Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Residential Garden Design with Vectorworks Landmark

“Residential Garden Design with Vectorworks Landmark”
by Tamsin Slatter

This is a great book! Or, perhaps, I should say “a great manual” since I don’t suppose there are too many sad people like me who would take it to bed to read!

For anyone completely unfamiliar with “Vectorworks” here’s a brief bit of background. When I first started out from my college Garden Design course, I tried out several of the very cheap “design your own garden” programs before giving up and returning (literally) to my drawing board. I’m not saying that these programs don’t have their place – but that isn’t in the toolkit of a professional designer. A couple of years ago, I looked again at professional-level CAD packages and decided that, for me, Vectorworks looked the best and that it would be a worthwhile investment for my business. I opted for the “Landmark” and “Renderworks” components, in addition to Vectorworks itself (there are other components specifically for Interior Design, Architecture, Engineering and so on), which together provide huge capability – but, unsurprisingly, with a huge learning curve to become truly proficient and efficient in their usage.

I took a 20-hour training course and, after an initial delay due to other work commitments, started to use the package for my design work. With practice, I got fairly good at drawing up my surveys, working up concept plans, hard landscape construction drawings and soft landscape planting plans. What I hadn’t got to grips with, because it seemed too difficult, was using the 3D modelling capabilities – hence I was not making use of Renderworks, nor offering my clients the benefit of 3D views, with lighting and shadow shown at different times of day, or seasons of the year. Instead, I resorted to separate hand-drawn sketches or simple Google Sketchup models. This also meant that I was putting in extra effort developing isolated section views of construction drawings in addition to the plan views and the hand-drawn sketches.
That’s where this book comes in!
Tamsin prepared this book for Nemetschek, the developers of Vectorworks. She has excellent credentials for this – 20 years working for IT software companies before retraining as a garden/landscape designer, learning to make best use of the Vectorworks CAD system and becoming a renowned trainer and the UK’s leading expert in the software. In addition to this expertise, she has a personality, which really comes across in the friendly “sitting next to Nellie” style of this book.

So why’s it so good?

Firstly, the concept: It’s a project-based workbook which takes you on a journey from when you first, excitedly, fire up Vectorworks after installing it on your machine, into how it looks & feels, how to set up an efficient & effective “virtual drawing board”, and into the design workflow based on a sample project. This goes right from bringing in a survey file or drawing up your own survey data, through developing a draft plan, creating the 3D hardscape features, adding lighting (both daytime sunlight and nightscape artificial lights), creating planting schemes with varying levels of detail, to end up with hardcopy of plans, perspective views, materials and plant schedules – the lot!

Secondly, the practicalities: The book itself is convenient A5 size, and spiral-bound, so it lays flat within a very small footprint on your desk, or even held in one hand, while guiding your mouse with the other. It includes colour screen images or sections of them throughout, which are well-positioned to match the text. There’s a CD which holds both a PDF copy of the book and a set of Vectorworks files which constitute the sample project at various stages within the workflow and exercise files so that you can try things out without screwing up the project files.

After completing this book and project, the 3D features of Vectorworks/Landmark are completely de-mystified and just make sense as the natural way of working with the package – I found that I could easily work through my current design project alongside the book’s sample project and gain all the benefits and efficiencies which I’d been missing out on. I’m not saying that the supplied Vectorworks manuals aren't useful, but they are descriptive of what the various tools do, not how they are applied, and they seem to be written by “techies” not practitioners – which left me using only a fraction of the package in the 12-months-plus which I’d employed it. Not any more!

I do have some criticisms – there are a lot of “typos” which a better proof-reading should have found, though usually these don’t impact on comprehension. The screen-image clips are very small – presumably to keep the physical size of the book down – which is fine if you’re just using them as a visual cue to what you’re seeing on your screen as you work through the project, but sometimes they make using the book for reference difficult - unless you have much more acute vision than me.

My major criticism is that the book has no index, so to use it for reference you either have to thumb through the contents pages, which list topics within the workflow of the sample project, and then skip-read through that section; or you have to resort to the PDF copy and use Adobe reader’s “find” facilities to locate the item you need. The sample project is “split-level”, so the book does cover retaining walls, steps, raised beds and so on, but it doesn’t cover site modelling of a “real” situation where there are undulating contours and how to construct a design over this. Nor does it discuss “real” hardscape which has a rainwater run-off gradient. Perhaps these might be the subject of a future “advanced” landscape design book.


Would I recommend this book? Wholeheartedly and without reservation!

Who would benefit from this book? Students of Garden Design or experienced designers who are new to Vectorworks, and those people, like me, who are experienced users of Vectorworks but who’ve shied away from some of the most productive parts of the package because they seemed “too difficult”.

One final word of caution – make sure you have the appropriate version of the Vectorworks software - the book is for Vectorworks 2009, so you can’t read the exercise and sample project files if you’re running Vectorworks 2008 or below, though you could possibly manage with a 2009 demo version on another machine. If you’re lucky enough to have Vectorworks 2010, it should work OK, but I presume there’s a revision or new edition coming along to pick up on the enhanced 2010 features.

Steve Rice, Blooming Good Gardens, Southampton, UK

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