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New Tools. Digital media in landscape architecture



Landscape architects use analogue and digital media to understand and design urban areas and the countryside. Because new media in particular enable us to use different approaches to thinking and communicating about spatial design issues, they are contributing to the development of the field. Steffen Nijhuis explains where digital media belong as part of a long tradition and examines the ways in which they can be used.
The need
for design
Exploring Dutch
landscape architecture
Johan Vlug
Adrian Noortman
Rob Aben
Ben ter Mull
Mark Hendriks
Van Hall Larenstein
University of Applied Sciences
Velp, 2013
The need for
Dutch landscape
Landscape architects use analo-
gue and digital media to under-
stand and design urban areas
and the countryside. Because
new media in particular enable
us to use different approaches
to thinking and communicating
about spatial design issues, they
are contributing to the develop-
ment of the field. Steffen Nijhuis
explains where digital media
belong as part of a long tradition
and examines the ways in which
they can be used.
New tools
Digital media in
landscape architecture
Visual representations such as maps, drawings
or models, but also text and still or moving
pictures, form the basis of research and design
in landscape architecture.1 Over the last few
decades, these methods have been comple-
mented by digital media, otherwise known as
new media.2 These involve communicating
information or knowledge through speech,
pictures, text and sound with the help of dig-
ital technology. Examples are computers, the
Internet, virtual 3D landscapes, digital video
and photography, computer graphics (Fig. 1),
geographical information systems (GIS), com-
puter simulations, computer-aided drafting
(CAD), virtual reality and mobile telephony.
Social media are also digital media – online
platforms where users provide and manage
the content, such as blogs, webfora and social
How are digital media used in the daily
work of landscape architecture? What oppor-
tunities do they offer for research and design?
The use of models, drawings and maps
goes back far into the past.3 In around 2000
BC, maps of villages were carved into the
rocks of northern Italy. In Egypt and China,
ground plans and models have been found
that are even older.4 According to the Roman
architect, Vitruvius, a ground plan, section
and perspective were essential for achieving
a good design. From the 14th century, visual
representation became increasingly impor-
tant, influenced by developments in meas-
uring techniques and the visual arts, and by
the growing professionalism of the disciplines
engaged in spatial design.5 The making of
models, ground plans, perspective drawings
and maps became increasingly established
as a means of analysing and designing – and
communicating about – existing and future
spatial situations.
In the 18th century, landscape archi-
tects first began experimenting with painted
‘moving’ pictures. French landscape designer
Louis Carmontelle painted extensive imagi-
nary landscape panoramas onto long bands
of paper. These were wound onto two wooden
rollers and, using an ingenious instrument,
unwound like a video, lit from behind.6 The
‘before and after’ drawings of English land-
scape designer Humphry Repton are world-re-
nowned and were intended to give clients an
impression of how a landscape would look
after work was completed (Fig. 2). 7
In addition to this development in pres-
entation techniques, instruments were invent-
ed which supported spatial investigation and
design. One example is the perspectograph,
invented by mathematician Johann Heinrich
Lambert in the 18th century. This instrument
translated ground plans into perspective
drawings (Fig. 3). In this period, engineer and
geographer Jean-Marie Morel developed sys-
tems of notation to link knowledge of nature
and landscape – tree species, types of water
and geomorphology – to landscape design. In
1804 Morel used the term landscape architect
architecte-paysagiste – for the first time. 8
Photography entered the scene at the end
of the 19th century. This made it possible to
take photographs of a spatial situation from
specific viewpoints and then to manipulate
them. After World War II, the use of aerial pho-
tographs and stereophotography made it pos-
sible to analyse and map large areas. 9 Later,
satellite photography and remote sensing were
added, allowing very precise recordings of the
Earth’s surface. For example, for landscape
research Cornelis von Frijtag Drabbe used
interpretations of aerial photographs to create
maps known as ‘red-blue or wet area maps. On
these maps it could be seen which parts of a
landscape were wetter or drier at times of bad
drainage and flooding.10
The arrival of electricity early in the 20th
century enabled the development of an overlay
technique in which light tables played a crucial
role. Several drawings could be overlayed in
order to analyse spatial relationships, for ex-
ample between soil structure and vegetation.
Warren Manning was one of the first landscape
architects to apply this technique when he
used it for his urban development plan for the
town of Billerica in Massachusetts.11 Jan Bij-
houwer, the first Dutch professor of landscape
architecture, used the overlay technique in his
plantation scheme for the Wieringermeerpol-
der in North Holland and the extension and
park plan for Kethel, near Schiedam in the
province of South Holland.12 Later, this method
was further developed by Ian McHarg 13 and
had a major impact on the development of GIS
and Dutch system-thinking about landscape.14
1 Digital painting with image processing software.
Artist’s impression from the landscaping and
management plan for the Drentse Ballooërveld,
the Netherlands. (Source: Strootman Land-
schapsarchitecten, 2010)
2 The English landscape designer, Humphry
Repton, made ‘before and after drawings’ for his
clients, which he published in his world-re-
nowned Red Books. Opening a drawing of the
existing situation on both sides revealed the
interventions he proposed for the place in
question. Pictured is the 1793 design proposal
for the Purley estate in the county of Berkshire,
with the existing situation (left) and the design
for the future. (Source: Rogger, 2007, note 7)
3 Johann Heinrich Lambert invented the perspec-
tograph in the 18th century. It could be used to
convert a ground plan into a perspective draw-
ing. Left: the original design for the perspec-
tograph from the book Anlage zur Perspektive
(1752). Right: a modern reconstruction of the
instrument. (Source: Laboratory of Mathemat-
ics, University of Modena and Regio Emilia)
4 Carl Steinitz was a pioneer who used geograph-
ical information systems (GIS) for landscape
research and planning. The map shows an au-
tomated analysis of the visual character of the
landscape in the Boston area. (Source: Steinitz
and Rogers, 1970, note 15)
The digital era
Since the 1950s, people have worked in-
creasingly with computers – first with main-
frames and later with PCs. Early experiments
using computer-generated maps, databases
and digital overlay techniques were carried
out from 1967 onwards by Carl Steinitz of
Harvard University.15 Previously, in Canada,
Roger Tomlinson had introduced the term
geographical information systems (GIS) for
such computer applications.16 The simulta-
neous development of the first dot matrix
printers offered the possibility of printing
the results of analyses and using them in
landscape planning and design (Fig. 4). Video
was also used to create and play moving
pictures, in order to analyse developments
over time. The same period saw the devel-
opment of computer-aided drafting (CAD).
