Landscape architects are often challenged to add “context” to our design projects, to show the existing road network and buildings surrounding the site. And in 3D. Yet often we lack the time, budget, or knowledge to integrate the modeling process as an efficient and accurate task. In this post we will discuss three different tools that can help professionals achieve quality results with nominal investment and effort.

Urban planning and major landscape architecture projects often include the necessity to show realistic scenarios, creating a context for the proposed solution within an existing environment. Thus, depending upon the project, variations will occur from time to time in terms of scale and level of detail. The following workflows have the ability to cover massive schematic-looking surroundings, from 2-3 blocks, to an entire district or town.

The first tool is ESRI City Engine, a program that allows users to generate or download entire 3D cities out of 2D GIS datasets. Depending on the level of detail and flexibility desired, CityEngine ranges from $500 (Basic) to $4,000 (Advanced), and the export formats range widely (not to mention that it is also compatible with Lumion).

However, if quick and simple solutions are desired, then Lumion’s newest version is recommended. Using data from OpenStreetMaps, Lumion offers an option that allows users to place a model into any context. This operation is practically the inverse of Google Earth’s KMZ exports, where models are loaded into Google Earth. Here the context comes to the user, plus it can be rendered. Since this is only a beta version, there are currently some limitations regarding the site’s footprint and its appearance in relation to the context. Nonetheless, we can be sure that this tool carries promise, and it will continue evolving into the near future. Lumion Pro costs about $3,400, and only the Pro version offers the features noted above.

A good balance between the last two options with an economic price tag is the Sketchup plug-in, SU Placemaker. Sketchup’s user-friendly interface, alongside this plug-in can facilitate the integration of 3D environments into the site without requiring a lot of file formatting conversions. Without the need for extra software, SU Placemaker can be acquired for the affordable price of $200, and the software developers recommend users to try before they buy!.

All of the above-mentioned options can be combined with other technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D printing, helping harken in a new era where architectural projects can be transformed into different and innovative experiences for both designer and clients.

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