Transitional Strategies for Landscape Architectural practice in the digital domain

By Jela Ivankovic

The aim of this study is to uncover the impacts of emerging digital technologies on landscape architecture design and construction practices in Australia.

More recently, Building Information Modeling (BIM) processes are increasingly adopted in large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the Adelaide Oval Redevelopment (SA) and North West Rail Link (NSW). There is evidence of the new paradigm impacting the design-construction sector. As a minor discipline within this industry context, the influence of BIM is inescapable. For this reason, BIM will serve as a focus for the research in exploring the potentials, limitations and tensions related to rapid technological change affecting the landscape architecture profession.

Landscape architecture practice needs to be technologically ready to meet the pace of change in the industry.

Based on preliminary literature review and fieldwork, there are several issues for the profession to confront at this key transition. The major issues concerning the profession’s engagement are software inter-operability adjustments (for landscape specific functions and techniques) and limited project opportunities. However, other matters are also becoming apparent, namely: the role of professional advocacy; demands of inter-disciplinary collaboration and data exchange; limited academic discourse and industry publication of current activity.

As an empirical inquiry into an emerging phenomenon, the research design will comprise primarily case studies of practices (small sample), followed by surveys of the profession (larger sample). The case studies will be examined at the intra-organisational level. Each is selected on the basis of current activity in BIM projects, which typically indicate a digital capability that can integrate and /or alter organisation structure and work processes. The online national questionnaire will serve as a ‘snowballing’ technique, collecting data of practices that are moving into the BIM domain over the research period. This ‘snapshot’ of the profession is also expected to reflect the broader industry, as it is as much about the nature of inter-disciplinary collaboration. Moreover, fieldwork will also include best practice examples and BIM uptake patterns by landscape architects in the international arena, namely in the UK and US. Accordingly, the scope of the study is determined by practices at the forefront of BIM activity to address the two main questions: how does BIM impact landscape architecture practice; and, what transitional strategies are required to meet industry wide technological transformation?

The findings will be theoretically underpinned with the T-O-E framework: ‘Technology, Organisation and Environment’ (Tornatzky, 1990). As a cross-disciplinary approach to understanding the context of technological innovation, the T-O-E model will address the first question by identifying the impacts as ‘drivers, facilitators, inhibitors and benefits’’. The key themes that emerge from the qualitative and quantitative data collection will be coded and analysed through a grounded theory approach.

Sydney International Convention, Exhibition, and Entertainment Precinct, designed by Hassell and Populous.
Sydney International Convention, Exhibition, and Entertainment Precinct, designed by Hassell and Populous.

Ultimately, the value of the research will be the critical insights into inter-disciplinary collaboration that are intensified by BIM workflows, which will also contribute to other related design and management disciplines. The resultant transitional strategies will bolster professional engagement within the industry. It is a formative time for the landscape architecture profession in Australia, to assert its relevance and ‘be at the table’ for crucial decision-making opportunities occurring within the BIM domain.