Drawings and virtual 3D landscapes could
be constructed in a digital environment.
This technique depended on the pen plotter,
which was essential for printing line drawings
onto paper. Because the development of the
pen plotter was slow, CAD use took time to
get going.
Starting in the 1970s, the first experiments
were done with the enthescope, a camera
with a periscope lens. This is used for moving
through models, to take photographs or mov-
ing pictures in support of the analysis and
presentation of urban design and landscape
architecture ensembles (Fig. 5).17 The digital
revolution only really got going in the 1980s,
because personal computers became more
widely available. Increasingly, companies
began to depend on computers and digital
technology. In landscape architecture, CAD,
virtual 3D landscapes (Fig. 6) and GIS be-
came increasingly important for research and
design, first at research institutes and later at
landscape architecture practices. From the
early 1990s, digital image processing came
into use.18 Since that time, being able to work
with digital media has been one of the basic
skills of the landscape architect.
The last 25 years have been character-
ised by a rapid transition from analogue to
digital media. The arrival of image-processing
software, 3D modelling, CAD, GIS and com-
puter-aided manufacturing (CAM) – where
machines controlled by computers manufac-
ture components – has changed the way in
which analogue maps, drawings and models
are used. Digital multimedia presentations
with text, still and moving images, and sound
are becoming increasingly important for
transferring ideas and providing clear and
concise information to stakeholders. Mobile
devices and the Internet are becoming ever
more interconnected, and social networking
has grown to be a standard way of communi-
Digital interfaces and operations
There is no doubt that digital media are
important for landscape research and design.
They are ‘vehicles’ for thinking and commu-
nicating at various levels. They are not only
5 Since the 1970s, the enthescope has been used to provide
insight into the spatial quality of a design. For the design of a
town centre, an enthescope is fixed to a camera lens and the
camera is placed vertically inside the model in order to take
photographs or moving pictures. (Source: Michiel den Ruijter,
6 An early experiment with CAD and 3D modelling: the design
for the 1992 Floriade (international flower and garden exhibi-
tion held in the Netherlands every 10 years) in Zoetermeer is
constructed in three dimensions in a digital environment and
mounted on an aerial photograph of the existing situation.
(Source: Michiel den Ruijter, Janneke Roos-Klein Lankhorst
and Joost Koek, University of Wageningen, 1984)
handy for transferring information and for
understanding and representing a current
or future reality, but also for recording,
analysing, manipulating and expressing
ideas, shapes and relationships. In connec-
tion with digital media, we often talk about
a visual culture dominated by computer
graphics, maps, virtual 3D landscapes and
computer animation. This fits seamlessly
with the visual culture of landscape archi-
tecture, where visual representations play
a key role in visual thinking and communi-
cation. Visual thinking implies generating
knowledge and ideas by creating, inspecting
and interpreting visual representations of
what was previously not visible, while visual
communication refers to the effective trans-
fer of ideas in visual form.19
In order to understand the use of digital
media in landscape architecture, it is helpful
to distinguish between the concepts ‘inter-
face’ and ‘operation. Interface means the
relationship between human and computer
- Computers and peripheral devices:
screen, mouse, digital pen, keyboard,
webcam, smart board, wii
- World Wide Web, Internet
- Mobile telephony and personal as-
sistants: gsm, smart phones, tablets,
- Digital cameras: video and photography
- Position tracking: global positioning
systems (GPS)
- Tangible user interfaces and multi-
touch interaction tables: multi-touch
table, luminous table, Illuminating clay,
Sandscape, Sensetable
- Virtual environments, head-mounted
displays and simulation laboratories:
CAVE, Simlab
- Multimedia meeting rooms and group
decision rooms
- Digital word processing, spreadsheets
and databases
- Image processing and desktop publi-
- Virtual 3D landscapes: 3D modelling,
virtual reality (VR)
- Software platforms: computer-aided
drawing (CAD), geographical information
systems (GIS), building information
model (BIM), decision support systems
- Location-based services: geotagging,
geocaching, augmented reality markers
(AR-markers), points of interest based
on GPS (POIs)
- Computer simulation or models (deter-
ministic or stochastic):
- Geocomputation: computer games
(serious gaming), time-geographic
models, traffic and transport models,
planning models, economic models,
morphology and visibility models,
cognitive models, multi-actor models,
building technology and logistical
models, hydraulic engineering models,
nature and environmental models,
agricultural models, energy models,
ecological models20
- Computational form generation:
coding, scripting, genetic algorithms
- Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)
and rapid prototyping: 3D printing, CNC
milling, laser cutting
- Augmented reality (AR)
- Web applications and social media:
online maps and aerial photographs,
search engines, panoramic photographs,
quick response codes (QR codes), we-
blogs, webfora, social networks (profile
sites, blogging, visual media sharing,
Overview of interfaces and operations.
– the technical system. Operation means the
actions that are performed. The table shows
the most important interfaces and opera-
tions, most of which are explained in the
text. The distinction between interface and
operation is often not clear, because digital
media are characterised by a combination
of the two. Media use ranges from general
applications, such as word processing, com-
munication and marketing, to specific ap-
plications such as advanced spatial research
and virtual 3D landscapes.
