How does technology contribute to Landscape Design? My knee jerk reaction is to switch on the PC and punch that question into Google! Resisting the urge to Tweet it, or to fire a conversation from one of my green friends via skype I decided to ask around? No matter what one is designing, technology is arguably the easiest and efficient way of performing the task. Various programs and software provide designers with so many choices that were otherwise difficult or impossible to do by hand. Designers are taking giant technological steps in adapting designs using highly advanced software.

The days where Landscape designers could sufficiently draw up a concept drawing by hand, and pencil in a plant list in the margin are fast becoming myths, or are they? Below I list a few software programs that benefit Landscape Designers and Architects alike.

Photoshop- The ability to add layers, create various textures and to develop a seemingly one dimensional plan into something visually exciting is one of the many joys of Photoshop. It surpasses Gimp with its use of stencils, textures, lighting and palettes- to mention but a few. Its ability to produce high-end graphics and imagery makes it an essential part of our designs and design process.

Sketch up- Besides being an easy to use and learn software program. Its free version allows one to sufficiently design a vast amount of houses, objects, gardens and structures without parameters. Its quick to draw a 2D and 3D model and a basic understanding of SketchUp can produce results that would have taken much longer to develop on other 3D modelling programs. Visualizations/Walk through provide ultimate 3D guides and it’s a cost effective and easy tool to use to broaden your abilities. A huge positive in the landscaping world is that it can be integrated into other design suites. Not to mention one can load geographic locations and gradients’ which can help ascertain season planting plans; sunny and shady areas as well as developed models can be populated directly on Google Earth.

Revit- A BIM software, which straight away can mean two things: costly and a steep learning curve. The main concern with Revit is that it does not provide an easy to use Work Flow, especially for Landscape Designers/Architects. If you are designing a large estate or something equivalent Revit battles to model or to correlate when pushing the 40km or so bracket. Although many designs will not need to be that big it still presents a problem when transferring your design onto a larger site plan. Revit is an exceptional piece of software – provided you only use Revit. Although Revit will be updating and evolving as Software does it cannot sufficiently merge with AutoCAD. This is especially frustrating when merging Civil 3D and other elements into Revit, as any AutoCAD elements can be lost in your model. However, it does provide a lot more functionality compared to AutoCAD. Since many architectural and engineering firms use Revit as their software of choice it makes sense for Landscape Architects and Designers to develop sufficient skills in Revit so that they plans and models can be circulated throughout disciplines.

AutoCAD- One of our favourite software programs to use. It’s easy to use and has a versatile tool set. Whether one is a professional landscape architect or a first year student, AutoCAD is still the go-to program. Many architects, engineers and Land Surveyors use AutoCAD and therefore landscape plans are easily distributed to other professionals when needed. Similarly, 2D line drawings or plans can be easily integrated into SketchUp or other 3D modelling software with exceptional results.

Lumion- An easy to learn 3D modelling software that exists in many design fields. However, be warned, it’s made up of an extensive graphics and will not work on a home PC or laptop- unless with a large graphic card and decent amount of RAM. One can produce very realistic 3D models and its no wonder it’s used by a myriad of design fields. However, it’s expensive; some elements cannot be undone; Scale is not always ideally produced within the software and it takes a lot of time to produce World Class designs. For many landscape designers the cost does not justify the return with regards to this product.

[An example – Lumion can be very detailed as seen here:]

Rhino- A cleaner and better applicator to 3D modelling than Sketchup. Rhino is a great tool, especially when creating gradients, levels and slope layouts quickly. To be honest I have not used this product in a professional context, but I have two family members in design (one in Media and the other in Large Scale Production Design) who both use Rhino to great effect.

Indesign- Although not exactly landscape design software. InDesign is the ideal office program in that it allows one to create booklets, to large scale presentations and documents. It is easy to use and learn and allows a plethora of options when designing or creating stylish, professional documents to supplement drawings; BOQs and/or planting lists.

Adobe Illustrator; Vectorworks and 3Ds max. Each have their Pro’s and Con’s and can be used in great effect within any landscape design office. Vectorworks is great because you can work in both 2D and 3D as well as specifying particular tools or industry specific databases. Its integrates well with other software like AutoCAD, 3Ds MAX and SketchUp. 3Ds Max is an incredible 3D modelling Software, although it is hard to learn and apply. It comes highly recommended and if I had more time I would definitely learn the ‘in and out’s’ of the program. Last, but not least, Illustrator. Illustrator,  is ideal for 2D drawings and to edit one dimensional poly/line work. It’s especially helpful when working with land surveying and/or GIS systems as one can readily edit lines and create maps and surveys quickly and accurately.

There are many other programs out there which we do not use. Some are great, some are terrible. I suggest doing some research to see which one suits your niche. For EnrichStudio our ‘bread and butter’ is AutoCAD, Photoshop, InDesign and SketchUp. Our designing starts with CAD, where we create a 2D plan and planting plan. We import this into Photoshop where we render various elements to create a more realistic plan. Indesign and SketchUp is used to ‘beef’ up our plans and concepts and to ultimately give our Clients a better understanding of the garden that we envisage.

History is known to be cyclic and as much as society does its best to advance it often repeats itself. Conventional Pen and Paper designing follows similar lines (excuse the pun). These days exquisite hand drawn designs still populate the residential landscape design market and, surprisingly, are still in demand. The raw, organic approach is an art form. These plans fulfil the romantic and intimate approach to designing that residential gardens are shaped and developed from.  As much as software has an important place in our office we would not be able to conceptualise and develop great design ideas without Pen and Pencil designing. In our office the plans with most acclaim are those hand drawn: where individual brush strokes can be seen, lines have various widths and colours and the clinical approach to nature is forgotten. After all nature is exactly that: raw, organic and not exactly how we envisage it.