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The ability for a client and the public to visualize a project in three dimensions is important for the project to be fully understood. Plan views and elevations alone often do not tell the whole story regarding how these design components are portrayed. Luckily, three dimensional illustrations for projects have excelled in sophistication in the last ten years thanks to improved software and clients’ desire to fully visualize the impact of their development.

For too long designers have let rendered plan views represent their designs, and their audience was content to just review those site plans. If the public or clients didn’t understand contours, they were approving site plans without full knowledge of how the proposed building, structure, or parking lot would impact the site. And if they were too intimidated to ask what the dashed lines on the paper represented, they might later be dismayed at the height and amount of wall needed to make the development work. Those days have long passed, as the public and clients are now demanding better visual representations of the proposed design.

Three dimensional drawings are becoming the norm for many projects, as well as sections and/or elevations that incorporate actual photos of the site. Software such as Sketchup and various AutoCAD-based programs can allow for expeditious generation of various viewpoints. These viewpoints can be explored quickly in these software applications to determine the most desirable views. While the software can produce a “cold” aesthetic, hand graphics superimposed on the drawings, as well as enhancements utilizing Photoshop and InDesign, can make it more approachable.

Superimposing 3D design onto photographs of the existing site is being utilized on many of our current projects. We have utility sites where we take digital photos and then drop in the utility yard indicating walls, fencing and landscape buffer material. This approach gives the reviewer a better sense of what it most likely will look like in its true context. This approach can also be applied with commercial facade renovations, buffer sections, and signage. Superimposing the proposed design into an existing condition provides everyone the benefit of how the project will look and feel after construction. Does the approach from the street give the desired viewpoint of the building or is it indicating the backside of cars entering the parking lot? Does the rendering indicate that more of a buffer needs to be considered along a property line abutting a certain land use? These questions can be addressed by utilizing these rendering techniques.

Foresite Group rendering of Ferst Drive streetscape on the campus of Georgia Tech.

For buffer plans and zoning variance plans where sections are needed to indicate the visual impact of the proposed development, we may take pictures of the residence or commercial building and place these over the rendering to give all parties a more realistic vision of how the project will impact the neighbors after construction.

Foresite Group has also developed several “fly-throughs” on various projects. These are animated videos indicating a bird’s eye view to give the client a true representation of how the project components will be developed and the relationship between each component. Fly-throughs can also be generated from a pedestrian or driver point of view to divulge conflict or deficits in the design. These animations are a great way to help visualize the project, and they can also help to generate excitement for the development and even be used for fundraising activities.

An example of the importance of properly allowing a client to visualize their site comes from a recent project we were hired to do involving the visual appearance of a detention pond. We were not the original designers of the project, and the owner did not ask them back to remedy the issue due to the disappointment of the final product. It was a high-profile client on a high-profile site, in which the final design had placed a detention pond at the entry. A beautiful building was constructed that was most likely developed as a three-dimensional model. Yet how it sat on the site in relation to the detention pond and how the detention pond was configured at the entry with a 2:1 slope and fencing wrapping the property was probably not explored in a design perspective. If it had been, it would have indicated another design solution was in order.

The last thing a client wants is to discover a flaw in their project after construction or develop a project that does not convey the image they wanted to reflect. Developing three dimensional drawings can save disappointment, indicate other design solutions need to be explored, and ultimately help sell the project.

About Jason Weckerly

Jason Weckerly leads Foresite Group’s Landscape Architecture Practice Area nationwide. As a Landscape Architect, Jason has always been interested in how an existing site can cohesively blend with the proposed program. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design from Arizona State University and has been with Foresite Group since 2011. With more than 25 years of experience, Jason has a special interest in in the sustainability of projects well after the contractor has left the site, as well an aesthetic approach of less is more.


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