In landscape architecture we can distin-
guish three areas of application: research,
design, and presentation and communi-
cation. In the first two, the emphasis is on
thinking and reflecting, while the third
focuses on the effective transfer of specific
information and knowledge. Deliberating,
processing, documenting, learning, con-
structing, testing, associating, speaking for
and working within groups are all activities
for which people use digital media.
Applications in research
Research concerns analysing and evaluat-
ing situations, designs or precedents. Its aim
is to clarify how something works in a physi-
cal, biological or cultural sense, or which spa-
tial or other organising principles are used.
Structures, patterns, processes and their
relationships in space and time are depicted.
Linking certain elements or aspects of a land-
scape through overlay drawings can bring
about an understanding of the relationships
between cultural patterns – construction,
roads, land parcellation, etc. – and the natural
system of soil, geomorphology and hydrology.
Architectonic features such as form, space,
organisation, proportion and scale can be
investigated using reduction or analytical
drawings (Fig. 7).21 By using suggestive car-
tography, datascaping and statistical land-
scapes, we can combine or spatially interpret
data, aerial photographs, thematic maps and
diagrams in order to read a landscape in an
alternative way and recognise relationships.22
In this search, digital media such as CAD, GIS,
3D modelling and image-processing software
function as an ‘extension of the hands’, where
a pen and pencil are
replaced by a mouse and
digital drawing pen. This allows analytical
and graphic operations to be carried out more
precisely and more quickly, and it is possible
to work with large amounts of information.
Using the calculating power of computers,
combined with inventive analysis, modelling
and visualisation techniques, creates new
information and knowledge about spatial con-
struction, processes and use. In this context,
digital media can be seen as an ‘extension of
the brain, as tools for supporting observa-
tion and reflection.23 It is especially GIS and
computer simulations, in combination with
3D modelling, which offer usable applications
in this respect. GIS and computer simulations
are powerful instruments for grasping com-
plex situations in the present, the past or the
future, through the integration of computer
applications such as image processing, CAD,
7 Analysis drawing of the French garden Vaux-le-Vicomte in
Melun, produced with the help of CAD and image processing
software. The spatial construction and orientation of the
design is investigated by drawing elements of the composi-
tion and linking them together. This reveals how the natural
height differences are used to make a longitudinal axis,
which creates an illusion of infinity. The axis provides a ge-
ometrical horizon, which is marked by a statue of Hercules.
(Source: Steenbergen et al., 2008, note 21)
8 GIS-based computation of data on altitudes in the Nether-
lands. The precise data can be visualised in various ways.
As a map (left), where the colours represent the altitude in
relation to sea level. A shadow cast in the background makes
altitude differences clearly visible. Areas below sea level are
blue and those above sea level are brown; or as a 3D print,
in which the altitude data from GIS are translated by a 3D
printer into a model – with a scale of 1 to 500,000 and the
height exaggerated a hundredfold. (Source: Steffen Nijhuis,
TU Delft, 2011)
cartography, data modelling and database
management. Against this background, re-
search institutes are developing applications
for spatial design in the areas of data acqui-
sition, modelling, analysis and visualisation.
One example comprises the three-dimension-
al geometrical data from objects and areas
which are obtained from the air or from fixed
positions, using laser scanners. This informa-
tion can form the basis for precise models that
show height differences in the landscape (Fig.
8), or the three-dimensional shape of the built
environment (Fig. 9). A GIS-based analysis of
the visual space using what are called visi-
bility models is also a useful application for
examining what users can see in an existing
or future situation (Fig. 10).24 Finally, there are
ecological models that realistically depict the
spatial distribution and expression of ecosys-
tems through the construction of virtual 3D
landscapes (Fig. 11).
The Internet provides an understanding of
location, use and evaluation. As well as online
vector- and grid-oriented maps, other web
applications are also useful, such as online
360-degree panoramic photographs. With
crowd sourcing – making use of a large group
of individuals – techniques such as visual
media sharing (Fig. 12) or specific apps (Fig. 13)
can be employed to gain an impression of how
landscapes are valued and used.
Another application for spatial research is
position tracking. By providing selected groups
of people with GPS devices (Fig. 14), or by
exploring patterns of mobile phone use, it is
possible to analyse and visualise people’s flows
of movement and patterns of stay in terms of
duration.25 This can underpin design inter-
ventions or management measures in towns
and parks. It gives insight into the behaviour,
orientation and movement of people in the en-
vironment, known as wayfinding. Experiments
using digital photographs and video show the
potential of moving pictures as a research tool
in the fields of landscape perception or land-
scape phenomenology.26
11 12
9 3D visualisation of part of the TU Delft campus, obtained
from the air using laser scanners. The image contains
millions of measuring points which could only be visualised
with specialised software. The library and the auditorium are
clearly recognisable. (Source: Michiel Pouderoijen and Addie
Ritter, TU Delft, 2011)
10 Investigation of the spatial construction of Saint Mark’s
Square in Venice. Above left: a precisely constructed 3D mod-
el enables researchers to study and visualise the spatial con-
struction from various viewpoints – at eye level or a bird’s-eye
view. Above right: a GIS-based visibility analysis shows the
variation that occurs in the field of vision – the extent to
which the scene shifts at eye level. The red-orange-yellow
colour range allows one to see a gradual spatial progression
at the transition from one square to the other, with the clock
tower as ‘hinge. Below: analysis in which successive fields of
vision are calculated from the entrance to the square. Known
as a Minkowski model, it shows from top to bottom how the
square ‘unfolds’ – from a tightly framed view of the water to
a view of the entire square. (Source: Steffen Nijhuis, TU Delft,
11 The spatial distribution and expression of ecosystems is
depicted through a combination of GIS, models of planting
physiology and real-time rendering. It is possible to move
through such a virtual 3D landscape and to visualise how
it functions from an ecological and spatial point of view.
