Artificial Intelligence

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    Phil Moorehead

    Recently, my brother (a civil engineer) brought a program known as “SITEOPS” to my attention. To oversimplify, you select a site in Google maps, provide a property line and a few other parameters, and it will create a functional site concept complete with parking, access drives, grading, surface and sub-surface infrastructure, etc… then run through millions (?) of calculations to provide the optimal balance of cut and fill and make suggestions for re-routing drives and buildings that the user may have manually sited to reduce it. It probably does some other things, as well (my brother made sure to mention that it can add trees). It was originally designed for developers, but apparently, they didn’t have the time, desire, or aptitude to learn how to use it, so now it’s being marketed to the design professionals it aims to replace.

    Many years ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog about how it was conceivable that a program could be written to replace a landscape architect (or any other professional), and now that day seems nigh. Does anybody have first-hand experience with this software (or similar)? Should we fight it? Own it? Is this another level of the same tools-of-the-trade debate (vis-a-vis hand-drafting vs CAD), or are we talking about a whole new paradigm? Are we looking at a brave new world where LA’s are cut out of site design completely, and the landscape is cultivated by machines of loving grace? Can human “art” be quantified and optimized by a computer?

    Here’s a link to an overview of our new overlord:

    Roland Beinert

    Sounds like it’s more likely to replace civil engineers than us. I didn’t see anything in the video that suggested it could design a planting bed (even if it can place trees, that’s not a whole planting plan) or a paving pattern or a park.

    I have heard of computer programs that can create music that people find pleasing, though.


    I think it’s highly likely that computer software will replace a large portion of what designers do, even down to say starting with an image/form that you like and the software being able to interpret it and add it to the design, modify it and work with, to produce a final design. Computer hardware will continue to become more powerful, quantum computing isn’t too far away either, and AI will also continue to improve.

    I mean when it comes down to it we’re inherently mechanical/robotic as humans anyway.. the only thing a computer can’t do is get that initial inspiration. But if it can do the rest.. then just provide the ingredients and it will throw something out. The way I see it going is that it won’t be long before plants can be modeled through time, and calculated extremely quickly, allowing visualizations to be done in almost real-time.

    Personally I think LA shouldn’t be fighting the design/methods corner so much, but instead being more political and arguing in the planning corner. Urbanization is a big issue.


    I am usually skeptical of a computer program that does design for us.  However, I saw some of the videos on the site and am curious about how they draw parking lots: a design type that is pretty straight-forward but still requires at least X minutes to create.  I also liked the ability to lay in ROW, turn radii, and centerlines quickly.  I don’t think that any program just yet will be able to take over what we can do manually in CAD.  However, if some design processes involving switching between one program to another by working smartly, production times are reduced over time.  

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I like to think that people hire me to look at things differently …. that is why I had to get out of the civil site planning office. Something like what is described would be a God send if it kept people from bothering me to put a row of trees in front of their strip mall. I think that probably goes for most of us.


    If I’m “designing” using standards that can be plugged into a program so that it will mimic me more efficiently, I’m of little value anyway.


    The only fear I would have is that MORE people stop caring about their sites enough to accept generic design on everything. I don’t have a problem with some sites having generic design, but the world is a better place when more things go to a higher aesthetic.


    this ones got a ways to only has to look at the ‘subdivision tutorial’ to see the flaws. 

    Craig Anthony

    I was thinking the same thing about civils being replaced. I agree with you, it seems like there’s still a lot more designing to do.

    Craig Anthony

    I’m not going to worry just yet. We are not a plug in to a formula profession, even though it’s a part of what we do – it’s not what we do. We have so many variables in what we do. Things like real creativity, actually knowing what plants do and the timing of seasonal color, hardscape materials selection, dealing with the contingencies during construction, weather, contractors, etc. will keep us relevant at least until I retire. 

    Computers can do a lot of things, but they just have a hard time with feeling and mood from a designer’s standpoint.

    Goustan BODIN

    As far as AI goes, I read that this year they will reach a new step and develop a computer with power equivalent to the brain of a mouse. Apparently, a computer with power equivalent to a human brain should be feasible within the next 5-10 years.

    Exponential growth seems to be the rule, so what’s next after that ?

    It’s only a question of time before we are made redundant by AI, or have wrecked the place enough so we can’t live here anymore. The race is on.

    Tosh K

    While doing structural work, I remember seeing a series of software used to design steel structures (you input the location of columns/beams/cross-bracing and the loads, the software gave you the sizes of each member – another software then spit out the connections needed).  The SEs still needed to be able to make sure it looked right because they were liable for it.  It saved a lot of time to be able to do more options/variations and concentrate on the less tedious calculations.  Similar stuff exists for stormwater pipe systems.

    Now a cut/fill optimizer wouldn’t be all bad – I’d be happy with a simple to use software like Rhino having realtime cut/fill numbers when working out a site model.

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