Open Call: We Want Your BIM Data!

by Radu Dicher, LFA, ASLA

image:, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a project execution and delivery process articulated entirely around data. Taking a step back to gain perspective, it’s hard to underestimate how critical data is in the world at large at this point in time. Truly, what is reality anymore?…Within the architecture, engineering, construction, operation, and facility management (AECO-FM) industry, a process having accelerated during the past couple of decades renders the current status of the field essentially scaffolding around a data-centric framework. I like to frame the issue by explaining that the 3D geometry—the most conspicuous exhibit of BIM product, the “model” everyone’s thinking of when thinking of BIM—is just one of the byproducts of the data embedded in the digital project.

Entering the landscape architecture practice: in a sense, our trade is one of the last to join the paradigmatic shift. A pertinent point to be made is that a certain understanding of the “BIM” acronym—where “building” is not understood as a process (the latter being the preferred interpretation today) but as the noun—explicitly all but excludes our trade entirely. This is also the reason why some professionals in the field, including myself, petition for replacing the word “building” with “project,” such as in using the “digital project” concept. But essentially all current projects are BIM—which sets their underlying structure, articulates the deliverables of most trades, and, most frequently, delivers a comprehensive normative standards framework to the project.

But along this “assimilation” process, one of the typical expectations from the rest of the trades in absorbing us as full participants is the actual informational contribution, we, as landscape architects, can pitch into the project data pool. It’s the question I’ve been asked most as a landscape architecture practice BIM manager.

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Transforming Landscapes with Solar Smart Benches

by Malcolm Kay, Affiliate ASLA

Steora Cyclo solar powered bench / image: Archasol

In just a few short years, bench seating has evolved from simply offering a place to sit and relax to high tech community hubs. Benches can now be recharging stations for phones, laptops, e-bikes, and e-scooters; centers for monitoring and recording data on local environment conditions; music centers with Bluetooth speakers; Wi-Fi hotspots; and workstations with 120V power and overhead lighting—all within a compact, self-contained structure, free from any external power.

It was only seven years ago that the first solar powered smart bench with fully integrated solar panels was developed in Europe. The earliest models took the view that this new type of bench should look revolutionary in all respects, so side panels were square steel plate, painted a brilliant white with the seat basically being a flat panel housing PV cells, protected with a thick sheet of glass or polycarbonate.

Since that time, the design of solar powered benches has evolved considerably, with some benches now incorporating PV cells concealed so successfully that they resemble wood slats. Even the backrest of the seats can be used to house PV cells, increasing the power generating capacity without increasing the width or length of the seat.

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Digital Landscape Architecture Conference Coming to Harvard GSD

by Stephen M. Ervin

DLA2022’s keynote speakers are Mirka Beneš of the University of Texas at Austin, Anya Domlesky, ASLA, Director of Research at SWA Group, and Mitchell Joachim of Terreform ONE / NYU. / image: DLA Conference

Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) Conference
June 9-10, 2022
Online and in-person at the Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Just three years ago, I attended the Digital Landscape Architecture Conference for the first time, when it was held in Dessau, Germany, home of the Bauhaus. At that time, I was invited to speak about BIM in landscape architecture and was amazed by the diverse audience present to listen, see, and engage. With eyes wide open, I too learned a great deal from faculty, students, practitioners, and various technology leaders. Soon after this experience, our Digital Technology PPN was asked to help spread the word about the following conference, to take place in the US, at Harvard GSD. Though COVID changed the dynamic for a couple of years, the conference retooled and continued virtually. As this year’s conference theme “Hybrid” describes the split nature of learning and disseminating presented information, it also translates to how our practice, research, and connectedness has quickly adapted and evolved to stay ahead of the new directions of the industry. I invite you to consider the announcement below by fellow DLA colleague, Stephen Ervin, and sincerely consider joining the conference either virtually or in-person to learn where digital technology in landscape architecture is heading next.
–Eric Gilbey, PLA, ASLA, Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) Immediate Past Chair

In 2020, the 21st international meeting of the Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) Conference was scheduled to come to the US for the first time ever, to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD)—after having been in Europe, mostly at the Hochschule Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, near Berlin, Germany, for the previous two decades.

Of course, the 2020 conference, planned for June of that year, was dramatically disrupted by the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Harvard along with much of the US was locked down, and the conference was held from my home office, entirely on Zoom, then a still-new experience for many of us.