Through its linking of information, for example about soil
composition and plant communities, it is a spatial database
for research, development and conservation. Pictured is a
simulation of alpine plant communities in the UNESCO bio-
sphere reserve Entlebuch in Switzerland. (Source: Philip Paar,
Wieland Röhricht, Olaf Schroth and Ulrike Wissen, Lenné3D &
ETH Zürich, 2004)
12 Crowd sourcing makes use of visual media sharing. By
analysing the distribution and density of online geotagged
photographs (photographs with GPS coordinates), it is make
clear which areas of the British estate Stourhead are most
appreciated by visitors. Above: screenshot with the locations
of online geotagged photographs. (Source: Google maps-Pan-
oramio) Below: GIS analysis of the distribution and density of
photographs based on quantity and distance. The red areas
are where the most photographs were taken, which is an
indicator for appreciation. (Source: Steffen Nijhuis, TU Delft,
13 14
where movement also has a big role to play.
The visualisation can be more or less realis-
tic, depending on the intention and the time
Computer simulations with computer
games and morphological models provide
input early in the design stage for possible
spatial configurations. The designer lays
down rules that form the basis of the design,
for example concerning plot size, distance,
infrastructure and greenery, while the model
translates these into spatial configurations by
means of statistical optimisation (Fig. 15).28
Planning models make representations of pos-
sible spatial scenarios as a basis for regional
planning and design.29 The consequences of
socioeconomic, climate and environmental
changes are converted into possible spatial
claims which serve as a schedule of require-
ments. Parametric design with the help of
scripting or genetic algorithms can be used to
generate three-dimensional shapes, objects
or landscapes that comply with specific rules,
13 Crowd sourcing using an app with which
users answer questions about their experi-
ence and appreciation of the landscape. The
answers are displayed through automatic
position tracking. The result is, for example,
a map of valued landscapes in England.
14 Movement patterns of a few dozen tourists
in the French city of Rouen, obtained by
supplying them with a mobile GPS device.
Displaying the individual tracklogs on a
map makes it possible to see the spatial
orientation, intensity of use and distribution
of a specific group of pedestrians in the city.
(Source: Steffen Nijhuis and Stefan van der
Spek, TU Delft, 2008)
Applications in design
Design involves exploring possibilities
and synthesising knowledge and informa-
tion at various levels of scale. Digital media
play a supporting role in an iterative thinking
process. Creation, development and testing
alternate in order to arrive at a spatial design.
In the creation cycle, the designers initial ideas
are given tangible form. This rudimentary de-
sign is then elaborated in a development cycle
to achieve greater coherence, completeness
and specificity. The test cycle is the moment
of truth, when the design is tested against the
criteria and standards set by the designer.
CAD and image processing software are
frequently-used tools for creating and im-
proving design drawings, views and perspec-
tives.27Digital painting’ with photographs and
collages helps in shaping and representing
creative ideas. With 3D modelling, a land-
scape can be designed in three dimensions,
where the spatial relationships and effects are
constructed from an eye-level perspective, and
technical or otherwise. This usually produces
unexpected patterns, shapes or landscapes,
which are used for association, as an elabora-
tion of an idea (Fig. 16) or as direct input for
actual projects.30
GIS is a powerful instrument for spatial
design at various scales. Geodesign is a GIS-
based approach in which location-specific and
other layers of information are combined in
space and processed to produce new design
knowledge.31 By using morphological models
in GIS programs, such as Space Syntax, it is
possible to assess in advance the logic of a
future system of paths, and therefore how it
Tangible user interfaces are focused on
human-computer interaction. Such intuitive
interfaces provide a rapid interaction between
actions and their effects. Illuminating Clay and
Sandscape are two such interfaces, with which
the designer gives shape to the landscape by
moulding ‘three-dimensional clay or sand’.
At the same time, the characteristics of the
15 Design rules, such as plot size and the amount of greenery, are
translated into a spatial configuration in a computer model.
This result is evaluated by designers – a process in which the
rules are constantly adjusted and new alternatives generated.
On the left is a computer simulation of a land parcellation
study for the De Draai urban development plan in Heerhu-
gowaard, in the province of North Holland. The drawings show
the detailed town plan. (Source: Karres and Brands landscape
architects in cooperation with ETH Zürich, team Kaisersrot,
16 Globus Cassus is an award-winning art project about a con-
ceptual transformation of the planet Earth. Computer-gener-
ated three-dimensional shapes formed the basis of imaginary
landscapes such as Die Geomorphe Stadt (The Geomorphic
city). (Source: Christian Waldvogel, 2004)
17 Illuminating clay (left) and Sandscape are examples of ‘tan-
gible user interfaces’, with which there is a rapid interaction
between actions and their effects. The designer shapes the
landscape by moulding ‘three-dimensional clay or sand’.
The landscape thus formed is calculated and displayed on
screens. (Source: Carlo Ratti, MIT Media Lab, Tangible Media
Group, 2002)
18 Prize-winning presentation for a new visitors’ centre in
the Oostvaardersplassen, a Dutch nature reserve on the
north-western edge of the province of Flevoland, not far from
Amsterdam. GIS, CAD, 3D modelling and image processing
were combined to show the spatial qualities of the plan.
(Source: Vista landscape and urban design in cooperation
with Olaf Gipser architects, 2010)
19 An exhibition at the
Beeckesteijn estate shows
the development of the
Kennemerland landscape,
a coastal region in the
north-western Nether-
lands, by means of a
sequence of maps that are
projected like a film onto
a 3D model made using
GIS-CAM. Associative
pictures conjure up the
feel of a particular period
in time, while a voice tells
the story. (Source: Steffen
Nijhuis, Michiel Pouder-
oijen, Joris Wiers, TU Delft,
landscape formed are visualised on adjacent
screens, for example contour lines, water drai-
nage patterns and gradients (Fig. 17).33 Digital
drawings can be immediately translated into
physical models and prototypes of objects
by 3D printers, CNC-milling or laser cutting.
