Reactscape device:space

Environmental Modeling

I have started on the next book manuscript and will be working over the next year with my colleague Natalie Yates (Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Washington University Sam Fox School of Visual Arts and Design). The book will focus on environmental modeling and the illustration/simulation of dynamic landscapes and processes. We will be publishing the book with Wiley and Sons in the Fall of 2011.

The book will go beyond speculating on the subject and will pull together cutting edge techniques similar to digital drawing for landscape architecture. I will be posting ongoing research on the lab.{VL} site so stay tuned. I am interested to hear from everyone about projects that they believe might fit into the book. I have posted a draft table of contents below, the project has just started so this may change but I thought I would share.


The book will introduce the reader to the breadth and scope of environmental representation beyond landscape architecture and site planning. This will include the film and special effects industry, landscape painting and graphic design and illustration. The purpose will be to situate landscape or environmental representation within a larger context of work that focuses on building a coherent landscape narrative through visual media. From this discussion we will expand the theoretical framework by introducing theory surrounding new media including the purpose of craft in virtual workspaces (McCullough) and how this pertains to design heuristics. This will then set the stage to discuss the differences between illustration, representation and simulation and how each is used in current design practice.

1.1.  Overview of Environmental Representation

1.2.  Industries and Methods

1.3.  Contemporary Theories Surrounding New Media

1.4.   Illustration, Representation and Simulation

1.5.  Imagery and Animation in Media and Design Practice


The composition of views and/or staging of the “set” introduces the reader to digital landscape representation and the virtual workspace. This chapter will focus on the significance of the camera in modeling and illustrating environments both as a passive viewport and as an actor that moves through the landscape. The reader will be introduced to basic photographic and film principles including shot types, camera movements and lenses. This will be demonstrated in 3ds max and/or Maya but the principles can be implemented in all 3d modeling software including Google Sketchup.

2.1.  Diorama/Stage Set

2.2.  Elements/Arrangement

2.3.  Composition/Views

2.4.   Movement in the Environment


The object or device in the landscape represents a broad group of elements present in nearly every rendering. The chapter will discuss methods of modeling and illustration objects in the landscape, this may include architecture, site features or other elements not specifically constituting the environment. The object is separated from the surface and atmosphere in order to understand the role of each. The section will also introduce a range of typologies and how they may be represented, this categorization will look at how we model complex vegetation as well as constructed elements such as walls and site furnishings. Beyond understanding how objects are represented it will be stressed that the object’s representation is successful when it has an appropriate relationship to the environment (shadows, intersections, etc). The reader will be introduced to methods of modeling such as polygon and NURBS modeling and how each creates specific models and representations. This section will also focus on using sketches and/or images as a method to begin the creation of objects that will populate an environment.

3.1.  Object in Context

3.2.  Typologies

3.3.  Methods of Creation

3.4.   Modeling

3.5.  Image Based


The surface can be described as a vertical or horizontal datum that typically represents earth, terrain and/or topography. This section will define surface types and terrain typologies as well as discuss methods of creation. This will include the construction of terrain models, particularly surface, TIN and volume models in 3ds max and Civil 3d. Terrain models will be discussed as a representation of data and how that data can be manipulated to illustrate surface and its constituent properties, ie slope, aspect, hydrology and strata. This is the landscape architect and site planner’s equivalent to BIM, the data model will be constructed and then examined to query the needed illustrative or analytical information. Readers will be introduced to the concept of data as a representation and analysis framework (similar to BIM). This section will also discuss materials as a method to illustrate surface as well as techniques to distribute objects across surfaces to represent vegetation (grasses) and or other details.

4.1.   Surface Definitions

4.2.   Terrain Typologies

4.3.   Terrain Constructions

4.4.   Materiality

4.5.   Material Applications

4.6.   Surface Detail Propagation


Atmosphere affects our perception of objects and surfaces and can be used to signify a moment in time, weather and/or context. Explaining how color and lighting are used to generate mood will introduce this chapter and will be directly linked to techniques used in film. The reader will be introduced to concepts of depth and how atmosphere can enhance this illusion. This section will examine new methods to accurately represent lighting conditions and weather in 3ds max, Sketchup and/or Maya. An explanation of how animated atmospheres can be used to illustrate the passage of time will also be highlighted.

5.1.  Mood

5.2.  Atmospheric Conditions

5.3.  Lighting Systems

5.4.   Weather

5.5.  Temporal Atmospheres


Current software creates a mixture of representative and simulated elements that verge on real world modeling and illustration. This section will explore the current state of software and how it rests between these two realms (illustration and simulation). The section will then explore multiple methods used to create rigid and soft body simulations, particle systems and fluid dynamics. This exploration will not only explain the methods but will also examine the use of simulation systems as a generator of design form.

6.1.  Simulation Systems

6.2.  Rigid Body Systems

6.3.  Soft Body Systems

6.4.   Particle Systems

6.5.  Fluid Simulation

6.6.  Generative Methods


Experience refers to the elements in the animating/illustrating of an environment that directly influence our understanding of how one might experience a place. This includes how entourage may interact with the illustration and their significance. How do we illustrate how spaces are used either to illustrate a design proposal or create site analysis. This will explore interaction, program, use and temporal change. Readers will see how 3ds max, Photoshop and Illustrator can be used to illustrate human experience within an environment.

7.1.  Human Interaction

7.2.  Occupying Space

7.3.  Illustrating Life

7.4.   Program and Use

7.5.  Temporal Experience

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