Top 6 Takeaways from the LI Digital Practice Day

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Top 6 Takeaways from the LI Digital Practice Day

Written by: Mike Shilton - Product Director, Keysoft Solutions

The Landscape Institute (LI) Digital Practice Day took place on 20th March 2018. The event began with an inspiring introduction that showed how digitalisation is starting to have a game changing impact on the landscape profession. The presentations were thought provoking and there were several sessions I was disappointed I could not attend, such was the diversity of the day! The good news is that the simultaneous live stream sessions that Keysoft Solutions sponsored were recorded and will be available to catch up on the member pages of the Landscape Institute (LI) website soon.

So, what were my top six takeaways from the day?

  1. Digital means more than design

When we talk about embracing technology, we often only consider the “Big Ticket” items, such as CAD, 3D, hardware, training, etc. Yes, these are essential because they allow us to engage with our clients, collaborate with external partners and fundamentally deliver fee-earning projects. However, we often ignore the significant impact introducing digital systems and processes to the back office can have on our productivity, efficiency and, ultimately, our bottom line.

As profession, we are very good at underselling our services and there were two very interesting presentations that every landscape practice manager should consider watching. The first, from Fern Eyre Morgan of FEYM Digital discussed how social media can be used to raise your company profile and promote you as a thought leader in your specialist area. The second, from Matthew Parker of Room60 discussed how they engage with the community to understand the key issues and communicate design intent through the creative use of multimedia.

  1. BIM is still here and gaining momentum

BIM was mentioned several times during the day. It was generally acknowledged that BIM is a process that provides a framework for the delivery of projects and that seeks to deliver what the client requires, within budget and on time. However, there remains curiosity and confusion in equal measure around how to deliver a BIM project. There was no silver bullet offered and it was emphasised that “the BIM” requirement will vary between projects and clients, as with any other project you currently deliver.

The benefits of data in conjunction with appropriate levels of 3D was stressed. This will allow us to select an object and know what it is from the attribute information rather than rely solely on the geometry. This adds value as others can quickly interpret your design without the need for a highly detailed, 3D model that becomes unworkable, especially for landscapes with their myriad of complexities. A good edict was to suggest that if the 3D helps answer a question or assists with project coordination it can be considered to be BIM, if does not it should be considered to be visualisation and so you should question the value of creating a highly detailed, 3D model. One example showed how on a large, Royal Infirmary project only the rooftop courtyards were developed for BIM as this helped resolve key questions about the landscape, the remainder of the model remained as data-rich, 2D geometry.

  1. The face of construction is changing

It was stated that construction projects typically take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget. This reinforces an acceptance that construction is behind most other industries, especially when it comes to the use of digital systems and prototyping to deliver projects. This concept of building in a virtual world before we build in the real world, frequently referred to as the digital twin, was a theme that ran across several sessions. The digital twin is not only useful for collaboration but can be used to drive project delivery through: better coordination of construction and planned works; controlling autonomous earth moving vehicles; 3D printing of structures using a wide range of materials; and, the fabrication of offsite “modules”. All of these activities can be generated as direct outputs from the working model. This will have a positive impact on Health and Safety on construction sites - typically dangerous places to work - as elements can be built in controllable environments and delivered to site where they can be quickly assembled.

  1. New tech is starting to have an impact

Several examples were given to show how virtual and augmented reality is being used to visualise projects and increasingly to assess the impact of a new feature within the landscape and how mitigation measures can be used to offset this. Whilst the visualisation in whatever form it takes (Fly-throughs, VR/AR) is useful to explain the design to stakeholders, it is increasingly being used to communicate between design partners and some, like Johan Hanegraaf and Peiter Hoen from Mecanoo, are now exploring the use of VR glasses, wands and the use of gaming technology to design and collaborate with others in real-time and output to CAD environments. Whilst still in its infancy, this has great potential to quickly build 3D models of a landscape whilst still at the concept and sketch phase of the design.


  1. The Internet of Things is the future

The Internet of the Things will redefine how we interact with our environment in the future and is an integral part of Smart Cities and what is being defined as BIM level 3. The concept of a digital twin is currently focussed on the early design and construction phases of a project but there is a growing realisation that the asset model can, and should, assist with the ongoing maintenance of the constructed element throughout its lifetime – the essence of BIM. Increasingly, real world objects, such as trees or benches, will be fitted with sensors that track and report back changes over time. This feedback loop will serve to show in the virtual model changes that are occurring in the real world and serve as an early warning system for unpredicted changes on site. Equally, the virtual model can be used to determine the outcome of “what if” scenarios and allow us to better predict the consequences of a change in the future. The exponential increase in data will require better systems to manage Big Data and opens up opportunities for artificial intelligence to establish links and interpret relevant information and, ultimately, make better decisions. 

The “Key to the City” project presented by Neil Manthorpe of Atkins was a great proof of concept to show how the real world can be augmented by an app to reveal historical, current and future content. I can see this has huge potential for landscape architects as an interpretation tool, enabling and engaging others to navigate through a landscape.

  1. We need to reimagine how we use urban spaces

An inspirational presentation from Michael Cowdy of McGregor Coxall discussed how the rapid increase in urban living means we need to reimagine the how we use urban spaces.  We should be moving away from a single use mentality to seeing a space as a smart, dynamic, multifunctional and adaptable facility that can change throughout the day to meet our functional, physical and mental health needs. Through an exemplar, smart city project we were introduced to the concept of a “habitable kit of parts” that can harness public life through responsive and interactive technologies.

If you would like to watch any of the sessions from the LI Digital Practice Day, a selection will shortly be available on the logged-in side of our website. If you are a member of the LI you can also view the presentations on the members section of the Landscape Institute website when they are made available.