The combination of CAD and computer-aided
manufacturing (CAM) makes it possible to
produce designed elements straight away.
Applications in presentation and
Presentation means effective communica-
tion and the transfer of information, know-
ledge or ideas to stakeholders or the general
public. Digital media are used for an efficient
transfer of information, knowledge and ideas.
In landscape architecture CAD, 3D modelling,
image processing and desktop publishing are
widely used to make plans presentable with
the help of computer graphics (Fig. 18), posters
and reports. With the support of digital multi-
media presentations, clients, the public or jury
members are informed about the substantive
qualities of the plans. Virtual environments
and simulation laboratories can guide intere-
sted parties through a digitally constructed,
three-dimensional space in the future or in the
CAD and building information models
(BIM) are growing in importance for collabo-
ration in groups, for example for elaborating
and implementing plans. Computer-produced
technical drawings, such as planting schemes
and surfacing details, show how something
needs to be made. With BIM, quantities and
costs are calculated and ultimately translated
into budgets and specifications.
Communication and interactive planning
in landscape architecture are supported by
digital media facilities such as group deci-
sion rooms, multi-touch tables and luminous
tables, sometimes equipped with decision
support systems. With such media, stakehol-
ders sit in a room or at a table in order to be
informed, or to take part in thinking about a
spatial task.34 Dynamic digital projections onto
models have proved effective in conveying
information and knowledge to a wider public
(Fig. 19). The Internet and social media play a
role in marketing landscape architecture prac-
tices. Websites show a firm’s expertise, ideolo-
gies and project portfolios, and social media
are used by practices to distribute information
about their most recent activities.
‘Location-based services’, ‘quick response
codes’, ‘augmented reality markers’ or ‘points
of interest’ based on GPS provide information
about objects and landscapes on smartphones
and tablets. In time, image recognition will
become more important here, and not only the
code or the marker, but rather the entire image
will be recognised as the basis for an augmen-
ted reality. Computer images or information
will then be added directly to real pictures. Re-
ality will be merged with a virtual world as part
of communication about a spatial situation in
the past, present or future.
This book shows that digital presentation
and communication are becoming increas-
ingly important in daily practice, as an ‘exten-
sion of the hands’. However, the possibilities
offered by digital media are not yet being fully
exploited. In particular those applications in
which digital media are used in the creative
thinking process – as an ‘extension of the
brain’ – still offer a wide range of possibilities
for development.
Digital media are developing at high
speed. Every day there are new technical pos-
sibilities and specialist software is increasing-
ly user-friendly. Digital media are becoming
more intuitive and interactive, and working
environments more dynamic. Work is in pro-
gress on an improved digital infrastructure in
order to make up-to-date and reliable infor-
mation available online and accessible to all.35
In addition, digital media can help with the
increasing demand for multidisciplinary and
flexible working, in order to find solutions to
complex problems together with people from
other fields and with stakeholders. Here, there
is a lot to learn from architecture, where we
can speak of a ‘real’ digital culture.36
Educational and research institutions
have an important part to play in developing
the profession in the area of digital media.
They must take the lead in inspiring students,
building up their knowledge and passing it
on, and adding new tools to the traditional
craftsmans toolbox. This means that digi-
tal media and their application in research,
design and presentation should be part of the
curricula for teaching and research.37 As a re-
sult, landscape architecture will develop into
a digital culture in which GIS, CAD and BIM
are as well-established as pen and paper.
It is not that digital media replace an-
alogue media – they are complementary.
They both belong in the toolbox available to
landscape designers and researchers. Each
tool, whether digital or analogue, has its own
qualities: hand-drawn sketches and models
are just as important as computer-generated
information or virtual 3D landscapes. Site
visits cannot be replaced by digital panoram-
ic photographs, because it is important for
people to use their senses out in the field in
order really to experience the space. Drawing
by hand will always be an important part of
the thinking process in terms of coordination
between the brain and the hand, and obser-
vation through sketching.38 The use of digital
media deserves a proper place alongside
traditional media. It is worth investigating
the possibilities offered by digital media and
making efforts to become skilled in using
My thanks to Johan Vlug and Michiel den
Ruijter, who taught me the basic principles of
landscape architecture and the application of
digital media, and to Clemens Steenbergen and
Erik de Jong for their help in further develop-
ing these skills. I also thank the people, design
practices and research institutes that made the
illustrations available.
Steffen Nijhuis is Assistant Professor of Landscape
Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture, Delft
University of Technology, the Netherlands. Important
themes in his work are design-related methods and
techniques in landscape architecture, visual land-
scape research and visual knowledge representa-
tion. His PhD research focuses on the use of GIS in
landscape architecture.
1 General overviews can be found in: S.
Andersson, M. Floryan, A. Lund (2005)
Great European gardens. An atlas of
historic plans. Copenhagen: The Danish
Architectural Press; E. de Jong, M. Lafaille
and C. Bertram (2008) Landscapes of the
imagination. Designing the European tradi-
tion of garden and landscape Architecture
1600-2000. Rotterdam: NAi publishers.
2 General overviews can be found in: E.
Mertens (2010) Visualizing landscape
architecture. Functions, concepts and
strategies. Basel, etc.: Birkhäuser; N.
Amoroso (ed.) (2012) Representing land-
scapes. A visual collection of landscape
architectural drawings. London: Routledge;
N. Amoroso (2012) Digital landscape
architecture now. London: Thames and
Hudson. For background material on new
media: L. Manovich (2001) The language of
new media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT press;
Martin Lister et al. (2008) New media. A
critical introduction. London: Routledge
3 See also: E. Zube, D. Simcox and C. Law
(1987) ‘Perceptual landscape simulations:
History and Prospect.Landscape Journal
6(1); 62-80 and I. Bishop and E. Lange
(eds.) (2005) Visualization in landscape and
environmental planning. Technology and
applications. New York: Taylor and Francis.
