This Year’s Technology Forecast

The tech cloud image: Matthew Wilkins
The tech cloud
image: Matthew Wilkins

It’s a new year, which is typically the time we speculate about various things, including what’s on the horizon of the ever-changing technology front. As we continue to see advances in the way that new technologies are evolving and aiding in the design of healthier, safer, and more prosperous landscapes, one thing that’s certain is that there’s likely to be a downpour of new technology that will continue to aid the field this coming year. As we at the Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) seek to forecast some of the trends and stats as witnessed from our various weather stations, stay tuned!


It is necessary for the modern landscape architect to familiarize themselves with useful applications and knowledge on the latest technology (tech) in the digital atmosphere. As tech rapidly evolves, so does our need to adjust our techniques and ability to utilize these new tools to stay relevant among our AE counterparts—this has become the new adaptation cycle for the modern-day practitioner.

There’s much discussion in the tech world revolving around the latest gadgets and technology, including the cosmic explosion of the IoT (internet of things), the increasing availability of open source data, the ever-present use of drones and other sensors, super computing and remote cloud virtualization, augmented and virtual reality, 3D printing, information modeling, and many other technologies that influence our industry. It almost requires a full time tech meteorologist to report the forecast for our profession. Fortunately, we’ve done just that.

Digital rain image: Matthew Wilkins
Digital rain
image: Matthew Wilkins

A Charted Forecast

Last year, the Digital Technology PPN conducted a survey to see what technology and software applications firms of various sizes are using. Additionally, we asked what practitioners are looking to use in the coming years amongst many other questions. The survey was also sent to various universities around the nation and we were able to hear what landscape architecture programs are teaching and what the students are anticipating to use when they enter the industry. Led by then-PPN Chair Ryan Deane, ASLA, and the Digital Technology PPN, this survey acts as a Doppler to forecast the tech anticipated in the near future.

The survey was sent to several practitioners and there was a decent number of responses, with over 100 individuals representing various market types, firm sizes, and cities across the nation. The survey was broken into four survey groups relative to the firm size, which we then combined and averaged for the following chart results.

What software programs practitioners are using image: Matthew Wilkins
What software programs practitioners are using
image: Matthew Wilkins

In terms of software, three main questions were asked, including what drafting, 3D, and rendering softwares are used by the surveyed firms. After combining the results we found that a majority of industry practitioners mentioned that they are primarily using Autodesk AutoCAD, Trimble SketchUp, and Adobe Photoshop for the drafting, 3D, and rendering work done, respectively.

Furthermore, several individuals stated that they are using Autodesk Revit and Civil 3D along with Vectorworks Landmark and Bently Microstation for drafting, Rhinoceros and 3DS Max for 3D work, and V-Ray and Lumion for post-production rendering.

What technologies practitioners are using image: Matthew Wilkins
What technologies practitioners are using
image: Matthew Wilkins

According to the survey, some of the leading technologies that practitioners are using include 3D printing, laser scanning, and augmented and virtual reality.

Universities have generally responded to the trends in the industry and have implemented many of the aforementioned software into their curricula, with some minor emphasis on Rhinoceros and other visualization software outside of the industries’ primary-used applications.

After further analyzing the data, reviewing the comments, and talking to several practitioners at the ASLA Annual Meeting and over the past year, there seems to be a strong desire to move into a more informed workflow that utilizes information modeling and data informed CAD platforms to assist practitioners in their day-to-day design development and construction document production. Furthermore, there appears to be moderate interest in the use of drones, augmented and virtual reality, and 3D printing to help better convey and experience our work.

No major shifts were expressed in the realm of digitally aided schematic and conceptual workflows that use programs such as Photoshop and SketchUp for graphic representation; however, the shift towards more robust information modeling suites that allow for schematic outputs throughout project refinement may take some demand away from these, may I say, traditional digital-graphic workflows.

Unforeseen Influences

Although many exciting technologies are being incorporated into day-to-day use, we are urged to continue exploring new technologies and workflows to remain competitive in the architecture, engineering, and construction sector. Given the uncertainty around the political atmosphere, it is difficult to know how new regulations or lack-thereof will influence the practice and our use of technology. The new requirements on BIM use for public projects in the UK and heightened regulations on drone use in the US are a couple examples of the impacts that politics can have on technology use in the profession.

Even more uncertain is what will be revealed in terms of new hardware and software on the market. Major tech companies keep new technology confidential until released and as such, we often find ourselves guessing at what we believe will be the new advances without exactly knowing the inside track to many technical developments. As we anxiously wait to hear about what exciting revelations may occur in technology, the impact on our daily workflow is unknown.

Additional influences from other professions and agencies may also play a major role in where landscape architecture is going on the tech front. The fact that we are increasingly competing against other professions on landscape-oriented projects illustrates the urgent need to be able to facilitate a large team and site through IM workflows. Furthermore, the use of various technologies such as augmented and virtual reality are being used more frequently by our counterparts to better inform their clients and the public about their designs, demanding us to assist and match the new expectations.


Rain Over Islands: Procedural Vegetation and Weather Algorithms in Vue image: Matthew Wilkins
Rain Over Islands: Procedural Vegetation and Weather Algorithms in Vue
image: Matthew Wilkins

Tomorrow’s Forecast

Well, now that we see what’s in the tech forecast, what can we do to prepare? For starters, we should be sure to equip ourselves with knowledge on the latest technology and software in the profession—in reading this, you are already one step ahead.

We should also be adventurous and open to using new software, workflows, and technology as they have been proven in their ability to aid in designing healthier, safer, and more prosperous landscapes. Finally, follow the Digital Technology PPN‘s posts throughout the year, look out for the 2017 survey, and keep an eye out for an Online Learning webinar hosted by the PPN where we are likely to discuss one or more of these technologies or software in greater depth.

Now that we know the weather forecast, we can go outside equipped with the right gear. So go out and have fun—splash in a puddle or two, get dirty, and immerse yourself in the coming tech storm.

by Matthew J. Wilkins, ASLA, Digital Technology PPN Chair

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