Landscape architecture is a forgotten art - sandwiched somewhere between postmodernism and the Macarena in the depths of once prominent forms of expression. What most people don’t realize is the value hidden behind this mostly unknown profession. Landscape architects have the ability to transform a beautiful architectural object into an experience closely tied to its location. The work is much more than picking pretty plants and trees out of a Home Depot garden catalogue - much more - and thanks to developments in render visualization and presentation developers, architects and builders are finally starting to take serious notice.
Here’s why you should, too.
Thanks for asking! A landscape architect is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. They work with other lead architects, designers, clients and builders to add natural flourish to exterior space surrounding a new or old building. This can be in the form of patios, gardens, courtyards, and even special interiors and rooftop decks. They manipulate earth with retaining walls and terraced planters and carve through yards with pedestrian paths and sitting areas. They add soft but alive accents to what might other be a sterile building without a soul. A landscape architect is responsible for everything that happens at the edge, ever careful of treating it with care.
A landscape architect knows the land. They are experts in botanical diversity and tricky scientific names for trees and plants. They are gardeners and geologists, botanists and sculptors. At their heart they are artist who paint with the natural environment, breathing life into architecture and enhancing the already inherent beauty in mother earth.
In many ways, they work just like any other design professional would. They develop a concept based on a collection of parameters, conditions, and criteria - typically in line with the overall conceptual force behind the building design - then work on a series of iterative designs that culminate in the finished product. They work they produce may not be as technical or rooted in mathematics as an architect or structural engineer, but the end result can be just as experientially moving. In the end, they manipulate space, light and shadow just like an architect does.
And just like architects and designers, landscape architects must be able to showcase their designs before they are fully executed. In the past, they used various hand-drawn techniques to show colour, composition and processional potential of a given building site.
While effective to a point, it became time consuming and expensive for designers to change their designs due to client preference, architect coordination, or any other handful of issues that inevitably road block the design process. Not only that, it required great technical ability to hand render a landscape scene with any degree of real-world accuracy - time that could be better used to refine the design.
Recent developments in computer-driven drawing and rendering, landscape architecture has begun a transition into the future of design and execution. Catalogues and libraries of trees, plants, rock types and landscape features can now be plugged into conceptual design work with easy, quickly taking work from “maybe” to “hell yes!”
But the process starts well before that money-shot moment.
Every project starts with the site. It could be in the middle of a bustling urban metropolis or on a single rock in the middle of the Mediterranean. No two job sites are identical, and all present a unique set of circumstances and challenges that designers translate into “opportunities.” With a landscape architect, the land is where you start. It is important to understand topography, location of existing trees and boulders, as well as potential for view and hang-out space. What better way to understand these features than to completely recreate them in a computer?
In a matter of a few hours, a landscape architect can populate a sophisticated, highly detailed 3D model of all existing site conditions. In most cases, the architect will already have the design kicked down the line to a certain point. If so, their design can be plopped in as well, representing the starting point for the landscape architect to work his magic. 3D rendering and 3D modeling software such as Google SketchUp, Rhino, 3DS Max, or even AutoCAD and Revit are great places to start even for conceptual work. The ability to pan and orbit around the model will give useful birds eye and ground level understanding of where the design should go. From there, the designer can begin to add, subtract, and manipulate as they see fit. That can’t happen, however, without all the information.
Of course, holding all the cards doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to play them. At this point in the design process, the collaboration between the architect and the landscape architect is in full swing. They share ideas, sketch through design problems and can even be forced to make a concessions for the good of the project. This collaboration is critical, and will rely heavily on both designers ability to communicate those ideas.
The 3D model that was developed for the initial site research will be put to use once again. This time around, 3D rendering software aids in bringing that model to life with all design moves and site changes included. More than ever, that process is streamlined to allow on-the-fly design changes during meetings and presentations, giving the landscape architect the power to perfect colour and material selection. Not only that, but the developed 3D model can be used as a presentation tool itself. There is no better way to convince a client of a design’s validity than to take them on a virtual tour of the proposed design. If the designer has done their work, it will shine through without the need for explanation, infusing trust into the working relationship.
This can go back and forth for months, depending on the size and complexity of the job. The resources that would previously be forced into the production of design drawings can now be allocated to the design itself. The result is better work, and a more enjoyable experience for us all. Lucky us!
All this is well and good, but perhaps the most important result from the landscape architecture profession adapting digital visualization is how the average person is starting to view it. We are a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is society, and the ability to render their work with realistic profession has gone a long way to showcase their value. Anyone can walk through a beautiful landscape and appreciate the art, but most people don’t understand the work that goes into creating. By pairing pictures of the final product with images of the design process, people can see with their own eyes how valuable the work is. This raises awareness, lands more jobs, and lets the rest of us experience landscape design more than ever.
Trust me, that’s a very good thing.