4 C.D. Smith (1987) ‘Cartography in the
Prehistoric period in the Old World: Europe,
the Middle East, and North Africa’, in: J.B.
Harley and D. Woodward (eds.) The history
of cartography. Volume 1: Cartography in
Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe
and the Mediterranean. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, pp. 54-101; D.
Buisseret (ed.) (1998) Envisioning the City.
Six studies in urban cartography. Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press.
5 On the professionalisation of architec-
ture: F. Toker (1985) ‘Gothic architecture
by remote control. An illustrated building
contract of 1340’, The Art Bulletin 67 (1);
67-95 en E. Robbins (1994) Why Architects
draw. Cambridge, MA: The MIT press. On
the development of perspective drawing:
K. Andersen (2007) The geometry of an art.
The history of the mathematical theory of
perspective from Alberti to Monge. New
York: Springer.
6 L.C. de Brancion (2008) Carmonelle’s
landscape transparencies. Cinema of the
Enlightenment. Los Angeles: Getty publica-
7 A. Rogger (2007) Landscapes of taste.
The art of Humphry Repton’s Red Books.
London: Routledge.
8 J. Disponzio (2002) ‘Jean-Marie Morel and
the invention of landscape architecture, in:
J.D. Hunt and M. Conan (eds.) Tradition and
innovation in French garden art. Chapters
of a new history. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, pp. 135-160.
9 Stereophotography consists of taking two
photographs simultaneously, about 6.5 cm
apart, which corresponds to the average
distance between a human being’s eyes.
This makes it possible to see depth and,
for example, to discover height differenc-
10 For this he used WWII aerial photographs.
During the war, extensive areas were badly
drained due to a lack of fuel for the pump-
ing engines or because the Germans had
flooded them. C.A.J. von Frijtag Drabbe
(1954) Luchtfoto en foto-interpretatie. Deel
II: Historische Geologie in West-Europa.
Delft: Topografische Dienst (Topographical
11 W.H. Manning (1913) ‘The Billerica town
plan’, Landscape Architecture 3 (3); 108-
118. See also: C. Steinitz, P. Parker and L.
Jordan (1976) ‘Hand-drawn overlays. Their
history and prospective use’, Landscape
Architecture 66; 444-455.
12 J.T.P. Bijhouwer (1933) ‘Beplanting in den
Wieringermeerpolder’, in: M.J. Granpré
Molière, et al. Het nieuwe land. De opbouw
van de Wieringermeerpolder. Amsterdam:
Van Munster’s uitgeversmaatschappij. pp
49-51; J.T.P. Bijhouwer (1947) ‘Een bodem-
kartering ten behoeve van de stedebouw’.
Tijdschrift voor Volkshuisvesting en Stede-
bouw volume 3 (36).
13 I. McHarg (1969) Design with Nature. Gar-
den City, NY: Natural History Press.
14 As developed in the Wageningen Triplex
model, the Layers Approach, the Frame-
work Concept and the Strategy of the two
15 C. Steinitz (1967) Congruence and meaning.
The influence of consistency between ur-
ban form and activity upon environmental
knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT; C. Steinitz
and P. Rogers (1970) A systems analysis
model of urbanization and change. An
experiment in interdisciplinary education.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT press.
16 J.T. Coppock and D.W Rhind (1991) ‘The his-
tory of GIS’, in D. Maguire, M.F. Goodchild
and D.W. Rhind (eds.) Geographical Infor-
mation Systems. Principles and applica-
tions. New York: Wiley/Longman, pp. 21-43;
N. Chrisman (2006) Charting the unknown.
How computer mapping at Harvard became
GIS. Redlands, ESRI.
17 M.J.A. Bouwman (1979) De waarde van
het gebruik van de entheskoop in relatie
tot andere presentatietechnieken voor
de gebouwde omgeving. Wageningen:
Landbouwuniversiteit; P. Bosselman (1998)
Representation of Places. Reality and Real-
ism in City Design. Berkeley, etc.: University
of California Press.
18 See following for an example of how
digital media are becoming increasingly
important in the daily work of land-
scape designers: N. van Dooren (2010)
‘Koele warmte. Het werk van bureau B+B
beschouwd vanuit de tekening’, in: M.
Steenhuis (ed.) Bureau B+B. Stedebouw en
landschapsarchitectuur. Rotterdam: NAi
Uitgevers, pp. 376-425.
19 DiBiase, D. (1990) ‘Visualization in the
earth sciences’, Earth and Mineral Scienc-
es 59(2); 13–18.
20 For the background to, and examples of,
usable computer games and models, see:
F. von Borries, S. Walz and M. Bottger (eds.)
(2007) Space, time, play. Computer games,
architecture and urbanism: the next level.
Basel etc.: Birkhäuser; E . Stolk and A. van
Bilsen (2007) Vooronderzoek New Town
Simulation Models. Faculty of Architecture
(internal report); E. Stolk and M, te Bröm-
melstroet (ed.) (2009) Model town. Using
urban simulation in new town planning.
Amsterdam: SUN.
21 More examples can be found in: B. Leupen,
et al. (1993) Ontwerp en analyse. Rotter-
dam: Uitgeverij 010; C.M. Steenbergen, S.
Meeks and S. Nijhuis (2008) Composing
landscapes. Analysis, typology, and experi-
ments for design. Basel etc.: Birkhäuser.
22 Examples of suggestive cartography: A .
Mathur and D. da Cunha (2001) Mississippi
floods. Designing a shifting landscape.
New Haven and London: Yale University
Press, and A. Berger (2006) Drosscape.
Wasting land in urban America. New York:
Princeton University Press. An example
of datascaping: W. Maas (2009) ‘Le Grand
Pari du Grand Paris’, in: AMC. Le Moniteur
Architecture: Le Grand Pari(s). Consultation
internationale sur l’avenir de la métropole
Parisienne; 235-254.