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Tools for Equitable Park Planning and Design: Digital Workflows to Enhance Park Access and Quality

by Matthew Wilkins, PLA, ASLA, APA

Rio Hondo Park Concept
Rio Hondo Park Concept / image: KTUA Landscape Architecture and Planning

This last year has provided an awakening on issues of equality and our environment. One issue in particular that impacts communities nationwide and can be enhanced by landscape architects, is the ease of access and quality of parks. This topic of access to quality parks and open space has been given emphasis throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as parks and open space became vital places to work, live, learn, heal, and seek refuge. Coupled with looming environmental challenges and the ability for parks and open space to help protect and mitigate these impacts, there has never been a better time to focus our attention on the topic of creating healthy and equitable parks. This is our call to action.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, communities of color and those in stressed socio-economic areas have suffered from the inability to social distance and recreate in a safe and therapeutic environment. This adversity has compounded existing health issues impacting these communities, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity which are intertwined among various other environmental health hazards and conditions. Many of these communities are also at higher risk of adverse environmental impacts and are typically at a higher risk of displacement or damage due to extreme weather events. Considering the current impacts of COVID and future challenges they face from changing environmental conditions, one thing is evident, that immediate attention is needed to address our equity and abundance of parks and open space for the health, safety, and wellbeing of our communities across America.

Though parks and open space may seem like a low priority in budgeting for cities and agencies, it’s time for a paradigm shift to seeing these resources as significant or equal to vital social and healthcare services, as these spaces help to bring communities together and allow for therapeutic opportunities to increase health and physical enjoyment and to connect people with nature. Furthermore, park and open space areas serve as vital green infrastructure for communities facing intensified challenges due to climate change, because they serve as critical space to combat and lower the impacts of potential storms and natural disasters.

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Competition / Collaboration: What a Design Challenge Taught Us During a Year Online

by Cullen Meves, ASLA

Topography and Temporality / image: Ke-Ping Kuo, Student Affil. ASLA, Northeastern University

As college students are returning to class this Fall, either online, remote, or hybrid, this post reflects on the extraordinary year just completed and the advances in digital technology evolving simultaneously in our socially-distanced current scenario. The 2020-2021 university school-year saw an immense shift in academic practice and online curriculum. Every professor, faculty member, and student experienced a barrage of new online technologies, teaching and collaboration strategies, and a fundamentally changed appreciation for the vast array of digital tools available.

Over the course of the Spring 2021 semester, five universities engaged in the Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge, spearheaded by ReMain Nantucket and adapting educational models developed at University of Florida. The Challenge called on interdisciplinary teams of graduate students from leading design universities to reimagine Nantucket Harbor under the latest projections of sea level rise. Teams were asked to create visually impactful designs and propose adaptations and innovations that would enable coastal communities to imagine what Nantucket’s future under sea level rise and climate impacts may look like.

The teams worked with 24 local and regional advisors as well as residents of Nantucket for context and inspiration, all from remote locations geographically dispersed across the United States and for the most part connecting only via online meetings during the semester-long Challenge. Digital communication and representational tools took center-stage over the course of this Challenge and highlighted the strengths and weaknesses these tools offer in this new era of online design.

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Drones 101-1000

by Andrew P. Sargeant, ASLA, Mike Fox, ASLA, Aubrey Pontious, Associate ASLA, and Russell Thomman, ASLA

Aerial photo of downtown Austin
Congress Avenue, Downtown Austin / image: RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture

Drones 101-1000 was the first Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) webinar of 2021. The PPN identified drone use in landscape architecture as a topic for which many of our members would like information and resources. The ending of the title, “101-1000,” implies covering everything from the basics to advanced topics with regard to drone use in the field of landscape architecture. The PPN may have more “101-1000” webinars on other topics in the future (our second webinar of the year, a BIM Roundtable with EDSA and SmithGroup, took place earlier this week and will be available as a recording soon), as well as a follow-up to this drone webinar.

Mike Fox, ASLA, and Aubrey Pontious, Associate ASLA, of WPL opened the conversation. Mike started by discussing why he was initially hesitant about incorporating drones within WPL’s practice. He was worried about cost, frequency of use, and other practical concerns. He talked about the unique opportunity to employ Aubrey as both a landscape designer and a potential drone pilot and detailed the negotiations that led to Aubrey becoming a stable resource within the company for drone use, including licensing and equipment.

Aubrey, prior to joining WPL, had some previous hobbyist experience with drones which allowed him to make the case for the firm to help subsidize his exploration and training for drone use in the office. Aubrey outlined some of the use cases within WPL’s practice, including marketing imagery, site surveying, and construction administration. Many of these use cases could be incorporated into any size or type of practice for relatively low cost.

