X–Section: Visualisation.

This year our students produced the first issue of X–Section [blog], an annual student magazine that not only showcases student work but also includes articles by staff and others industry leaders. The following is something I wrote for it, note that you can read the entire publication online too [click here].

A greek quarry.


In August 1998 I landed a job as a technician in the ‘School of Landscape and Plant Science’ at Unitec. I had recently graduated from Waikato University with a Science degree and had a healthy interest in computer graphics, at that stage AutoCAD, Photoshop and a 3D programming language called Pov-RAY. At the time the School had roughly three PCs and three Macs for students in a very small room, which was also my office.

Although I had come in as a technician, from day one I was teaching and within
six months had an official recognition of it in my contract. Since then I have watched the use of computers in the Landscape Department gradually change from year to year. Of course the technology has came a long way. In those early days we got excited about a few rather crude and identical trees whereas now we can produce a forest with relative ease. The biggest change however, is not the technology itself, but the perception and acceptance of it in landscape practice.

Back then, anything done on a computer was seen as computer generated, void of any design process. This was far from the reality but that was how it was perceived. It was a shortcut for those who did not have the time or skill to draw. I remember many students tracing their CAD drawings to avoid
the preconception that their design was done by a computer. That perception has dramatically changed since. Now it is well understood that designing with computers most definitely has human input and in most cases, has become a vital component of the design process.

Designers can also save a lot of time using CAD, however it raises the question: Is that time reinvested in making our rendered images look more realistic? This is an interesting dilemma as it can change the way a design is perceived. A simple line drawing communicates form, however a detailed render becomes a debate about materiality. Most designers would suggest it is self-destructive to present a major project without a bells-and-whistles digital render to go along side it. However, it must be considered what is being communicated and to whom. If the project design is still conceptual, then perhaps it is better to present imagery that suggests just that. If the design is past the point of negotiation then maybe it is time to show the viewer exactly what it is going to look like before construction commences.

This is where some of the new technologies available to the designer can take digital realism to a point that is difficult to tell it from the real thing. Not only that, a well- executed visualisation can show both the final site and the journey that the design went through to be realised, especially when film techniques are employed.

Well-executed design can neither be accomplished purely with or without computers – what should be considered is how they are used.

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