23 Miller came to the conclusion that we
can process a maximum of 2.5 bits (5-7
variables) of information, while computers
are able to process 32 bits, or even 64 bits.
G.A. Miller (1956) ‘The Magical Number
Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on
Our Capacity for Processing Information’,
The Psychological Review 63; 81-97. Recent
research has adjusted his findings to four
24 For an overview of visual landscape re-
search in relation to GIS: S. Nijhuis, R. van
Lammeren and F.D. van der Hoeven (eds.)
(2011) Exploring the visual landscape.
Advances in physiognomic landscape
research in the Netherlands. Amsterdam:
IOS Press (RiUS 2).
25 For the possibilities of GPS tracking in
town planning research, see: F.D. van der
Hoeven, J. van Schaick and S.C. van der
Spek (2008) Urbanism on track. Application
of tracking technologies in urbanism.
Amsterdam: IOS Press (RiUS 1).
26 See, among others: C. Girot and S. Wolff
(eds.) (2010) Landscapevideo. Landscape in
movement. Zurich: gta Verlag ETH Zurich;
F. Truniger (ed.) (2013) Filmic mapping
(Landscript 2). Berlin: Jovis.
27 B. Cantrell and W. Michaels (2010) Digital
drawing for landscape architecture. Con-
temporary techniques and tools for digital
representation in site design. Hoboken, NJ:
28 See, among others: A. Lehnerer (2009) ‘The
city of Kaisersrot: Not a design, but the re-
sult of a mediated process of negotiation’,
in: E. Stolk and M. te Brömmelstroet (ed.)
Model town. Using urban simulation in new
town planning. Amsterdam: SUN, pp. 135-
29 See, among others: D. Dekkers, MVRDV,
et al. (2002) The Regionmaker. Ostfil-
dern: Hatje Cantz Verlag and J. Groen et
al. (2004) Scenario’s in kaart. Model- en
ontwerpbenaderingen voor toekomstig
ruimtegebruik. Den Haag/Rotterdam: PBL/
NAi Uitgevers.
30 See, among others: Zwarts & Jansma, et al.
(2013) ‘Landshape. West Vail Pass ecoduct’
in: Jaarboek Landschapsarchitectuur en
stedebouw 2012. Wageningen: Blauwdruk,
pp. 144-145.
31 C. Steinitz (2012) A framework for ge-
odesign. Changing geography by design.
Redlands: Esri.
32 For background material, see: B. Hillier
(1996) Space is the machine. A configura-
tional theory of architecture. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
33 H. Ishii, et al. (2004) ‘Bringing clay and
sand into digital design — continuous
tangible user interfaces’, BT Technology
Journal 22(4); 287-299.
34 See, among others: O. Schroth (2010) From
information to participation. Interactive
landscape visualization as a tool for collab-
orative planning. Zurich: ETH Zurich.
35 Ministry for Housing, Spatial Planning
and the Environment – VROM (former
name of Ministry of Infrastructure and the
Environment) (2008) GIDEON. Basisvoor-
ziening geoinformatie Nederland. The
Hague; Nederlandse Commissie Geodesie
(Netherlands Geodetic Commission) (2010)
Nederland 2020 – Virtuele data: agenda
en aanpak kennis, innovatie en educatie –
GIDEON strategie 7. Delft: NCG.
36 A . Picon (2010) Digital culture in archi-
tecture. An introduction for the design
professions. Basel, etc.: Birkhäuser;
M. McCullough (2004) Digital ground.
Architecture, pervasive computing and
environmental knowing. Cambridge, MA:
The MIT press.
37 See, among others: ECLAS, EFLA, et al.
(2011) List of relevant teaching subjects in
the study of landscape architecture (EU-
38 More background material can be found
in: E. Robbins (1994) Why architects
draw. Cambridge, MA: The MIT press; C.
Dee (2004) ‘‘The imaginary texture of the
real…’ critical visual studies in landscape
architecture: contexts, foundations and
approaches’, Landscape Research 29(1);
13-30; M. Treib (ed.) (2008) Drawing/Think-
ing. Confronting an electronic age. London:
... Examples include blogs, web forums, and social networks. Whether digital or analogue, these media are instruments with which to investigate, design, and communicate (Nijhuis, 2013) (Figure 6). ...
Full-text available
Research through design (RTD) is a fre-quently used concept in the daily practice of education and research in the field of landscape architecture. RTD as a concept usually refers to a research method in which spatial design plays the leading role. The underlying premise is that design is a form of research and involves a culture of thought. There is a dearth of literature ad-dressing the act of design as a research process in the field of landscape architecture. This article contributes to the discourse by addressing how spatial design can be applied as a research strategy. We define design as a form of research and identify how design relates to other more conventional definitions of research meth-ods. We elaborate on RTD as a concept and the types of knowledge that it generates. The article also addresses the design process and design methods in landscape architecture. Criteria for accepted, responsible research are translated into practical requirements that can guide RTD processes in academic and professional contexts. To continue developing landscape architecture as a de-sign discipline, it is important that the theoretical, meth-odological, and technical foundations of spatial design are clarified and strengthened. (PDF) Design as Research in Landscape Architecture. Available from: [accessed Jul 19 2020].
... In urbanism, there are three activities in research and design in which visual representations become crucial (Nijhuis, 2013) & analysis and evaluation of situations, plans or precedents: simplification and selection, relating to the organisation of locational and contextual information in order to gain understanding and acquire design knowledge & design generation: origination, development and testing of new ideas and information entailing experimentation, transformation, combination and elaboration & presentation and public communication: effective and comprehensible communication of ideas and/or situations to a wider audience. ...