Russell Thomman, ASLA, director of Digital Innovation at RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture, continued the conversation and covered more advanced drone use and techniques. Russell explained how his use of drones within the office has now developed into a wide variety of services. He made it clear that these services were not immediately economically viable or readily wanted from clients but after continued exploration they have now seeded themselves within the practice.

Russell detailed some of third-party software along with the actual hardware necessary for 3D site visits, construction administration, and 3D rendering. In combination with his Mavic 2, Russell uses a handheld 360 camera to offer a comprehensive inventory of site conditions. Russell also talked about using GIS in combination with data aggregated from the drone to “tell stories,” via ESRI web mapping tools. Russell’s ability to go beyond the conventional representation of the landscapes is a product of continued exploration and a combination of new and existing technologies.

Our Drones 101-1000 webinar—check out the full recording below—is part of the PPN’s goal to support and encourage landscape architect’s efforts in research and development of design technology in the field.

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Design Software Survey Results

Design Software Survey Results

Last year, the Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team released a survey to gather information about available technology applications currently used by landscape architects to operate effectively and efficiently. In collaboration with professors Benjamin George, ASLA (Utah State University), and Peter Summerlin, ASLA (Mississippi State University), PPN co-chairs Matt Wilkins, ASLA, Eric Gilbey, ASLA, and officer Nate Qualls, ASLA, collected over 480 responses, capturing the industry’s current state of software usage.

Software and technology are thoroughly entrenched as an essential tool for designers. However, there are many available options vying for designer’s attention and use, and it is often difficult to assess and understand the ramifications of adopting certain software packages. For educators, working to prepare students to become future practitioners, it is important to understand how software is being used in the profession in order to better train their students. For practitioners, these results may inform decisions on software investment or adoption of emerging technologies for your practice.

This data provides a detailed picture of the current state of software use in the profession and enables an analysis of how software usage varies across the discipline. Not unexpectedly, the results of the study indicate that AutoCAD, Photoshop, Illustrator, and SketchUp are the most commonly used and most important software packages in the profession. However, when factoring in the type of projects that a firm works on, this ranking changes and other software, such as GIS, Revit, Rhino, and Civil3d, become more prominent. There is also variability in what software is used based on the geographic location of the firm. Larger firms are also more likely to use and value a broader range of software applications. The survey also found that individual emerging technologies are closely related, indicating that some firms are very entrepreneurial in adopting new technologies.

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The Digital Landscape Architecture Conference is Coming to Cambridge, MA

by Stephen M. Ervin, FASLA

Digital Landscape Architecture Conference attendees
130 landscape architects from 30 countries attended the 20th Digital Landscape Architecture Conference in 2019. / image: DLA

Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) Conference
Abstracts due: November 1, 2019
DLA Conference: June 1-3, 2020 at the Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Not too many US landscape architects may have heard of the International Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) conference, coming to the US for the first time next year in June 2020. The conference attracts a mix of landscape architecture academics, students, practitioners, allied professionals, technologists, scholars, and interested lay people from all over the world. In 2019, participants represented 30+ countries worldwide!

DLA was started in 1999, at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Bernburg, Germany, a small agricultural town 100 km (62 miles) south of Berlin with a strong international landscape architecture program. In its first years DLA was primarily an academic conference, held in Bernburg. In recent years it has become larger, more international, and multidisciplinary, and has recently been held regularly at the nearby Dessau campus—the home of the famed Bauhaus school from the early 20th century. The architect Walter Gropius was the director of the Bauhaus in its most impactful era, in the 1930s, before he left Germany just before World War II, came to Cambridge, and became the head of the Architecture Department at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard University.

The links between Harvard and the DLA conference go back to the beginning, when I co-founded the conference with my German colleague Professor Erich Buhmann. GSD Professor Carl Steinitz, Hon. ASLA, now Emeritus, was among the speakers at the first conference; we have both been regular attendees, speakers, and organizers over the years. In recent years, the DLA conference has grown (in 2019, speakers were from more than 30 countries world-wide); and has traveled further and further afield from its base in Germany (the conference has recently been held in Switzerland and Turkey). Next year for its 21st meeting, DLA2020 will be held for the first time in the US, at the GSD just following Harvard commencement, June 1-3, 2020. The conference theme will be Cybernetic Ground: Information, Imagination, Impact.

