Paradigm shift for Landscape Architecture? Where is Technology taking Design?

I’ve been reading The World Is Flat lately and it has catalyzed a lot of my thinking on the future of landscape architecture and design.

Last century, Landscape Architecture, Architecture, Engineering, and other spatial design professions worked in 2D on paper (and mylar, vellum, etc.) This was the dominant medium that they used to explore ideas, collaborate, record and distribute their work. It’s hard to imagine something more durable, economical, and useful on a construction site than a paper set of drawings. But is paper the best way to do the design? Does it really make sense to be designing a 3D space in the confines of a 2D medium? Even 2D CAD?

Sure they built a lot of models–real world physical scale models out of wood, clay, foam, etc. These are great tools to explore how a design might work out (at 1/8th real size), but very expensive, fragile, difficult to change, and hard to show to anyone who’s not in the room with you–all the disadvantages of a thing that takes up real-world space.

Technology has come such a long way in such a short time, that I wonder if we’re in the final stages now of “the old way” of doing things in the design business. I think we’re on the cusp of a new paradigm in spatial design.

Hand drawing won’t go away. Hand drawing will always be a valuable and effective way of expressing one’s self. But there will be (and already has been) tremendous change in the way designers work. Technology has already revolutionized industries such as animation, journalism, accounting, graphic design, and computer programming. Undoubtedly we will see more and more change in the way landscape architects, engineers, and architects conduct their businesses.

I can imagine a future, not too far away, where the bulk of design work is done within an immersed 3D digital environment. If you think this sounds silly, then you haven’t seen SketchUp, MicroSoft Virtual Earth, or SecondLife yet. It’s already happening.

How will these kinds of technologies change the design professions? When will the revolution begin?

With a powerful web-based project management interface, a designer could take clients and stakeholders on a virtual tour of the project before shovel ever hits soil in the real world. It would be as easy as having a meeting in Second Life. Designers could prove how good their work is in cyberspace before anyone spends a penny changing meat-space (the real world). Clients and stakeholders could see that their money is being spent on building excellent 3D environments, not just on great renderings and pretty pictures.

How will construction documents and specifications be produced from the 3D models? This I’m still not sure of. I would love if someone figured out how to do away with specifications, contracts, and all the other admin work we have to do just to get something built. I’m so jealous of web designers and graphic designers. For them, the pretty picture is 90% of the work. For us the pretty picture is the end of the fun part and the beginning of 90% of the job: administration.

Ideally it would be: “Here. This is the virtual site. Now copy it into the real world. Just set up your mesh-work of laser levels and GPS devices, and they’ll project the model into the real site. Then just colour inside the lines with brick, steel, mortar, stone and plants.”

How will the technological advances that are happening all around us right now change the world of design? What kind of work will you be doing in five years?