The Department of Urbanism at the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment at the Delft University of Technology has a long tradition in educating generations of internationally oriented designers, planners and researchers in urbanism. Here the domain of urbanism is defined as an interdisciplinary approach that engages in real-world sociocultural, ecological and technological issues affecting urban landscapes, from the perspective of spatial planning and design. Specifically, it combines the disciplines of spatial planning, urban design and landscape architecture, having their own theories, methods and techniques, but also sharing common grounds and being complementary. Urbanism education focuses on specific context-related design tasks, in which knowledge from different disciplines is synthesised into coherent multiscale proposals. This paper aims to elaborate on the foundations of the Delft approach to urbanism education that focuses on the urban landscape as a scale continuum, uses design research and research through design as important teaching and research strategies, and regards mapping and drawing as important tools for thinking. The typical Dutch geographic context and spatial planning traditions are the foundation for this approach. The paper addresses the backgrounds and describes the principles of the present education strategies, learning tactics and examination, and identifies their challenges.
... This includes the ability to understand, represent and construct landscape architectonic compositions. Because the fundamental importance of spatial intelligence, designers have always been eager to employ manual and digital media which can support thinking and communicating about spatial compositions (Zube et al. 1987; Bishop and Lange 2005; Nijhuis 2013). These tools are extensions of the designers' perception and help to measure what we see and determine also how we see (e.g. ...
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Landscape design research is important for cultivating spatial intelligence in landscape architecture. This chapter explores GIS as a tool for landscape design research – investigating landscape designs to understand them as architectonic compositions (architectonic plan analysis). Landscape architectonic compositions and their representations embody a great wealth of design knowledge as objects of our material culture and reflect the treatment of the ground, space, image and program into a characteristic coherence. By exploring landscape architectonic compositions with GIS we can acquire design knowledge that can be used in the creation/refinement of a new design. This chapter elaborates on GIS-based vis-ibility analysis of landscape architectonic compositions and reveals the perceived spatial potential as a basis for performance and reception. Two examples of land-scape design research showcase that GIS-based isovists and viewsheds have the potential of measuring visual phenomena which are often subject of intuitive and experimental design.
Sustainable urbanisation requires planning and design strategies and principles that take the (natural) landscape as the basis for working with natural processes for the benefit of socially and ecologically inclusive and thriving urban landscapes. Such an approach takes the landscape first and considers the biosphere the context for social and economic development. In this chapter, the concept of landscape-based urbanism is introduced, taking the physical landscape structure, and associated natural processes as a foundation to generate favourable conditions for future development and to guide and shape spatial transformation. Therefore, this approach offers a multiscale and integrative model for urban development and transformation, the preservation of biodiversity, water resource management, improved leisure facilities, community building, stronger cultural identity and economic development while taking the landscape as the basis. Landscape-based urbanism identifies and guides urban development towards the most advantageous places, functions, scales and inter-relationships through the development of robust landscape structures. Design explorations utilise knowledge of the natural and social context and are used as a systematic search for possible solutions to a spatial problem. At the same time, the design explorations make clear which landscape structures and elements, for example from an ecological or cultural-historical point of view, should be preserved.
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Tangible user interfaces (TUIs) provide physical form to digital information and computation, facilitating the direct manipulation of bits. Our goal in TUI development is to empower collaboration, learning, and decision-making by using digital technology and at the same time taking advantage of human abilities to grasp and manipulate physical objects and materials. This paper presents a new generation of TUIs that enable dynamic sculpting and computational analysis using digitally augmented continuous physical materials. These new types of TUI, which we have termed 'Continuous TUIs', offer rapid form giving in combination with computational feedback. Two experimental systems and their applications in the domain of landscape architecture are discussed here, namely 'Illuminating Clay' and 'SandScape'. Our results suggest that by exploiting the physical properties of continuous soft materials such as clay and sand, it is possible to bridge the division between physical and digital forms and potentially to revolutionise the current design process.
In this paper I examine potential for critical visual research studies in landscape architecture and related disciplines. The reasons for a neglect of imagery in research publications and the gap between landscape architectural practice and theory are considered, and the ways in which this restricts understanding are explored. I argue that visual studies can be used to bridge the practice–theory divide and enable investigations which are currently limited or absent in text-based methods and dissemination. To this end, five kinds of visual study are defined and their philosophical and methodological underpinnings and potential discussed. I conclude with an examination of the relationship between critical thinking and visual processes and the role of the viewer. The overall aim is to provide openings for future visual research studies and the development of critical visual discourses.
Computer-based GIS have been used since at least the late 1960s: their manual predecessors were in use perhaps 100 years earlier. Acknowledging the paucity of well-documented evidence, this chapter describes the background to the development of such systems, stressing the context in which such development took place, the role of organizations and individuals where this can be ascertained, and the applications which the systems were intended to meet. A broad definition is taken of GIS so as not to exclude any significant developments: computer mapping systems of all types (including those with line-printer graphics, the forerunners of contemporary raster systems) are included. -from Authors
Great European gardens. An atlas of historic plans. Copenhagen: The Danish Architectural Press Landscapes of the imagination. Designing the European tradition of garden and landscape Architecture 1600
  • S Andersson
  • M Floryan
  • A Lund
General overviews can be found in: S. Andersson, M. Floryan, A. Lund (2005) Great European gardens. An atlas of historic plans. Copenhagen: The Danish Architectural Press; E. de Jong, M. Lafaille and C. Bertram (2008) Landscapes of the imagination. Designing the European tradition of garden and landscape Architecture 1600-2000. Rotterdam: NAi publishers.
Cartography in the Prehistoric period in the Old World: Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa The history of cartography Envisioning the City. Six studies in urban cartography
  • D Smith
.D. Smith (1987) 'Cartography in the Prehistoric period in the Old World: Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa', in: J.B. Harley and D. Woodward (eds.) The history of cartography. Volume 1: Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 54-101; D. Buisseret (ed.) (1998) Envisioning the City. Six studies in urban cartography. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.