Landscape ‘modelling’

September 24, 2017


Whilst BIM for construction and MEP have developed a noticeable architectural footprint in the MENA region today, BIM for landscape hasn’t. It’s yet to make a strong showing on the designer's stage with small pockets of landscape architects developing their own way of dealing with it. They tend to model what they can to sidestep technical barriers and end up producing watered down versions, instead of bespoke shapes that push design boundaries. 

According to Christopher Smeaton, BIM manager of landscape & urban planning at InSite, a division of KEO International Consultants, there are strategic reasons why BIM for landscape is now ready to enjoy firmer terrain.

“BIM for landscape is not in its infancy, and has been flourishing behind the scenes for many years,” says Smeaton. “You do not have to go far before you start to see this, be it through online blogs like LandarcBIM or the UK BIM for Landscape book released by the Landscape Institute, but only in the last couple of years has it really grabbed attention from the entire architecture, engineering and construction industry.”

Resistance to change has typically been the reason why this discipline has not caught up as quickly, but there are those who argue that BIM lacks the proper architectural tools needed for robust landscape designs.  

“In some respect, it’s correct because we have to do a lot of work for the actual modeling itself, but the process is quite established and the guidelines are there to achieve client goals.”

The fact is, BIM for landscape has come a long way in the last few years, with software the likes of DynamoBIM, which is a visual programming tool for Revit – a BIM software containing features for architectural design, MEP and structural engineering, and construction – and then Grasshopper and Rhino, which enable these complicated geometries, using scripting. 

But why go through the hassles when traditional landscape architecture can achieve tailor-made designs almost to perfection? Smeaton argues in favour of BIM for landscape using the example of podium projects, where landscape sits on top of a structural or architectural element in a building, a common trend in this region. 

“Working together in linked models is resulting in other disciplines having much more understanding of the challenges,” said Smeaton adding, “We have seen one of the biggest advantages with coordination on podium projects where having clear scopes and boundaries enables a closer working relationship with structural engineers and irrigation engineers to coordinate connections to pump rooms and add irrigation piping feeds into utility trays.”

Software benefits are one thing, but real takeaways come from managing processes quickly and more efficiently, having information in one swoop rather than across different fragmented documents and having information lost at different handover stages. 

“We’re able to develop schemes from master planning, and in some projects, we have done our master planning designs using information models, wherein we capture not only the 3D geometry but also the land use, and the ground floor areas,” explained Smeaton.

“And once this gets sent out to architects, they can pull that information from the models, without starting from scratch, or needing pdfs to understand what the plot regulations are.”

Still, BIM for landscape offers its own set of challenges before it can deliver streamlined results. “We’re not in the same position as Architects or MEP engineers. There is no off-the-shelf software enjoyed by these disciplines to help us build our information models. So, we use a wide range of different software.”

Smeaton further explained that at InSite, all landscape architects use Revit, and enjoy live access to all information in one model. 

“But, Revit isn’t built for landscape. Building complex landform geometry is difficult for us, we have to create workarounds and plugins from smaller companies, such as CS Artisan, to help achieve our requirements.”

Technical challenges are one area, but there are bigger issues when looking at implementing BIM within a company.

“One needs to look at costs, and I do not just mean software pricing but more importantly company-wide training and education expenses,” said Smeaton. “Implementing BIM means change management that impacts all company aspects and which needs a clear and structured strategy and vision to gain traction.”  

This is a process that can take companies years before they are BIM-compliant and made more challenging in an ever-evolving industry. The UK, for example, mandates a BIM level 2, while already BIM level 3 is currently being developed. 

Regardless, failing to jump into BIM for landscape runs the risk of falling behind technology that is clearly making things easier for architects and other disciplines. 

“You can model refuge areas for your water and solid waste recycling needs, or use modeling software like Irrigation F/X from Land FX to model the irrigation requirements, and be able to calculate flow rates, water sprays, program the sprinklers from the software, and generate order lists, length of pipes and connections required.”

“When on podium, we talk to MEP engineers, and model so that our connections meet in the same place.” 

Attend Smeaton’s workshop “Leveraging BIM for Landscape and Urban Design” on September 26, at the Big 5 Outdoor Design and Build Show, Dubai World Trade Center. Learn how this technology for landscape is evolving and witness a showcase of live projects, where Smeaton demonstrates models that InSite built while also revisiting challenges faced and successes achieved. 


Christopher Smeaton’s top 5 trends in BIM for landscape


1. 3D laser scanning: Getting cheaper and more assessable to landscape companies.

2. Drone monitoring: Unmanned Arial Vehicles offer risk-free surveillance, mapping and monitoring for every construction application. 

3. Augmented Reality: Bring BIM models to life on the Job Site.

4. Material Management on site: Models are being used where materials are to be stored and moved around site during construction phase before site works begin.

5. Grade control for drones: Geometry information of the landscape models are used by the drone to grade the site.


Smeaton will speak on Day 2 of The Outdoor Design & Build show, opening tomorrow. 

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