Landscape Architecture &
Digital Design Skills
Landscape architects work in all scales and levels of design and planning. It is typical that the same firm or individual operates on a wide range of tasks from landscape analysis and strategic planning to grading design and planting plans. Multiple computational skills are needed in order to navigate the variety of commissions. There is no single software that serves all needs. For a student, more important than mastering a specific software program is the understanding of multiple workflows. Each design and planning assignment and sometimes even each client may require a different workflow. As time is of the essence and budgets are tight, an ideal employee produces the desired visual outcome, be it hand sketching, computer-aided, photomontage or a combination technique.
The skills needed in landscape architecture offices are partly the same as in architecture offices. However, the approach is distinct and the way the two professions use the same software may vary. Landscape plans intend to communicate change - from existing conditions to installation and maintenance: terrain, soil, vegetation, waters and structures. A landscape plan is always site-specific, the design is drawn on top of a survey map and tied to a national coordinate system.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are used in large-scale landscape planning and management. Landscape architects utilize national open-source spatial data using specific GIS-programs, such as ArcMap, QGIS or MapInfo. Maps are visualized and enhanced with various graphic programs, to produce landscape inventory, assessment and analysis maps. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is used to communicate design, which may include three-dimensional information (3D), but typically construction documents are presented in two dimensions (2D): plans, sections and elevations.
Typical entry-level tasks for a student employee are visualizations, such as perspectives produced with the help of a 3D modeling program. Common 3D programs used in Finnish landscape architectural offices are Google Sketchup, Rhinoceros 3D, AutoCAD and MicroStation. Since most design documents and plans are still published in 2D, the need for 3D skills within landscape architectural practice should not be overly emphasized. Building Information Models (BIM) are used mainly to assure the compatibility of designs within a project team. Interactive 3D landscape models pose an interesting prospect for design teams, but are currently hard to justify in practice, due to resource and quality constraints.