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Opinion Piece

Harnessing digital innovation for landscape-led solutions

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Opinion piece by Carolin Göhler FLI, President-Elect, Landscape Institute

Advances in digital technology are changing the way we operate across both the built and natural environment, and providing increasingly impactful landscape solutions to the challenges we as a sector face.

Digital innovation in the landscape sector is revolutionising collaboration and communication with other industries, facilitating more efficient project delivery and management, and most importantly, providing better outcomes for climate, nature, and public health. As the Landscape Institute (LI) prepares for its upcoming conference, Digital Practice & Technology for Landscape, on 11th July, we are excited by what to expect.

Our vision is to be agile, innovative and responsive, to help members and communities deliver more sustainable methods for living and working. A large part of this forward-looking agenda is focused on digital technology – from transforming our own digital systems and improving the experience of working with the LI for all, to ensuring that our members are equipped to leverage new technologies for better outcomes for people, place and nature.

Modern approaches to Building Information Modelling (BIM) are enabling better collaboration between teams, integrating the workflows of landscape architects with engineers, architects and others. As landscape becomes an increasingly important aspect of projects, and data-driven approaches to design and construction are required to meet environmental targets, manage life cycles, and track projects over time, these tools are being increasingly relied upon.

The accuracy of site data used to create 3D models is increasing all the time through use of drones and LiDAR, which is reducing the need for site visits and allowing for better understanding of sites across teams. Meanwhile, advancements in data exchange between BIM and GIS is providing even greater understanding of spatial environments, and more informed decision making, leading to greater operational efficiency and more strategic design outputs.

Emerging technologies such as AI are impacting every aspect of our lives, and its impact on the design and creative process offers both benefits and challenges to built environment professionals. From generative design to material optimisation; predictive analysis to virtual and augmented realities, there is huge potential for AI to enhance the built environment – but its development must be diligently researched, monitored, and managed.

As the internet of things grows, so does its impact on the design and management of public space. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London is one of the most significant and successful landscape architect-led schemes of the last 25 years, and is leading the way with microclimate sensors, smart benches, air quality sensors, wildlife sensors, and smart lighting – all of which are fed back to landscape managers to aid decision making and future development.

The Landscape Institute’s recent ‘Landscape and Carbon’ report highlights the vital role of data and digital tools in reducing the carbon impact of projects. Accurate, consistent and trusted data is absolutely essential to enable comparisons to be made and lower carbon options specified. In the UK, the launch of the Built Environment Carbon Database in October 2023 is a welcome step, and can be used alongside tools such as Pathfinder, Landscape Carbon Calculator, and the Carbon Conscience App – but more data on landscape, and the continued input of professional expertise of landscape professionals, is essential to have the impact required. Reducing carbon isn’t the only concern when developing land either, and the use of these tools alongside others including the Landscape Institute’s landscape character assessment database, or Natural England’s interactive National Character Area map, is of vital importance to placemaking.

Digital Practice & Technology for Landscape will explore all of these opportunities and more. A one-day conference for professionals, researchers and students from across the built and natural environment sectors, it will offer both strategic and technical insights through panel discussions, talks, exhibitor stands and demonstrations from speakers including WSP, AECOM, Natural England, Vectorworks, Transoft Solutions, McGregor Coxall, and more.

The impact of emerging digital technologies on the industry will be hugely substantial, and the LI’s Digital Practice Working Group has curated the programme so that attendees can harness new insights to make the most of them – whether for everyday practice processes and operations, or having a bigger impact on the climate and biodiversity emergencies. We’re delighted to return to an in-person conference format and welcome both industry and academia to this vital opportunity for cross-sector, peer-to-peer collaboration and knowledge sharing, showcasing landscape solutions to the combined social and environmental challenges we face.

Learn more about digital technologies for landscape practice and attend the conference here.

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