BIM in the FieldBIM for the Landscape Architect, or is it the Landscape Architect for BIMThink back, way back, to when you...
Myth #1: Maturity and applicability of BIM softwareThere exists a belief that BIM software is immature, or simply not appl...
associated with the objects you have just placed in your design. You dont place a symbol of a hedgewith some hidden attrib...
“add-ons”)empower the Landscape Architectto create a complete “virtual model”of the site pads,streets, sidewalks, berms, s...
suppliers’ websites, Landscape Architects can find content including planters, bollards, railings, fencing,lighting, site ...
building, design & construction industry. And Landscape Architecture can benefit today from thelessons learned from the Bu...
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BIM in the Field: BIM for the Landscape Architect

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BIM is very well suited for more than tall structures or MEP coordination. A variety of tools are ready to be applied to the tasks of Landscape Architecture design and construction.

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BIM in the Field: BIM for the Landscape Architect

  1. 1. BIM in the FieldBIM for the Landscape Architect, or is it the Landscape Architect for BIMThink back, way back, to when you were only five to ten years old. Or, think back to when your kidswere that age. If you’re like me, and you’ve always had a passion for the “built environment”, you (andyour kids) probably had toys that allowed you (and them) to build things. Toys such as Lincoln Logs,Legos, Tinker Toys, Erector Sets and basic building blocks. Sure, you had other toys, but the actionfigures, cars and stuffed-animals were “accessories” to the houses, skyscrapers, bridges and cities whichyou built in your bedroom, your basement or on the living room floor. And if you’re like me, you didn’tworry too much about plants, earth-berms, embankments or other elements of Landscape Architecture.I didn’t think about these things, in large part, because the toys I had at my disposal didn’t lendthemselves to be used for these aspects of the “built environment”. Sure, I could build a rough-hewntimber fence from creatively stacked Lincoln Logs; or I could use all my flat Legos to create a rather flatterrain model for my house to sit upon. But doing either of these things would take precious parts andpieces away from construction details or vertical progress.Now flash-forward to today and you’re hopefully using Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools, dataand processes for your day-to-day tasks of planning, defining and designing. The tools allow you tovisualize, simulate and analyze 3D spaces as small as a kitchen-cabinet and as large as an entire city-scape. Using BIM provides productivity to the mundane tasks while at the same time enabling you tocommunicate and provide levels, and types of service that were cost-prohibitive using the “traditional”tools of just a few years ago. And yet, like when you were a kid (or your children were young), theseBIM tools tend to be used primarily for houses, skyscrapers, bridges and cities. Again, as with theLincoln Logs and other toys from the past, usingBIM tools in Landscape Architecture is perceived bymany as a mis-match.Of course, some of you reading this article have a case-study or two they can point to where BIM wasused quite successfully in Landscape Architecture; but the number of case-studies pales in comparisonto the quantity of high-profile projects related to BIM for Buildings. In many of the examples of BIM forLandscape Architecture, BIM-benefits are fewer and the uses of BIM are more often “first generation” ascompared to the mature usage of BIM for Buildings. This, combined with perceptions of fewer businessbenefits in BIM for Landscape vs BIM for Buildings results in an interesting dichotomy between thepotential value and the perception of lower value.The reasons for this contrastin perceptions are various, including impressions of maturity of softwaretools, availability of intelligent landscape content and technical issues related to data exchange betweenthe disparate applications. In addition, there are perceptions that BIM is for large projects only, or BIMis for orthogonal design & building, but not well suited to the organic and fluid lines of LandscapeArchitecture. In all of these cases, these issues, concerns and perceptions have some validity; but forthe most part these are professional myths which linger in the industry and are ready to be debunked. 1|Page
  2. 2. Myth #1: Maturity and applicability of BIM softwareThere exists a belief that BIM software is immature, or simply not applicable to the field of LandscapeArchitecture. This is the most wide-spread of the three myths, and the one that is the basis of themanyof the myths that lead to barriers to adoption of BIM for Landscape. This is an outgrowth to a certainextent because the leading BIM software companies have such a strong association with buildingconstruction and much weaker association as serving the landscape community. The companies thatcome to mind when BIM is mentioned are typically the same “CAD for Buildings & Construction”companies we’ve been discussing for the past two decades in our 2D CAD-centric conversations:Autodesk, Bentley and Graphisoft. These three companies have dominated the conversation ofBuildings and CAD for years. They have