Why don’t professors teach more AutoCAD in schools?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums TECHNOLOGY Why don’t professors teach more AutoCAD in schools?

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    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Fortunately or unfortunately depending how you look at it, our profession requires apprentice work (internship, whatever you want to call it) in most states. The good part of that is that is the experienced gained. The bad part is that it relies on limited opportunities. Many of those opportunities are to fill voids in production. While there may be a more full experience of the profession once you are in, the key to open many of those doors is going to be in the hands of those who are the more “plug and play” than others.


    While an LA degree should be different from a tech school, there still has to be enough of the basics to be functional enough to have the best opportunity to be hired so that we can proceed into the profession. In the early 80’s when I first went to school that meant that if you could not draw well you were screwed. I did not have to like that, but it was reality that I ultimately had to accept. Being exceptional  at graphics was THE huge advantage to getting into an office back then. Much like CAD is the biggest production method and need today, hand graphics were back then. 


    It is not that CAD has to be taught in a deep and meaningful manner to each and every person getting an LA degree, but the more opportunity a recent grad has to get into an office the better the chances of moving forward are in the profession. Very few apprentice positions are filled because there is an immediate need for a creative designer. More are filled to maintain or increase production. Gaining production skills IS PART OF a fully rounded education now just as it was 30 years ago. The difference is that production is no longer limited to hand drawing. It is not limited to CAD either, but let’s be realistic – most offices hiring multiple apprentice positions are filling saddles with CAD jockeys and rather than chairs for designers. Then they evolve.


    CAD is not a universal ticket, but not having the ability closes a lot those initial apprenticeships right away just like not being able to draw by hand did 30 years ago. You can love that or hate it, but it is reality. If a university is serious about getting all of their students placed in this profession, it has to offer them meaningful training in CAD with an emphasis on land development to the point where the student no longer sees CAD as a separate subject, but just uses it as the tool that it is much like picking up a pencil. You know that it is there, but you don’t think about it. 

    Not offering to teach CAD in an in depth way in today’s accredited LA programs is handicapping students. I don’t have a problem if some students don’t want to learn it farther than others, but it needs to be there to give them the opportunity to enter the profession by filling the limited positions being offered …. or they will hire draftsmen from tech schools and there will be fewer opportunities

    Roland Beinert

    Both universities I went to had at least one CAD class. After those classes, there was no requirement to use the skills you learned there, though. My CAD skills faded after that one class at the University of Wisconsin, because, given the choice, I used hand graphics. It wasn’t until I was working that I realized what a mistake it was to let those skills fade. When I went back to college I felt the need to take a beginning level CAD and sketchup course just to regain those skills (I remember Toru laughed at me about taking that class, Andrew).

    Perhaps that’s what happens to a lot of students. They have one or two CAD classes, then, if CAD use isn’t required in other classes, they end up letting those skills fade. Given a choice they might favor a completely different program to finish their projects. Maybe all it would take is a requirement in every class that at least one project be completed in CAD. Of course, even then the students would probably only have very basic skills, and still need their coworkers to teach them all the tricks and shortcuts learned with experience.

    There is an advantage to 3-d, though, if you have a program like Revit. It streamlines everything, because you are producing plans, elevations, even details all at once in one file. That’s a big change from CAD. I get the impression that architects are already moving to Revit, and, if you get a lot of work from architects, you might want to learn Revit (or a similar program) or hire someone who knows it.

    Trace One

    I think it is an age thing. Professors probably grew up without computers. As soon as this crop dies off or retires, the landscape will change, and computers will be all over the university course load. They try, the universities, but if the professors are like me, they think computers are an evil that stymies good design, and that you can learn later. Why should a professor waist his time with something so boring as computer work? I wouldn’t.


    LAAB accredited landscape architecture programs are in business to prepare students to one day take the LARE and become registered landscape architects.  Although CAD isn’t necessarily required to become licensed, BLAs are technical degrees.  The academic programs are taught by faculty with masters, not PhDs.  As a practicing designer, I have 2-6 months to train a no-nothing AutoCAD on top of my workload.  BLAs take five years to complete.  What do the professors do with all of this extra time (rhetorical question)?  

    Trace One

    Lets see, soils, geology, vegetation, aspect, community, good design good design good design, engineering, (many different types – irrigation, grading and drainage)….They SHOULD teach history of design, and contemporary design..

    I am not saying they shouldn’t teach AutoCAD, but I can see why they don’t Plus, my own firm has gone through four different types of programs in five years. Now we have to switch to civil 3D..and no AutoCAD, onlly Microstation.

    So what is  your point, landscapeplanner?


