Software Preferences at Award-winning Firms

image: Peter Summerlin

image: Peter Summerlin

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.

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2016 Digital Technology Survey

image: Ryan Deane

image: Ryan Deane

As a professional, do you ever wonder what your competitors are using for software? As a student, are you concerned with your technical abilities when it’s time for finding a job? Professors, are you wondering how your students stack up against your peer institutions? If you’re interested in any of these questions, the 2016 Digital Technology survey is worth the 5 minutes it will take you!

In an effort to better understand what existing and emerging technology is being used professionally, and taught in accredited institutions, the ASLA Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) has assembled a survey to poll faculty, students, and landscape architecture professionals.

The intent of the 2016 survey is to create a central knowledge base of the software and hardware being used throughout the world of landscape architecture. In addition, a series of questions have been added to analyze the rising cost of technology and the effect on profits and education. We are asking professionals to estimate their annual software budgets, and students and faculty to provide information on software and hardware that is either required or available at their accredited institution.

Be on the lookout for the results, which will also be included in Landscape Architecture Magazine’s upcoming “TECH” column. Please use the following link to take the survey:

ASLA/LAM Technology Survey

Thank you in advance for your time.

by Ryan Deane, ASLA and Matthew Wilkins, Associate ASLA, Digital Technology Co-Chairs

Information Modeling… “Are we there yet?”

View of a Revit model with limited landscape features image: Matthew Wilkins

View of a Revit model with limited landscape features
image: Matthew Wilkins

Imagine a design and documentation process where you make changes and the plans, sections, cost estimates, details, and 3d visuals get automatically updated and are instantly communicated with the project team.

Let me introduce you to information modeling or, most notably, building information modeling (BIM). According to the Landscape Institute:

“BIM is an integrated process built on coordinated, reliable information about a project from design through construction and into operations. It will help improve coordination, enhance accuracy, reduce waste, and enable better-informed decisions earlier in the process.”

It is key to note that information modeling (IM) is a process. In theory this is not related to any specific program and may be expanded to include various workflows and tools to leverage information and foster greater collaboration in the design and documentation process. BIM is currently the working norm for architects who have proven that the information modeling process can help better inform design, communicate with the design and construction team, and be used throughout the life of a building.

To date, landscape architects have had little involvement in the IM process and have yet to embrace it. However, is it because of the software, process, or something else? I guess the main question is, are we as a profession there yet?
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3 Tools That Will Change How You Design

image: Ryan Deane

image: Ryan Deane

Emerging Technology

While the projects we do as landscape architects are slowly evolving, the ways we are able to execute and deliver these projects are progressing at light speed. Every day there are new technologies being developed that will redefine how we work in years to come. This blog is just a sample platter of what will likely be a part of your daily workflow in the not so distant future.

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Designing Habitats with Technology – Part II

Grading checking and as-built documentation conducted with handheld and 4-wheeler attached RTK gear image: Wildlands, Inc.

Grading checking and as-built documentation conducted with handheld and 4-wheeler attached RTK gear
image: Wildlands, Inc.

A collaborative effort between the Digital Technology PPN and Ecology and Restoration PPN.

Ecological restoration and habitat creation are benefiting tremendously from the variety of software available to help analyze, design, visualize and construct complex systems and subtle topographies. While landscape architecture is embracing 3D drafting and illustrative modeling, habitat restoration can especially benefit from the use of many of these software options.

In Denver, Mark, Dave, and Allegra presented an overview of a variety of software that are used in this facet of landscape architecture. In Part I, published on July 14, 2015, we summarized our presentation by including how technology is used in Site Analysis and Design Development within restoration design. Below, in Part II, we will summarize technology used for visualization, construction documentation, and construction.

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Designing Habitats with Technology – Part I

Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Construction Equipment to validate elevation during construction. image: Wildlands

Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Construction Equipment to validate elevation during construction.
image: Wildlands

A collaborative effort between the Digital Technology PPN and Ecology and Restoration PPN.

Ecological restoration and habitat creation are benefiting tremendously from the variety of software available to help analyze, design, visualize and construct complex systems and subtle topographies. While landscape architecture is embracing 3D drafting and illustrative modeling, habitat restoration can especially benefit from the use of many of these software options. In Denver, Mark, Dave, and Allegra presented an overview of a variety of software that are used in this facet of landscape architecture.

Why is this integration and diversity of software especially important for restoration design and construction? Many restoration sites have and need subtle topography and soil conditions to successfully understand and restore the habitats in a timely manner. For instance, many plant species associated with wetlands have very specific inundation limits, resulting in certain plants growing within limited elevation ranges – sometimes as narrow as centimeters or inches.  Therefore, having or creating adequate expanses of these elevations can be critical in the success of a wetland.

Throw sea level rise in the mix and the elevations for potential wetland migration or loss becomes critical. Being able to easily and accurately document and share existing conditions, concepts and alternatives, construction documentation, and construction precision is leading to a better understanding and success of ecological restoration projects.

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Design Software Costs: The Price of Doing Business?

image: Digital Production Middle East

image:  Digital Production Middle East

In an era where computers were created to make our daily tasks more efficient and improve our quality of life, the constant increase in software costs are starting to add back to that once relieved stress. After my previous blog, “The Emerging Role of Millennials,” many of the responses I received were riddled with commentary on the cost of software and how not every firm can afford the luxury of having a multitude of drafting or visualization suites at their disposal. While it’s obvious that it is a necessity in 2015 to have software capable of documentation to successfully deliver a project, the cost of such software is becoming a point of contention with design fees going down and the cost of doing business going up.

OUR DEPENDENCY ON SOFTWARE: Who owns who?
The inspiration to write this article came from a conversation I had on a return flight from a business trip a little over a year ago.  Serendipitous as it may be, I was seated next to a representative of a very large architectural software company. After telling him that I was a landscape architect and fairly technologically savvy, he proceeded to show me some of his company’s new software that was still in development on his tablet. He stated that the company was suffering, having “the most pirated software in the world,” and that everything they were working toward would be subscription and cloud based. This was the first time I had thought about the concept, but it all made sense, until I realized recently what the cost ramifications would be. Knowing that their product is a necessity to the success of so many firms, they can do what they want at nearly any cost. Of course software companies are businesses too and need to make their money, but the line between a healthy profit and greed may becoming blurred.

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