adapted, adopted and acquired tools that have allowed them toremain leaders across the building and construction industry with a relatively lower level of dominancein the Landscape design industry.Autodesk and Bentley both have extended their “flagship” platforms to deliver solutions for theLandscape Architect whose projects involve a large degree of Urban Design, Roads & Rails or large-scaleSite Modeling. Autodesk’s AutoCAD® Civil 3D® application is a BIM solution that works well with otherBIM software and can be an integral part of BIM workflows. Similarly, many of the GEOPAK and InRoadsapplicationsfrom Bentley are critical tools for theses hybrid(typically larger scale) Urban, InfrastructureorProperty Development Landscape projects. Both of these companies’ products are great for theLandscape Architect whose tasks creep into the domain of the Civil Engineer, or for the Civil Engineerwho finds his work creeps into the domain of the Landscape Architect. Both companies promote theirproducts as powerful and easy solutions for modeling of site objects in 2D or 3D with strong capabilitiesfor survey data management, digital terrain modeling, quantity calculations and more. And whileneither is marketed or purpose-built for the Landscape Architect, both are worth taking a look at forSite, Survey and large-scale urban design work. However, Landscape Architecture is much more thanroads and urban layout, and these tools are not adequate for many of the other tasks which LandsapeArchitects must perform such as property development and planting layout and design.To address these areas or Landscape Architecture, Autodesk and Graphisoft have BIM applicationswhich, again aren’t focused on the Landscape Architect, but have been used for years to deliverproductivity for these exterior design tasks. The Revit platform from Autodesk, and ArchiCAD fromGraphisoft are being used today by Landscape Architects with quite a bit of success, albeit often withsome work-arounds. Ideas are movingfrom the Landscape Architect’s mind’s-eye into a virtualenvironment that can be viewed, shared and understood in a collaborative environment. Using theseBIM for Building tools,landscape & site concepts are being explored, developed and documented insimilar workflows and in similar processes as with the steel, concrete or wood-framed buildings that siton the site.These BIM applications are being successfully applied to landscape because at its very core, BIMsoftware is not about walls, doors and windows – it is about intelligent objects that work on a databasefoundation. In BIM (buildings or landscape), you dont just draw lines, arcs and circles; instead you drawirrigation pipes, curbs and place plants. You expose notes, annotations and dimensions that are 2|Page
  3. 3. associated with the objects you have just placed in your design. You dont place a symbol of a hedgewith some hidden attributes; you place an object that has 2D, 3D and a data view representing a specificplant which can be counted, analyzed, referenced or easily replaced singularly or en masse. You dontmanually add up plants, bollards, tree grates or parking spaces; you design and layout these landscapefeatures using the objects that are provided with your BIM software and you leverage the BIM softwaredatabase underpinnings to associated specifications, details, manufacturer data and more.Using these BIM tools, the Landscape Architectsdevelop designs and solvesdetailing issues withoutworrying about the association between the macro and the micro. They work on the 3D layout of acomplex paver-stone stair and get an accurate estimate of materials– automatically. They work on aproject as an entire site model, knowingthe plans, details, 3D views, walkthroughs, renderings, and allsheets will be coordinated. They create phasing scenarios beginning with existing conditions, evolvinginto permitting, exposing the new design, and presenting construction sequencing. And while theLandscape Architect using a “building” BIM application might not find all the content and landscapespecific componentsfrom day 1, the hedgerows, curbs, cuts and complex curved walls are all easilycreated (or acquired) and integrate in ways to deliver simulation, visualization and analysis benefits.However, a discussion of software applications that truly serve BIM for Landscape Architecture mustinclude additional applications beyond those mentioned above. The Landscape Architect looking for acomplete offering for his needs must look at applications that complement the “foundation” software.There are numerous applications that are fine-tuned and deliver great value by means of their focus onthe specific needs of the Landscape Architect. Applications such LandCADD and SiteWorks fromEaglePoint, ArchiTerra from Cigraphor LandF/X (from LandF/X) are three companies whose softwareextend the base application by delivering functionality, objects and great benefits to workflows forplanting materials, site &hardscaping and site planning.These additional applications help with the visualization and improve the understanding ofthe design byemploying domain specific functions such as plant growth simulation and 2D & 3D layout tools. Thesoftware typically allows the designer to assign organic shaped regions to be defined as ground cover,flowerbeds, turf, or green roofs. Once the regions are defined, the designer can generate a full takeoffof the planting material and create a plant maintenance booklet