For Stephen Schrader, associate landscape architect at Holcombe Norton Partners, Inc., sustainability arises from careful calculations and informed design decisions. The full-service landscape architecture team at Holcombe Norton Partners uses Building Information Modeling (BIM) capabilities and smart objects within their design software to perform these calculations quickly and efficiently, making their projects inherently information-rich.
“Traditionally, CAD packages were geared toward the practices of architecture and engineering, offering few mainstream tools for landscape architects,” says Schrader. “But now, designers, product manufacturers, and industry associations are creating site-oriented BIM content, and the specialized software tools for landscape professionals are more helpful than ever.”
The depth of the landscape-specific resources available in Landmark, combined with its intelligent worksheet and water budgeting capabilities, makes it a major part of our office’s design process.
The smart object is the crux of this new era in landscape design, combining an object’s geometry with appended data, which can then be used by data-harvesting worksheets to run in-depth site analyses like calculating water-use reduction and organizing plant data to verifying compliance with green codes and quantifying construction costs.
“I use worksheets to help meet all kinds of local codes and landscape ordinances,” Schrader says. “Once I balance out those requirements, I’ll put the worksheets right onto the design drawing. This makes it easy for reviewers to see that I’ve completed all the background work. And just like with any other facet of the design process, meeting all the legal requirements for a site plan, in addition to rating systems like LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), can become a bit of a balancing act.”
A project file must act as a database to truly make use of BIM workflows in landscape design. Rather than designing in one file and recording information in another, designers can combine their entire workflow into one document using smart objects. At Holcombe Norton Partners, this process begins with creating a digital terrain model (DTM).
“Landscape architects can use DTMs to produce more accurate, complete pictures of the costs of implementing their designs,” Schrader says. “Tasks like terrain and slope analysis can be accomplished by adjusting a few of the DTM’s smart object parameters, helping you reduce the amount of waste material you haul away, as well as minimize your project's impact on the environment, existing utilities, and other site constraints like road routes and buildings.”
Since DTMs are composed of smart, parametric objects, each change made to a design impacts the data stored within those objects. By connecting this data to worksheets that run analyses for landscape ordinances and sustainability accreditation, designers can test the effects of every decision they make in real time.
“At Holcombe Norton Partners, we use Vectorworks® Landmark software to integrate data management and calculations to facilitate a smart design process,” Schrader says.
“The depth of the landscape-specific resources available in Landmark, combined with its intelligent worksheet and water budgeting capabilities, makes it a major part of our office’s design process,” Schrader continues. “Our whole office uses Landmark, and I can’t imagine trying to do those calculation-oriented tasks without it.”
By using smart objects and worksheets, Schrader and his teammates produce designs that both please their clients and help the environment, which, in turn, helps them grow their business. Equally important is the time savings that comes with streamlining the connections between design and data. And, according to Schrader, landscape professionals can benefit without shifting their workflows from 2D design to 3D.
In our office, there are five people who use design software just about every day. We each have different tasks to perform, and none of us approaches the workflows exactly the same way.
“Perhaps the biggest myth, particularly where landscape architecture workflows are concerned, is that users must learn to work in 3D to take advantage of site information modeling technologies,” Schrader says. “While manipulating objects in 3D and creating design renderings certainly have their uses in developing sustainable sites, users can work in a 2D drafting mode to conduct many processes and achieve results. For example, simple grading studies can be accomplished using a DTM in 2D view. In fact, they can even produce more legible, meaningful representations of the manipulation of the ground plane than a 3D model while also providing critical information like cut and fill volumes. Similarly, generating planting and irrigation plans can be prepared in a 2D workspace while taking advantage of the capabilities associated with the smart objects used to create them, such as generating planting schedules or calculating flows to size irrigation pipes.”
Schrader emphasizes that this versatility in workflow affords a flexibility that encourages experimentation and innovation with every project. “Everybody works differently,” he says. “In our office, there are five people who use design software just about every day. We each have different tasks to perform, and none of us approaches the workflows exactly the same way. Along the way, we may discover different ways of doing things that will save time or even just help standardize graphic styles. We all learn better ways to use Landmark by sharing with each other, and we never stop trying to improve and streamline the ways we provide solutions to our clients.”
Images courtesy of Holcombe Norton Partners