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Tech for Professional Practice

image: Unsplash

ASLA has released two surveys in collaboration with the Professional Practice Committee and Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN):

The Software Utilization Survey aims to gather and share information about what technology and applications landscape architects currently using to operate effectively and efficiently.

The Project Management Technology Use Survey explores the products and services that improves work efficiency and project management skills of our members.

All ASLA members are welcome to take both surveys by Friday, September 7. Each survey should take only 5-7 minutes to complete and your participation is greatly appreciated.

Click here to complete the Software Utilization Survey!

Click here to complete the Project Management Technology Use Survey!

The Digital Technology PPN Looks Ahead to 2018

Ocean Street Beach Access Project in Carlsbad CA / image: Matt Wilkins and Stephen Nunez – KTUA

A Recap of Last Year’s Annual Meeting and Blast Off into 2018
Another year is in the books, and as we look back it was a very fun and successful year. At the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles, there were several digital technology sessions covering some of the leading tools and tech including BIM, augmented and virtual reality, innovative prototyping, demystifying technology and more. Thank you to all who supported these sessions and to the panelists for sharing their tools, techniques, and passion.

Ryan Deane, ASLA, Digital Technology Co-Chair; David Leonard, ASLA, Past Digital Technology Chair; and Matthew Wilkins, ASLA, Digital Technology Chair present on augmented and virtual reality at the ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting / image: Ryan Deane

The Digital Technology PPN EXPO tour was also very informative as we learned in-depth information from the presenting vendors about their tools to assist our profession. We were also able to gather for our annual PPN meeting and meet with each other in person, share our knowledge, and come up with ideas for 2018. A major thank you to all who participated in these various events. Continue reading

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.

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Digital Technology at the ASLA Annual Meeting

University of Miami: Medical Campus using Rhino, Sketchup and Lumion image: Ryan Deane, ASLA, Julija Singer, AIA – The SLAM Collaborative
University of Miami: Medical Campus using Rhino, Sketchup and Lumion
image: Ryan Deane, ASLA, Julija Singer, AIA – The SLAM Collaborative

We are very excited to announce that there will be several events for the Digital Technology PPN at the upcoming ASLA Annual Meeting in New Orleans! This past year we have seen many advances in digital technologies and have discussed many of these new technologies and topics in our various Field posts. This conversation will continue at the annual meeting and we are happy to announce that there will be various education sessions, meetings, and events for the Digital Technology PPN. Below are a few events and meetings to keep an eye out for during your time in New Orleans.

Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) Meeting
Saturday, October 22, 9:15-10:00 AM
Come meet us at the PPN Lounge located in PPN Live on the EXPO floor for the Digital Technology PPN meeting. We will meet the members of the PPN, discuss our goals for the upcoming year, discuss our plans for Online Learning webinars, and chat about the latest and greatest tools out there. We will also have a discussion regarding new incoming PPN chairs and how to inspire others to join our PPN through various PPN leadership opportunities.

Digital Technology PPN EXPO Tour (1.0 PDH LA CES/non-HSW)
Saturday, October 22, 1:00-2:00 PM
This year, the ASLA PPN’s will host EXPO Tours at the annual meeting. We will be meeting with various vendors to discuss new software, products, and technology that is out on the market. We will be visiting the following exhibitors during the tour: ANOVA, Keysoft Solutions, Land F/X, and Vectorworks. Sign up online to attend the Digital Technology PPN EXPO Tour or show up to PPN Live 15 minutes prior to the meeting to check availability! Tours will start from PPN Live on the EXPO floor.

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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.

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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The Emerging Role of Millennials

image: Ryan Deane
image: Ryan Deane

If your firm looks anything like mine it won’t be hard for you to paint this picture for yourself. A bustling open-office floor plan with large semi-private work stations for senior associates and principals along the windowed perimeter (usually vacant). Cookie cutter cubicles with low walls filled with a production army of 20-30 year olds, rocking headphones while heating up their keyboards, and an inner core of collaboration spaces filled with a mix of employees laboring over the latest design ideas – it won’t be long before these headphones (and their millennial owners) move towards those window seats.

Millennials Can “Just Play”

Back in the 80’s while many of our bosses were likely out at a Journey concert, we started training. Okay okay, at the time we didn’t know it was training, but opening an Atari, Nintendo, or Sega on your birthday was like getting your first PC. Then in the 90’s we sat down for hours on end to the ‘cutting edge’ graphics of “SimCity 2000,” with only a keyboard and mouse to sculpt the landscape before planning a city… On second thought, it really was training! Between hours of playing “Oregon Trail” we wrote our first email from our 4th grade classroom on an Apple IIe. We typed our first book reports and inserted clip art in middle school, and by the time college rolled around we had early versions of AutoCAD, Photoshop, and GIS as part of our daily vocabulary.