with the attributes of the plants he hasplaced in the design.The use of Landscape industry “add-ons” improves the process of defining and designing site&hardscaping. These solutions extend the base functionality by including tools for assigning patios,walkways and paving conditions to regions from which area, volume, and edging materials arequantified and presented in detailed reports. Parking lot layout tools, with much more detail and designflexibility than the base software,allow the designer to place bumpers, islands and standard or ADAcompliant parking spaces with ease. Site furniture and entourage components are included enablingtheLandscape Architect to be as productive as the building architect as it pertains to placing these criticaldesign elements along the paths or parks of the project .When landscaping walls and fences arerequired, they are placed with easy and with 3D accuracy that ensures these hardscape elements followthe terrain of the associated site model.Terrain modeling tools in the BIM software (directly and through 3|Page
  4. 4. “add-ons”)empower the Landscape Architectto create a complete “virtual model”of the site pads,streets, sidewalks, berms, swales, retaining walls, steps and parking lots, all while maintaining accuratetoposurfaces.A recent addition to the list of BIM workflows with great benefit for Landscaping is the growth of LiDAR(Laser Scanning) for the creation of the site model with accurate existing topography. LiDAR is used forsite model capturing and the creation of exterior point-clouds. A point cloud is a highly accuratecollection of geo-referenced points, in 3D space with little more than 3D coordinates for each point. Atleast thats how a CAD or BIM program would read them. As the Landscape Architect, you not only readthe points, but you interact with them as meshes, solids, terrains & site conditions which can poked,prodded and “virtually” cut-and-filled with mathematical accuracy leading to unique designs andoptimized for cost, sustainability or constructability.These tools, when used in model-based workflows delivera wide range of significant BIM-derivedproductivity enhancements. The combination of generaldesign functionality, Landscape specific toolsand some rich-offerings of exterior content delivers great value for the BIM-enabled LandscapeArchitect. The one thing that really needs to happen is the inclusion of more landscape specific familiesand components. This will increase the level of productivity as users will be able to stop making contentthemselves. This brings us to our next myth.Myth #2: Availability of Landscape Architectural “content”All BIM applications suffer from the lack of a complete library of building product and constructionmaterial content! By making this statement, I recognize I will have a hard time debunking the mythrelated to the availability of Landscape Architectural content. But the statement is true for all segmentsof the construction industry. There is not a single BIM application which can be described as providing a100% offering of the content required for planning, designing or documentation purposes. All BIMapplications require customized content for some (if not many) of the construction domains thesoftware serves. And while there are a number of sources for content which complementand buildupon the functionality of the base software, there is not a single source of content that delivers 100% ofthe building products or construction materials.Luckily though, all BIM software includes functionality for customizing and creating of new content.Some applications are easier than others and in most cases for Landscape Architecture, the softwareuser must find work-arounds to accommodate his or her needs which were not considered when theprogrammers created the software based on walls, doors and windows. However, content can becreated when needed by the user; and in most cases (even in Landscape Architecture) very specificcontent can be found that meets the needs of the Landscape domain.BIM-specific content sources for Landscape Architecture include “third-party” content providers andinformation aggregators such Turbosquid, CAD Details, Revit City and ObjectsOnline (and many, manymore). These independent companies work with industry associations, product manufacturers anddirectly with designers and modelers. They create, distribute and promote the use of their content invirtually all industry segments, including Landscape Architecture. From these sites, as well as from the 4|Page
  5. 5. suppliers’ websites, Landscape Architects can find content including planters, bollards, railings, fencing,lighting, site furnishings, bike-racks and entire playground structures. In some cases the content hasbeen created by the actual manufacturer, who sees the BIM content as a sales & marketing channel:Delivering the content to the user is an opportunity to promote their content – no different thansupplier of doors, windows, cubicles or other interior products. In some cases, the content has beendeveloped by anational or local association who recognizes delivering BIM content is an opportunity forthe association to be on the leading edge of innovation while serving their constituency in a valuable &productive way. And in some cases, the content has been created by the end-user for his project whichhe then shared & uploaded for all to use.Content for Landscape is available in all expected formats (2D, 