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!

Introduction

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.

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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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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