As designers, we are constantly seeking new tools and strategies to better express our design vision. Technological advances have enhanced our visualization capabilities dramatically over the years, from hand-drawn perspectives to photo-realistic renderings and 3D digital models. Yet, much of what makes a landscape unique – the feelings, smells, and sounds of the natural environment – are not being communicated in our graphics. Andrew Sargeant, landscape designer and visualization specialist for Lionheart Places LLC, believes that augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) provide greater potential than all previous rendered visualizations of landscapes. During his presentation at the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Austin, TX, Sargeant shared why he believes immersive technology is the future of landscape representation.
A pioneer of design technology in the field of landscape architecture, Sargeant is keenly interested in developing innovative ways to visualize the design work of landscape architects. From site analysis to design iteration to client communication, immersive technology has a lot to offer the discipline. Currently, the sensory factors we experience in landscapes – sounds, scents, and the feeling of warmth or wind – are missing from our visual representations. Our graphics do not effectively show all of the potential experiences and temporal qualities of designed landscapes, often misrepresenting the key characteristics that make a space special or unique. Immersive technologies provide a more realistic experience, allowing users to more fully interact with a design and experience the changing seasons. As Sargeant states: “A picture is worth a thousand words, but an experience is worth much more.” With VR and augmented reality, designers are able to provide clients and community stakeholders with interactive experiences of designed landscapes.
The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) recognized the potential this technology has to advance the profession by selecting Sargeant as recipient of the 2018-2019 LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership. This yearlong program is intended to develop ideas that have the potential to create positive and profound change in the profession, environment, and humanity. During his fellowship, Sargeant endeavored to discover the latest visualization tools and explore the possibilities immersive technology can provide to the profession.
Disillusioned by the “sunny day” renderings, which do not show the lived experiences and experiential qualities of the landscape, Sargeant began exploring how to use VR to bring landscape representations to life. Utilizing video game design engine Unity, Saergent explored the capabilities of this software to gain a better understanding of the challenges, considerations, and successes of immersive technology. While the software has a steep learning curve, he was able to successfully integrate this tool into his practice. During his presentation, Sargeant shared an example of a project east of Austin adjacent to the Colorado River, susceptible to rising flood waters. Because of the site’s unique location, the design solution needed to address rising tides and accommodate change. Sargeant utilized immersive technology to depict the site during a 100-year storm surge, complete with the visual and auditory stimulants of heavy rain and booming thunder. By demonstrating the experiential qualities of the site, Sargeant was able to show how immersive technologies foster a sense of authentic human experience.
Sargeant believes the adoption of immersive technology will give landscape architects a competitive edge, and inspire new ways to think and design. To encourage the spread of immersive technology, Sargeant is actively working to successfully integrate immersive technology within professional practice and academia. He hopes that these solutions can be made available for all to use in the design of and advocacy for public space.