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Digital Technology in Denver

Plant Factory Vegetation Rendered in Vue image: Matt Wilkens, KTU+A
Plant Factory Vegetation Rendered in Vue
image: Matt Wilkens, KTU+A

We are all very excited for the upcoming ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver! This past year, digital technologies have greatly modified the way we do business, and many of these new technologies will be featured at this year’s Annual Meeting. Outlined below are a few of our favorite picks for education sessions and vendor booths to stop by and learn a thing or two. The education offerings span the spectrum from hand-drawn graphic integration, to CAD, to 3D technologies, to Geodesign.

I hope that everyone attending the Annual Meeting will also join us at the PPN Networking Reception on Friday, November 21 from 5:15-7:15 pm in Room 201, Colorado Convention Center, and the Digital Technology PPN Meeting on Saturday, November 22 from 9:15-10:45 am in PPN Room 2 on the EXPO floor near ASLA Central.

At the Digital Technology PPN Meeting on Saturday morning, we will discuss our PPN’s goals for the upcoming year, have a new technologies roundtable, I will give a quick demonstration of this year’s 3D improvements, and then I will turn it over to our new PPN Chair, Ryan Deane, for a quick demonstration of some other digital technology improvements for productivity.

Below are sessions and meetings for those interested in maximizing their digital technology learning experience at the Annual Meeting.

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Bike to Work Day / Bike to Fun Day!

image: KTU+A
image: KTU+A

Using digital technologies to promote our ideals can be fun and easy—this ranges from infographics to timelapse photography. Check out the following use as documented by San Diego firm KTU+A in their blog. Hopefully this will inspire you to use technology to promote your next professional message!

On May 30, 2014, KTU+A hosted its annual Bike to Work Day Pit Stop on the corner of Normal Street and University Avenue in the San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest. Over 230 bike commuters stopped by for snacks and giveaways, the largest turnout in the past five years. In addition to the Pit Stop, KTU+A conducted a tactical urbanism display on Normal Street by taking over five parking spaces for a parklet with tables, chairs, bean bag toss games, and a yoga session. The large paved median on Normal Street was used to showcase the size of the underutilized space by laying out sports fields as examples of its sheer size.

For more on KTU+A’s involvement in Bike to Work Day, see the post published on the KTU+A blog, and check out the infographic and video re-posted below.

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Digital Technology at ASLA 2013

3DS Max and Vue Animation image: David Leonard and Matt Wilkens, KTU+A
3DS Max and Vue Animation
image: David Leonard and Matt Wilkens, KTU+A

We are all very excited for the upcoming ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston! This past year, digital technologies have greatly modified the way we do business, and many of these new technologies will be featured at this year’s Annual Meeting. Outlined below are a few of our favorite picks for educational sessions and vendor booths to stop by and learn a thing or two. The education offerings span the spectrum from hand-drawn graphic integration, to CAD, to 3D technologies, to Geodesign—a hot topic for this year.

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What makes it ‘geodesign’?

A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design 2012, showing the four necessary components of geodesign. image: Carl Steinitz
A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design, showing the four necessary components of geodesign.
image: Carl Steinitz

The term “geodesign” has some amount of buzz around it. For example, there is a Wikipedia entry; the University of Southern California offers a “Bachelor of Science in Geodesign” major; Penn State Online offers a “Graduate Certificate in Geodesign”; Carl Steinitz recently published his book “A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design”; and so on.  This is still within a small community, mind you, ask most of your friends if they have heard of ‘geodesign’, or what it might be, and you get (or at least I usually do) mostly puzzled looks.

I’ve been listening, and contributing, to the conversation that gave birth to the term for some time. Last year, in a talk at the ESRI User’s Conference in San Diego, I said “When I first heard the term I felt like I had been using it for a long time – though of course I hadn’t.”  I argued then that geodesign may be “the computer-aided design some of us have been imaging, wishing for, and working on, for many years” — making reference to the common somewhat mundane use of the term ‘CAD’ to mean simply “drawing with computers”, rather than the more ambitious “aiding design”.

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Digital Sandbox: a new mentoring paradigm?

The Landscape Architecture Sampler: have students ever wondered what it might be like to work here, in the Empty Quarter, in Southwest Asia? image: Flaherty
The Landscape Architecture Sampler: have students ever wondered what it might be like to work here, in the Empty Quarter, in Southwest Asia?
image: Flaherty

Mentoring needs digital facilitation.