3D, raster, parametric, raster, etc) in thenative format (or easily converted) for the leading BIM applications. And content can be found fornearly every CSI category associated with Landscape Architecture (Masonry, Specialties, Lighting,Exterior improvements, etc).Content is available – it just isn’t always the content needed or expected by the person searching.Given the variety of creators of content, and the various channels which content is distributed, and themany uses for Landscape BIM content (design, visualization, documentation, estimation, etc)it is nosurprise the content offering fails to deliver 100%, and thus there is a myth that content availability is abarrier to productive BIM use by Landscape Architects.The fault of “missing content” is not completely that of the software provider, nor is it completely thefault of content providers. In fact, there is no one to blame. The current issue of “not enough” contentis pervasive across all segments and it is a myth that there will ever be a complete library of content.This is due in part to the (albeit slow) fluid nature of the design and building industries combined withthe various needs and formats of BIM data at various stages of the building project. As long as there isevolution of building products and the means and methods of construction, there will be an ongoingchallenge to deliver content for all products for all construction domains.Myth #3: BIM workflows are still being figured out for buildings – Landscape Architect should waitRelated to the issue of content availability are the complex issues of content sharing, data formats,information exchange, interoperability & project collaboration. Numerous workflow solutions thatimprove collaboration are beginning to hit the market. . Some of these tools and solutions come fromsame “old” companies in the AEC industry and some from new players. Project teams are combiningtools from various solution providers, resulting in changing the way entire project teams arecollaborating and sharing data. The data shared ranges from proprietary application formats tointernalationally recognized schemas and structures. BIM data is capable of structure and exchangethat will potentially remove some of the issues of exchange & interoperability. But todayit requiresanaggregation of a myriad of solutions and well thought-through BIM Implementation Plans – there is notyet a single workflow solution that allows for a single database of all building product to be leveragedand used across an entire building lifecycle. Technology underpinnings are in place, industry standardsare being adopted and data is flowing in ways that have deep and significant effects across the entire 5|Page
  6. 6. building, design & construction industry. And Landscape Architecture can benefit today from thelessons learned from the Building industry.BIM workflow adoption and maturity in Landscape is certainly behind that of in other building domains.Segments where productivity gains can be realized from pre-fabrication, warranty documentation andlife-safety issues are ahead of the Landscape segment. These segments have easily computable returns-on-investment related to automation, business economics and reduction of risk. Landscape architecturedoes not have the clear benefits as some of these segments. However, Landscape Architecture canbenefit from more accurate estimates from concept-design to buy-out; Landscape Architecture canbenefit from delivering better owner & maintenance data at turn-over. And Landscape Architects cantake a leadership position by collectively gaining an expertise in BIM.BIM by it’s very nature is a team effort, and winning companies are adopting BIM processes inLandscape Architecture. Today’s successful design & construction companies are BIM-ready, and BIM-centric companies. These companies and teams have been forced to evolve, or sometimes create newmethods and workflow as BIM for Landscape Architecture is finding best practices “on-the-fly”.Recognizing there is still a lack of standards in many areas of BIM, some teams have developed bestpractices and work processes that address the shortcomings of BIM data exchange & interoperability orBIM workflows & collaboration.BIM workflows introduce both speed & accuracy of design &pre-construction tasks. Automation,visualization and immediate analysis allow the Landscape Architect to think about design rather thanworry about coordination of data. The BIM-centric Landscape Architect and his client have morevisibility into the project, resulting in a well-informed and hopefully long-term client. BIM-centricworkflows are helping the Landscape Architect weather the economic crisis, and perhaps even growwhile other firms are failing.The BIM-strong firms and teams have impressive metrics and statistics, which they present at industryevents and publish in industry publications. Some of these teams are those you’ve seen in “top 100”lists; others are companies who you hadn’t heard of until this year. Regardless of your familiarity withthe company, these are the organizations that have positioned themselves for the future, and they arethe teams your players want to work with, work for, and spin-off and emulate. If your goal includeskeeping your Landscape Architecture company, division or team viable and profitable in the long term,consider the positive impact BIM can have on your teams today. 6|Page

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