Creating landscape experiences with BIM

A year ago, BY + LAND landscape architects started using Archicad, and here owner Gitte Christensen talks about the transition from 2D to 3D, how BIM streamlines BY + LANDS’s processes and the inherent sustainability of landscape architecture.

“You reap many benefits when you conduct all your task in a program like Archicad. By shifting to Archicad we have phased out AutoCAD, Illustrator, and a few other software programs. It is also much easier to print, create DWGs, PDF and IFC files in Archicad. The revision tool is truly clever, and with LAND4 v2 (a landscape plugin to Archicad), where spot levels can be divided into subcategories, so we do not have to place them on different layers, which makes our workflows much more efficient,” says Gitte Christensen, urban planner, landscape architect and owner of BY + LAND.

Everything in one workflow

About a year ago, BY + LAND implemented Archicad and LAND4. It has taken the design studio a few years to finally switch from 2D CAD to BIM. “We wouldn’t have implemented Archicad and LAND4, if there were no ICT-requirements. Right now, there are BIM and IFC requirements on all the projects that we are involved with, and the use of 3D models adds value to our projects. Previously we had one program for 2D drawings, and another for visualizations. In addition, we previously had to refine the graphics in Photoshop or Illustrator, but with Archicad everything is done in one coherent workflow."

Gitte Christensen was the first in the office to stop using AutoCAD, and now the rest of the team has followed her lead. “We no longer have to do every task twice, and we can use the hours we save to add more value to our projects. Among other things this has given us more time for user involvement and design phases. In addition, we have become better at creating the right drawings from the start,” Gitte Christensen says and elaborates “Previously, we had to repeat our processes. Starting in AutoCAD, moving on to Illustrator and finally into 3D. We do not have to do that with Archicad. Now we get the desired graphical expression in our drawings faster and in a single workflow.”

Focus on value creation

For BY + LAND value creation is key, and they base all their projects on how we as humans interact with the landscape. “How do you arrive at a given site? Which type of encounters occur? What is the narrative of the place? It is all about creating added value for the customer and the future users, where the vision is articulated through a core narrative.” The goal is to make a place attractive and eventful. “We work with ‘experience design’ where we consciously and systematically work to create a special atmosphere. This is groundwork for all our projects – regardless of the customer and users.”

The design studio is involved in urban planning and landscape architecture, and thus moves across scales. “We cover every phase, from creating big visions on the drawing board to talking to the construction workers. We also return to see how the place unfolds after it is finished and has been used for some time. Right now, we are working on a project where we test materials with granite surfaces that are cast into concrete. It is an upcycled waste product that combines the site-typical potentials, which is also the case when we are choosing plants for our projects.”

Multifunctionality is key to more sustainable projects

Sustainability is an integrated part of all BY + LAND’s projects “For us, the talk about sustainability is old wine in new bottles. With DGNB certifications several new parameters have been added, such as social and cultural sustainability, material use etc. This makes good sense, but it is important that consultants do not spend all their time on documentation and lose sight of the bigger picture that creates real change and value. We would rather increase biodiversity and ensure that meeting places and urban spaces become easier to occupy by users, than spending our time filling out forms for documentation. Our cities have too many places that are predetermined for a single function, e.g., football stadiums, which are empty half the time, which we see as a huge waste of resources. We generally need to use our urban areas more broadly, preferably with a focus on health and movement, rather than one specific sport. This way we will also create opportunities for new encounters and social interaction. By focusing on multifunctionality, we create places with a greater and broader applicability.”

Interested to learn more

But of course, the trees do not grow into the sky – not even for landscape architects – and some external partners are not yet ready to exchange IFC files or cannot coordinate basepoints of project files if the landscape architects base point is located far from the project site, but Gitte Christensen still thinks that the collaboration works well on their projects.

“We have created a process manual for coordinating base points, so that our Archicad project is compatible with Revit. It is quite cool to integrate our external partners drawings and models with ours. In relation to the land surveyors, we have also made a short manual on how to import spot levels, letting them use our data directly. We are still just messing around with a small corner of what Archicad can do, but we would soon like to start handling more data on e.g., trees, and become better at visualizing with Twinmotion.”

LAND4 makes it easy to sculp terrain

BY + LAND use the combination of Archicad, and a plugin called LAND4 from Land Software, which makes it easier to map and work with terrain in BIM. But it is BIM as a method that provides the real value when the 3D model inherent information is used throughout the process. “We are increasingly experiencing that we are expected to estimate the construction cost early on in our projects, and by utilizing BIM we already have the required data in the first stages. However, we need more objects with embedded data, like the building architects have in their BIM objects.”

Great enthusiasm

When switching from 2D CAD to BIM one of the barriers is that it can seem impossible to learn a new program – especially when it is a program you depend on to meet deadlines in your professional work. Therefore, BY + LAND talked to colleagues working at other landscape architect offices about their experiences with BIM. “I have never seen Revit as a solution for us. I know architects, that have told me it was slow and difficult. We approached some Archicad users in advance, and they recommended it. We have always known that we should go that way.” To get the most out of the basic training in Archicad, and to be able to kick-start the implementation process, the design studio had their very own trick. “To get the most out of the basic training, we had already seen Archicad courses online via Lydia. In this way, we were better equipped to actively inquire while attending the course.”

Gitte had experience with BIM from previous employments at larger building architects, where it was difficult to switch from 2D CAD to BIM. There is no room for that in a small practice. “Are we able to the do it in a small office like ours?” I thought, recalling previous appointments where the transition to Revit required huge resources to build libraries of Families. But the transition to Archicad has been fairly easy."

Graphical options with Archicad

The graphics are a big advantage in Archicad, and since the program automatically creates 2D drawings based on the 3D model, it is important that can create the special graphical expression that the design studio wants. “We should have tuned the graphics first, and as part of the quality process, we also looked at how we could optimize our graphics. All our settings are saved in template files. We still need to streamline all the details, but now it makes sense that we can switch between different display options, which brings huge value. It is cool to be able to have everything in one file, even all the inaccurate 2D underlays and sketches. We have always placed great value in delivering beautiful plan drawings, and it gives enormous value to our work that the graphics automatically look great with Archicad – however, it has required a bit work to get comfortable with Archicad's Penset.”

Dedicated support from Graphisoft Center Denmark

When an entire design studio switches to a new working method support is vital. GRAPHISOFT Center Denmark has provided support during the pilot project, and as part of the software service agreement for Archicad. “We have been extremely pleased with the collaboration in terms of getting Archicad up and running. We constantly receive small tips and have been taken by the hand even though we are not a big office. It is also great that we can call GRAPHISOFT Center Danmark if we have any questions. One thing is that you pay for support, but that there is also a real person at the other end, that is interested and listens to what we have to say adds an enormous value. This makes us feel safe, that the direction we have chosen now greatly supports our business.”

Gitte has some advice to other design studios that are considering changing software. “The most important thing for us was to get the Archicad basics in place so that you understand the program correctly. When you do that, you also understand the value it creates. And then it requires that you switch completely to the new platform, instead of just going half the way,” Gitte Christensen concludes.

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About Thomas Graabæk

Thomas Graabæk has been working 10 years as an architect, with a clear interest in the digital tools used for sketching and detailing, but also with 3D modeling and visualization. Since 2006 he has been working as a BIM Manager, and his main focus has been BIM in general and particularly OpenBIM, trying to bridge collaboration between disciplines and software platforms.
  • Denmark