    AutoCAD has been an industry standard for one, if not two, decades.  Yes, it is expensive for licensing.  Yes, the learning curve is high.  Can you practice landscape design without it?  Absolutely.  As a planner I did landscape plan review at my first job and I reviewed hundreds of planting plans submitted for developments in several municipalities.  Less than 10% of project submittals were submitted at full-size and were hand-drawn.  Sorry, but 75% of those 10% of plans were terrible from a graphics communication standpoint.  The linework was hard to read, the dimensions were scribbled in illegible handwriting, tree stamps were inconsistent.  I have no problem working with hand drawings.  I am going to hold them to the same exacting standard as if I were doing AutoCAD.   If the scanned linework fades out when it is printed on cheap bond paper with terrible toner, I will mark it up.  

    Second, it’s not going to kill someone to be a CAD monkey for a year or two.  As much as I disagree with having to train people CAD from scratch, at the end of day it gives the designer-in-training a far more accurate understanding of spatial relationships at a real scale.  This isn’t directed to any one person, but stop separating out landscape designers from draftsman.  We are designers, and part of good design, whatever that is, is learning how to use proper graphics communication, which is refined through years of solid DRAFTING skills, whether it is manually or in ANY type of CAD program. 

    Finally, let’s get with it people, this is the 21st century.  I strongly disagree it is a generational thing that we all have to learn to be adaptable if we want to survive let along succeed.  AutoCAD, hand renderings, tree identification, Revit, sketchup, horticulture, soils/clays/loams, healing gardens, social media, etc.  Do what you have to do to get the job done, learn it quickly, and work smart.  

    Eli Paddle

    Depends on the school and the program.  My students get CAD every semester (and Dynascape and Land F/X).  Most university programs cannot or are discouraged from teaching practical skills in favour of theoretical learning.  We had a…1 CAD class…not a semester, ONE class in my MLA program.

    Tosh K

    Our program’s attitude was to learn what we needed – their job was to teach us how software works in general (so that we could adapt to newer software as they came out).  There were a few workshops at the beginning of the year and if you needed help older students / younger faculty were around to help you learn the ones you had trouble with.  Now they offer workshops during the semester (not just software, but modeling, drawing, and other skills).  Seems to work well w/o making technology a stand alone course.


    If you needed help older students / younger faculty were around to help you learn the ones you had trouble with.

    What was the purpose/intent of the course itself?  Was it to understand how to use AutoCAD through the lens of a published instructional book, or was it to prepare to students to use AutoCAD as if he/she were in a a practicing LA firm? Are you learning to design a sailing boat or teddy bear in AutoCAD because that was the exercise in the book?  Or are you working on land plans with building lines, ROW lines, and easements?  

    Now they offer workshops during the semester (not just software, but modeling, drawing, and other skills).  Seems to work well w/o making technology a stand alone course.

    Not only is it a standalone course it’s an optional seminar type of class AND it includes several other programs with high learning curves.  

    Anthony Parziale

    This is the best response I have ever read!  I remember those days…good times!!  Thank you for putting a smile on my face this afternoon.

    Mark Di Lucido

    Well said!–though you forgot to mention that everyone smoked and three martini lunches were commonplace.


    landscapeplanners voice sounds a lot like a former land8 member..There is a difference between design and planning. Design takes a certain amount of ‘letting go’ whereas planning is a highly analytical process. Planning in a more linear, teachable process. Design is more esoteric.

    The best architects can do both, then theres execution. I might argue that any tool used in the design process  is a valid design tool–yes, even cad and sketchup. 

    Dereatha Cross

    At Kansas State University it is integrated into their curriculum.  They also get 6 semesters dedicated 1 cr/hr of technology learning.  They learn Autodesk Civil 3D, Revit, 3ds Max, E-On Software Vue, Adobe Creative Suite from Photoshop to Dreamweaver to Premiere, GIS from ArcMap to City Engine, and of course some software programming to customize tools and do some script based designing.  Plain AutoCAD is rarely used.  Building Information Modeling /Landscape Information Modeling approach is emphasized throughout their 6 semesters of dedicated technology learning. 


    way too much focus on technology in my opinion if thats true. Each of those programs take years to become proficient and the practical use of some of those are limited in the professional world, ie dreamweaver, premiere…revit, hmm, max, hmmm. I’m skeptical..

    Tosh K

    1 cr hr/semester?  so 1 hr/wk give or take?  It would make a broad overview course, but not much in terms of actually using the software (well, CS/Rhino/CAD/GIS maybe, but Civil 3D and Revit def not).  Coding is better suited for a 3~4cr course as well, the intensity and repetition helps.  

    I get the impression overall that the ‘integrated method’ of presenting software as part of the skill set tool box and having auxiliary coursework to help those that need extra instruction on them is more the norm now – in comparison to stand alone courses as part of the core curriculum.  Ability to pick up new software is increasingly a necessity in practice.

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