Back To Basics

Sometimes life gets so busy that we need to stop and evaluate our priorities.

Sure, that fancy new large-format scanner or plotter is flashy, and it probably makes our lives much easier. But how many times do we find ourselves on a last-minute deadline cursing that plotter that won't print, or a computer program that crashed and the auto-save function didn't work?

If you've been in this business for any length of time, surely you can relate and are nodding your head in empathy right now.

One of the great things about technology is that when it works, it does make our lives easier and much more efficient.

But does that efficiency come with a price? If you've ever found yourself in a situation similar to the ones I've mentioned above, you know the answer is "YES"!

While technology is great, it does have its drawbacks. Like all things, the use of technology involves a measured amount of risk. In our profession, that risk usually equates to late nights, increased levels of stress and occasionally a missed deadline. Thankfully, that’s usually the worst situation we might encounter.

As I was researching topics to write about this week, I started talking to a fellow landscape architect about an upcoming proposal his firm was working on. They had been shortlisted for a new park project in a local community.

While they were one of a handful of firms competing for the project, they really wanted to set themselves apart and stand out in hopes of securing the job.

As we started talking about their approach to the interview, I imagined he was going to tell me about this great 3-D model they were constructing, along with photorealistic renderings, sections and elevations, all neatly packaged in a flashy PowerPoint presentation.

Instead, he took me into the back room of his office and there, on a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood, was the base for a twenty-scale model they were building.

If I’m being completely honest, I was at first taken aback at the thought of building an “old school” model in this age of advancing technology.

Knowing the client they were interviewing with and their particular tastes in presentation styles, I was sure my friend and his team were wasting their time and hard-earned money chasing a project they had no hope of winning.

Not to mention, knowing their competition, I was also sure they were at a severe disadvantage building a physical model when other firms would be preparing digital presentations.

As the days passed, I stopped in at different times to check their progress, and soon the model began to take shape. With a base plan rendered with Chartpak markers, forms of chip board cut to represent topography, and Styrofoam balls painted green to represent the trees and shrubs, it wasn’t long before I started to think “they just may be on to something”.

While flashy presentations and fancy digital renderings might catch a client’s eye, there is something to be said for the use of the basic skills we learned in school and on the job in the early days of our careers.

There is something almost organic about hand-rendering skills that just cannot be duplicated using digital technology.

While I’d like to tell you that they won the contract, the truth is, they are still waiting to hear from the client.

Whether or not they are awarded the project, one thing is for sure -- they didn’t pull an “all-nighter” because the plotter stopped working or ran out of ink.

The lesson I learned from all of this is that even though keeping up with advancing technology is vital to our careers, there is still no substitute for the basic skills we learned as fledgling landscape architects.

Sometimes getting back to basics can really help us polish our skills and focus on the important aspects of our profession.

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: