BIM in Practice: OLIN

This is part of the Landscape Architecture + BIM in Practice series, which features landscape architects using BIM within professional practice.

OLIN is a landscape architecture and urban design firm. Founded in 1979 by Laurie Olin, the firm has an integrated design approach with a focus on the landscape.

With their main office in Philadelphia, OLIN currently employs around 65 people. They also have two smaller offices in Los Angles and Taiwan. Though based out of the United States, OLIN has worked on numerous international projects, including the UK, India, and China

I spoke with three landscape architects that have been involved with BIM at OLIN: Jessica Henson, Senior Landscape Architect, Chris Hanley, Partner and Director of Technology, and Richard Roark, Partner. They were able to tell me a little bit about what BIM tools they utilize, how they have implemented BIM, and what they envision for the future of BIM in landscape architecture.

Current Tools
There are a wide variety of tools and software that are currently used within the landscape profession. As Chris points out, “landscape architecture is known to be a pretty adaptable profession, that translates into being adaptable when working with software.”

At OLIN, they use AutoCAD, Civil 3D, Rhino, SketchUp, Revit, some GIS via Map 3D, and the typical Adobe Creative Suite products. It comes as no surprise that Revit has been their BIM software of choice, though they consider Rhino the clear leader in form-making. They also utilize some plugins to get GIS data into Rhino.

Chris and Richard both recognize that there is not necessarily a perfect solution out there for BIM in landscape architecture and that it is still a bit “wild west.”

OLIN has been using Revit since 2010, when they began working on the London Embassy. The project is currently under construction and scheduled to open in 2017.

It is interesting to note that they did not choose to use Revit on the project, but rather it was a requirement for being part of the project team. The decision to use Revit was driven by the lead designer. Chris acknowledges that working within a project lead’s requirement is quite common, particularly within the realm of landscape architecture.

OLIN designed the entire landscape for the London Embassy, a large amount of which is above structure. According to Jessica, one of the biggest benefits to using BIM on this project was that it allowed the entire team to see and respond to the landscape model. One of the techniques that they used to facilitate this coordination was modeling plant rootballs to locate potential clashes with the structure.

Not only were the other disciplines able to see the landscape, but they were also able to see everyone else. This was particularly useful in coordinating with the interior architects on the design and plantings of the interior gardens. Overall, coordination seems to have been quite critical to this project, with over 13 Revit models involved in the process.

[check out OLIN’s blog, for more information and images of the London Embassy]

With around 65 people on staff, they realize that it is not feasible to train everyone on BIM all at once. Instead, they have had a specific project team of 4-5 people that has worked on all of their BIM projects so far. But with an increased demand for BIM on upcoming projects, OLIN has recently been training more staff.

When training, one of the biggest things they try to emphasize is that Revit is not AutoCAD, and it is best to try and leave your AutoCAD mentality behind. In fact, they have encouraged new users to approach Sheets and Views in Revit more like laying out a page in Adobe InDesign.

Both Richard and Chris seem optimistic about the future of BIM in landscape architecture. They have been encouraged by the incorporation of more site tools in Revit, with the addition of the Site Designer add-in, but they would really like to see the incorporation of more landscape metrics.

As an example, Richard cites that energy modeling has become a big focus in the building industry. In the future, however, water is projected to become a much scarcer resource, so BIM in the landscape will likely need to integrate metrics for water harvesting and reuse.

Is your firm currently using BIM in landscape architecture? If so, please send me an email. I am currently looking for more firms to participate in this series.


6 thoughts on “BIM in Practice: OLIN

  1. Great to hear how Landscape firms are approaching BIM. Autodesk still seem to have their heads in the sand about Landscape, as the Site Designer tools in Revit are poor, and poorly integrated.

    I’d like your interviews to dig a little deeper on workflows though. How do they integrate Civil 3D with Revit for instance (if they do)?

    • Thanks for the thought Chris. I think you’re right- I have heard about and encountered issues with integrating with C3D. Not sure if there are any great answers out there, but it never hurts to ask.

  2. Could you extend these interviews to civil engineering firms (that work on buildings rather than infrastructure). There is a black hole in the BIM workflow for the guys doing site levels, roadways etc. They just can’t integrate their stuff in a BIM workflow and I’m keen to hear how they’re coping with that.

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