VectorWorks Landscape Tools
Other civil engineering software such as Autodesk Land Desktop gives more robust performance at the site level yet lacks some of the graphic flexibility of Landmark or ArchiSITE, the 3D terrain modeler for ArchiCAD, from Graphisoft.
Bentley Systems has a suite of site-level tools such as InRoads to place roads into the landscape. However both the Autodesk and Bentley packages are intended more for civil engineers than for landscape architects or architects manipulating site data.
Landmark at Work
VectorWorks Landmark 9.5 is a robust software system. It can import data (using DXF or DWG) from a geographical information system (GIS) and manipulate the data or export it (using DXF or DWG) into other 2D and 3D CAD, design, and visualization applications. Landmark's 64-bit floating point precision allows it to maintain the "geo-referencing" data in GIS files that locates the site relative to world coordinates. It can also export the data back to the GIS program to maintain a "live" map.
Thomas Yahner, a landscape architecture professor at Penn State, has imported data for the entire valley in which the university lies into VectorWorks from the GIS software ArcInfo from ESRI. The data file retains its GIS characteristics, with every property accurately placed, using the native VectorWorks file format.
Similarly, Tom Barratt, a landscape architect in Whistler, British Columbia has placed the entire geometry of that ski resort town within a VectorWorks file. In fact, the standard tourist map of the area is printed from his VectorWorks file.
VectorWorks is simple and intuitive enough for everyone in the office to use. I call this approach the digital art/craft process and contrast it with the CAD operator model that was popular when software was too complex and annoying for designers to use.
For the work I do, VectorWorks is indispensable in managing the digital workflow within a design team. I have been using a version of VectorWorks since 1990. VectorWorks is still as simple and straightforward to use as MiniCAD was.
One of the features I have always appreciated about VectorWorks is the way it deals with scale without "model space" or "paper space" jargon to grapple with. Printing and plotting requires only a straightforward selection of paper size and drawing scale.
The RenderWorks module now computes solar animations for any location at any time of the year. These animations may be saved as QuickTime movies and can be placed into a larger iMovie, Final Cut Pro, or Premiere animations. This feature strengthens VectorWorks as an integrated 2D/3D/4D program.
One small but important feature improvement is the ability to close polygons with only three sides. Automatically generating a fourth side is useful in getting big GIS databases into a Landmark-useable format.
Until 1999 I used form-Z to translate large AutoCAD files, but the improved DWG and DXF capabilities of the recent VectorWorks release makes this unnecessary. The ability to read native AutoCAD files is extremely important because most landscape architects seem adamant about following engineering standards. Yet most of the professors in our department believe VectorWorks offers a better value in terms of time invested and output produced.
Words of Caution
Unlike MiniCAD, VectorWorks is now a large assortment of products, each of which must be purchased separately. For instance, you need to add RenderWorks to your collection to produce color renderings. However, once you buy the modules, their tools can be displayed together — or selectively hidden — in one workspace.
VectorWorks does seem to have its share of idiosyncratic behavior, but I don't feel this is a serious problem. Here at Penn State, it may simply be that the students create their own problems by working in nonstandard ways and not always choosing the most rational or "best-practice" approach.
The 3D modeling capability now allows Boolean operations including rudimentary lathe operations. Our use of this function suggests that the object needs to be created upside down to create a properly oriented object.
Landscape architects seem to have more pronounced personal preferences for the appearance of their graphic symbols than other professions do. Yet depicting natural objects in a visually acceptable way and with an economy of polygons is difficult. In its latest release, Landmark's symbols are improved but could still use more improvement.
But in sum, Landmark is a powerful, robust, and easy-to-learn software package. Even though our software budget for the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing could accommodate any software, I have always had a working copy of VectorWorks or its predecessor.
The VectorWorks family of design software is now owned by the large German company Nemetschek, whose architectural CAD system AllPlan is a best-seller in Europe. Yet the same software engineers who began with the American startup company are said to have stayed on. This degree of commitment is an important factor for the long-term viability of any software.
We have a mix of Macintosh and Windows computers, and finding reliable and useful design computing software that works on both platforms can be challenging. But finding software that will run under both the older Mac OS 9 and the new Mac OS 10 is even more difficult. The newest release of VectorWorks Landmark works with all these operating systems.
In other ways too, Nemetschek is a good digital citizen. They employ a software engineer whose sole job is to ensure that VectorWorks remains compatible with any changes in Autodesk or ESRI file formats.
Madis Pihlak, ASLA is an associate professor of architecture and landscape architecture and director of the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Penn State University. He offers classes featuring VectorWorks through Penn State's Digital Office Certificate Program