveyed using the software in their workflow. In certain cases, firms would employ both programs because their employees have personal preferences for one or the other. For example, one firm surveyed uses both Rhino and SketchUp because they have found that their project managers prefer the ease of SketchUp, while production staff and recent hires are more comfortable in Rhino. It should be noted that there is the ability to transfer a model between both programs. While 3DS Max has amazing potential, few firms use the program in their offices. Many cited 3DS Max’s steep learning curve (or perceived learning curve) as the reason.
In most instances, post-processing represents the final step in producing perspectives. This step might include digitally inserting people or plant material that are cut out from photographs, or adjusting the overall lighting and saturation of the image. The survey results for this category were universal, with every firm utilizing post-processing and specifically using Adobe Photoshop in that process.
These results are not to imply that every firm should mimic these software packages. Certainly the type and size of firms play a massive role in that decision. They do, however, pull back the curtain and tell us a little more about the techniques behind some of the compelling perspectives we see among the award winners. Maybe a deeper question is, what should dictate where software trends go from here? Should client expectation, competing firms, or personal interests influence software decisions? And, is it the responsibility of principles or production staff (those creating the perspectives) to stay current with trends and dictate software choices?
- We surveyed 15 ASLA award-winning firms to see what software they choose to use in the development of their illustrative perspectives.
- Rhino 3D was the clear favorite for 3D modeling, but SketchUp Pro is also heavily used depending on user preferences.
- The results bring up a discussion about who might influence software integration into firms – entry level production staff or principles?
by Michael Keating, Student ASLA, 3rd-year landscape architecture graduate student at Mississippi State University along with advisor Peter Summerlin, ASLA.