This is a brief review of how time, cost, and quality issues have impacted education and the practitioners’ offices in the past decade or so.  Schools have been pressured to streamline, yet teach more.  Practitioners’ offices have been pressured to help with education, yet reduce overheads.  Who loses?  Everybody, especially the students. Though internships help, they only give a narrow window for viewing and learning over a short period of time.  I contend that the pressures, both in education and also in practitioners’ offices, combine to negatively influence the next generation of landscape architects.  The students end up poorly informed and weak when it comes to two critical categories: what they want to do and how can they reach that goal.

The weakness comes from an insufficient understanding of how the profession works, how a project evolves, and how the work advances over time in the practitioners’ offices.  This is not a new problem, but it is an exacerbated problem these days.  How to correct this?  Digitally facilitated mentoring.

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Futuristic Preservation

Study model for the Living Museum at Atturaif, a UNESCO World Heritage site northwest of Riyadh and site of the Saudi capital in the 18th century  image: Ayers Saint Gross Inc.
Study model for the Living Museum at Atturaif, a UNESCO World Heritage site northwest of Riyadh and site of the Saudi capital in the 18th century
image: Ayers Saint Gross Inc.

Point Cloud Surveys of Historic Landscapes

When the US Secretary of the Interior first introduced the Standards and Guidelines for Architectural and Engineering Documentation: HABS/HAER  in 1983, Ronald Reagan was in the White House and most of us did not yet know how to type—let alone know how to work on a PC.  This document was formulated in a pre-digital age and is, not-surprisingly, pre-digital in orientation; specifying such parameters for the documentation of historic structures as the use of black and white photography, the requisite submission of film negatives and consistency of hand-lettering.  Today, some of the specific requirements seem almost quaint: “Level I measured drawings will be lettered mechanically (i.e., Leroy or similar) or in a hand printed equivalent style.”  Incidentally, these standards served as a prototype for the Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) when it was initiated in 2000.

In the decades since 1983, we have witnessed a revolution in Information Technology.  It has resulted in fundamental changes to the way that disciplines such as landscape architecture and history are practiced.  In the 1990s, Computer-Aided Design transformed the workflow of landscape architectural practice from design and documentation through construction.  A second wave of transformation has arrived with Building Information Management (BIM) / Site Information Management (SIM) applications and is beginning to transform the roles of designer and contractor in project delivery.  In the study of history today, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for research and analysis is not uncommon.  Other new technologies and software applications are now emerging with the potential to transform a wide array of disciplines from ecology to historic preservation.   What follows is a discussion of one of these tools in particular—the digital “Point Cloud Survey”—and a review of its use in the context of a preservation and adaptive reuse project in Saudi Arabia.

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It’s a 3D Model, what’s the difference?

Fiesta Island Running Trail, generated in Visual Nature Studioimage: David Leonard
Fiesta Island Running Trail, generated in Visual Nature Studio
image: David Leonard

Land planning and design are highly driven by the need for schematic designs, but understanding the best methods and tools to reflect these schemes can be daunting. Technology continues to advance at an accelerated rate and we must stay up to speed on these changes in order to most appropriately accomplish the task at hand. 3D technologies have emerged over the past two decades increasing our ability to create stunning images of our visions, but are we using the tools correctly?

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Confessions of a Dinosaur

Perspective sketch by the author for a recent project
image: PRI

CAD is the worst thing to happen to the landscape architecture profession.

There, I said it.

I feel better already.

I’m sure there were some who said the same thing when tree stamps, Kroy machines, and the overlay method of drafting arrived on the scene.  Each has come and gone and the profession has survived.  CAD, however, is a little more insidious, because I believe it has not only changed how we represent our ideas, but how we think of them.

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A Dinosaur in the Digital Age

CAD drawing of Overlook at The Yards Park
CAD drawing of overlook options for The Yards Park
image: M. Paul Friedberg

M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA has transitioned into the digital age and urges other older professionals to find the freedom he has discovered.

He has practiced landscape architecture for 54 years and has designed many memorable places such as Pershing Park in Washington, DC.  He has seen the tools of the profession transformed from hand drawings, watercolors and slide rules to the use of calculators and digitally produced drawings.  He started our conversation by stating “You’re talking to a dinosaur.”  He is an octogenarian landscape architect who is using CAD for his professional work.  Here are Paul’s viewpoints on his use of technology in practice based on two extended conversations with him.

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