BIM and Landscape Architecture

by John Millar | November 12, 2021 |  5 min read

BIM and Landscape Architecture
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As BIM Academy prepares to deliver its first course on landscape training with Autodesk Revit, Technologist and Instructor John Millar was prompted to research the ways in which landscape professionals can be best supported in their BIM journey. In this article, John takes a look at both the importance and uniqueness of landscape architecture as a discipline, its troubled relationship with BIM over the years and how it has managed to independently adapt to the construction industry’s ever-evolving digital economy.

Landscape architecture is a discipline which deals with the “planning, design, management and nurturing of the built and natural environments” (ASLA, 2021). It is a broad discipline which draws upon art, ecology, architecture, engineering and sociology in the design of rich, vibrant and healthy public spaces which “create and enable life between the buildings” (Holmes, 2021). Examples of these spaces include parks, campuses, plazas, streetscapes and any public space which can be considered to be distinct from (but complementary to) any individual built asset.

It is a discipline which could be considered to be increasingly important to our natural and built environments, given the strong focus in recent years on contemporary issues such as sustainable development and climate-considerate design, occupant health and wellbeing and placemaking principles to develop resilient, strengthened communities.

Setting aside its uniqueness as a discipline (in terms of the exceptional breadth of knowledge that goes into the development of effective design solutions, the wide variety of settings where these solutions can be applied and the various tasks landscape architects can be responsible for across the project), there are a number of similarities with its adjacent disciplines in architecture and engineering.

Firstly, there is the creative, design-focused element, sometimes supported by digital design tools, there is the need for collaboration amongst the project / delivery team and coordination of the geometric and non-geometric information that they will work together to produce; and there is also the need for robust information management protocols to help ensure that the project is delivered on time, on budget and in accordance with the requirements of the appointing party.

There is also the shared concept of an asset’s lifecycle – a term which becomes quite literal in the case of landscape architecture, where the maintainable assets in question (plants, vegetation etc.) are alive and require specific information for what could be considered planned, preventative maintenance (PPM) for their upkeep, as well as space management processes for the ongoing maintenance of a living design, all on a timescale influenced equally by the seasons as by the financial quarters.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that rich data and good information management practices are valuable to the discipline for its own unique needs as well as the need to collaborate effectively in large, multi-disciplinary projects, and so the obvious question comes to the fore: what does BIM offer to the discipline?

Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as one would immediately suspect. The discipline is one which has, to some extent, been left behind in the ongoing digital paradigm shift. Almost all of the intense focus from market leaders in recent years has been on tools for buildings and building components, with little consideration for the increasingly important role of the designer landscapes which connect and complement our built assets. Landscape professionals are rarely included in the important BIM-related discussions and, perhaps as a result, the site / landscape tools offered by some of the leading model authoring software are rudimentary at best, with little progress in their development apparent over the last decade.

Other barriers to adoption include what has been felt by the discipline to be a lack of direction in terms of how to integrate themselves effectively within a BIM methodology, interoperability issues between the leading software and the few landscape-centric design tools that exist, contractual and procurement concerns (where practices can struggle to meet the expected capability and technical requirements of the project and are forced to take on more risk than is comfortable as a result), as well as the most obvious barriers in resourcing, upskilling and the implicit capital investment (Barth, 2016).

The result of this is that progress for this discipline has been understandably slow compared to others, however, with a combination of uneasy technological paralysis and external pressures from clients, contractors and BIM / digital mandates driving innovation, the tide began to turn.

In 2016, the Landscape Institute (2016) published ‘BIM for Landscape’ – a comprehensive guide to how BIM can be exploited by those in the landscape profession. Shortly after, Nemetschek introduced ‘Vectorworks Landmark’, perhaps the most capable integrated design tool for landscape architecture, and now many plugins, guides, blogs and forums exist to assist professionals in getting the best out of Autodesk Revit in modelling for data-rich sites and landscapes. Moreover, the publication of the ISO 19650 suite of standards shifted the focus from the technological to the procedural, resulting in greater flexibility and accessibility for non-building industries and disciplines.

Now, owing mostly to the above, the discipline is finding its own way in leveraging BIM processes and practices, and more landscape architects are adding value through the production of rich data that supports both the delivery and ongoing maintenance of their design solutions. However, there is still much work to be done – both technologically and culturally – to ensure that this important discipline is fully integrated in the lifecycles of our built assets and in the shaping of our natural and built environments – as it should always have been.

If you are a landscape professional who would like know more about what BIM can offer to the discipline, or would like to receive software training to enable you to reach your full potential, please get in touch, or visit learning.bimacademy.global.

References
  1. Asla.org. 2021. What Is Landscape Architecture?. [online] Available at: <https://www.asla.org/aboutlandscapearchitecture.aspx> [Accessed 8 November 2021].
  2. Barth, B., 2016. The Limits of BIM. Landscape Architecture Magazine, [online] Available at: <https://landscapearchitecturemagazine.org/2016/02/16/the-limits-of-bim/> [Accessed 9 November 2021].
  3. Holmes, D., 2021. What is landscape architecture?. [online] World Landscape Architect. Available at: <https://worldlandscapearchitect.com/what-is-landscape-architecture/#.YYpV1GDP239> [Accessed 9 November 2021].
  4. Landscape Institute., 2016. BIM for Landscape. London: Taylor & Francis.