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Thread: Physical planning: art skills?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Physical planning: art skills?

    This may come off as a rather odd question, but I was wondering exactly how neccessary it is to have art skills (i.e. sketching, drafting etc) in order to be a physical planner or LA. I have some background in the policy side of planning and am planning (no pun intended) on getting my MA next year, hence am weighing my options. Physical planning interests me a great deal, but to be honest I have met 5 year olds with more artistic talent than myself, so if it is anything like architecture programs I will completely useless. However if it is more software based (GIS for example), that would be right up my alley. Thanks

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Very very necessary. You are going to use software programs alot more during your day to day tasks (AutoCAD and to a lesser degree GIS). However, a lot of the brainstorming/conceptual phases of design is done on paper (trash overlays for example). Yes, physical site design and landscape architecture have a lot of similarities (and differences) wtih architecture in terms of the creative/design process.

    Rendering is a type of art skill that can be practiced by people with little/no skill and people with tremendous talent. There are a few different ways to complete this type of skill depending on the look of the finished product:

    (1) doing all the work in CAD, plotting the graphic, and hand rendering.
    (2) using an isometric grid, skething directly on the finished surface, and then hand-rendering the graphic (this is where the real artistic skill comes in).
    (3) doing all the work in CAD, plotting several colors, and hand rendering the detaills.

    Renderings are often mixed media and may include combinations of markers (prismacolor and tria), pens and technical pens, soft and hard pastels, colored pencils or even watercolors and airbrushing. Despite advances in rendering programs such as Viz, Sketchup, or even Photoshop, computer generated graphics still have a very flat feel (they do not absorb and reflect light in the same way as other media). Rendering not only gives a project a personal touch but gives the images a 3D feel.

    GIS has traditionally been associated with geospatial analysis (the relationship of "layers"/maps of data to each other). This program has also been used for comprehensive/long-range planning (future land use maps, zoning maps, etc.). GIS is also gaining ground within the landscape architecture community. However, this has is still limited to surveys (tree surveys used in preservation plans). Most of the "mapmaking" traditionally done by LA's is usually done in CAD. I see wider use of GIS programs by designers in the future as landscape architects take on responsibilities traditionally reserved for planners. However, site design work is still done primarily in CAD due to a higher degree in data accuracy and lack of attached databases, which is one of the major components of a GIS system.

    Non-computer 3D modeling (actually building structures, terrains, plant material) is a debateable skill. Schools still stress it (I think this is so you can convince your professor that you understand the site). However, it is very time consuming for private firms to construct and advancements in 3D CAD software programs can do much of the same work).

    Bottom line, you can try to go around the obstacle and practice site design without drawing skills but you are really shooting yourself in the foot. You can learn a ton of art skills on the job though. You had said you are finishing your MA program, so I don't know if you can just take a class or two to learn everything about design (and design is an ongoing process throughout your career). Most LA programs and design heavy planning programs expect some sort of portfolio for admissions that demonstrates your artistic ability. See earlier posts that I have written about art skills (I talk about this in greater depth).
    Last edited by nrschmid; 18 Jul 2007 at 2:36 PM.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks

    Thanks that's helpful, I'll be sure to look over your other posts. My art skills aren't quite as bad as I implied... I can sketch general things, it is simply when I get into the finer details that I get in over my head. Maybe some art classes are in my future.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I'd have to disagree with nrschmid about the artistic background prior to a MLA program - I can't speak to other firlds, but I've got both a BLA and am working on a MLA, so I'm reasonably familiar with the issue.

    Art skills are nice, but not essential. Here at UGA the MLA program takes a wide variety of students with unrelated backgrounds. Some have skills, and some don't - they look at the whole person as a part of the application, not just your portfolio.

    Once you're in, they spend a *lot* of time teaching people how to draw, and almost everyone gets proficient. Talent helps, but most people pick up the basics, so don't be too worried.

    As a practicing LA, artistic skills *are* important, but most people have no problem picking them up along the way through school.

    YMMV

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Actually, I agree with what bdaleray says. I went on a tangent talking more about my experience working with landscape architects on the job and the artistic skills needed after school.

    I started college in architecture and switched to planning (but I think this can apply to landscape architecture programs). Some programs have art classes (sketching, drafting, rendering, etc.) that you take during your first year prior to your main studios. These are crash courses to help all students get on the same page. However some programs (UIUC's arch program) did not require a portfolio for admissions and art classes were optional, so you had to pick up those skills very quickly during your studio classes (which was very difficult for students with little/no artistic training).

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