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Are your designs stuck in a time warp?

How do you visualise an interior plantscape design for a client? Are you still working in 2D or are you entering the brave new world that is 3D?

The world of landscape design really has changed since Humphry Repton created a storm in 18th century England with his ‘Red Books’. These thickly bound books were designed to help Repton’s clients visualise his designs with explanatory text and watercolours with a system of overlays to show 'before' and 'after' views.

Red Book for Vinters, Kent, 1797 (Image: Yale Centre for British Art)

Historically, when we wanted to present landscape plans, be they interiors or exteriors, we communicated two-dimensionally. We drew our plans by hand on paper with the help of a few tools, e.g. mechanical pencil, circle template, set square, compass and so on. However, over the last couple of decades, the development of computer-aided design (CAD) programs has enabled us to produce these plans more quickly and accurately. Note the popularity of AutoCAD and Vectorworks.

3D software

More recently, these plans are starting to jump off the page, so to speak. Larger developers are seeking three-dimensional representations of interiors and exteriors in which their prospective clients can visualise themselves living and/or working in (architectural visualisations). To realise their design in 3D, architects and designers now use software such as Sketchup, Rhino, 3ds Max and Blender. Nowadays building information modelling (BIM) programs are increasing in popularity because they allow designers to design and draw the 3D at the same time, e.g. Revit and ArchiCAD.

These BIM programs are designed mainly for architectural visualisation, so they are not necessarily great for modelling plants. Interior plantscapers using this software to realise their designs need to create their own objects (i.e. plants) or purchase them elsewhere online to incorporate into their design. Sketchup does have a ‘warehouse’ where modellers upload their already-made objects for use by other modellers. However, you may not find the species you are looking for.

You can purchase 3D indoor plants to import into these programs via online platforms including Sketchfab, CG Trader, Turbo Squid, Free 3D plus more. Remember though, you get what you pay for or don’t pay for! It takes time to build these objects. An experienced modeller needs at least half a day to make one object or asset. Ask my partner Ludovic who modelled the plants shown below in 3D in Blender, before rendering them to provide those two-dimensional representations. But we’ll get to renders in a moment!

NB. Click here to view these plants in 3D.


To create a two-dimensional picture from the objects modelled in this 3D software, you must make a render using a render engine. Ray-Tracing and Real-time are two different types of render engines. Ray-Tracing render engines include the V-Ray plug-in used in Sketchup, Rhino and Blender. Blender also has its own render engine called Cycle. Real-time render engines include Lumion (used mostly by architects), and Unity and Unreal (used mostly by game developers given their complexity).

Both Ray-Tracing and Real-time render engines allow the user to produce high-quality photo-realistic images and videos for marketing and other purposes. Most of the 2D pictures you see of luxury developments and the like on real estate advertising are produced using Ray-Tracing engines as these calculate light more accurately as they are physically based. Ray-Tracing engines take twenty to thirty minutes to calculate one picture (render), whereas Real-time render engines can produce a similar, but potentially less-realistic picture, in as little as one second. So Real-time engines are mostly used for virtual reality and animation purposes.

If you want to create a virtual reality scenario in which you can fully immerse your client in your design, make sure that your designer is using a Real-time rendering engine. If you just want photo-realistic static images, then go with Ray-Tracing.

3D green walls ready to include in your design (Image: MaxTree)

Hartsfield-Jackson terminal renovation render (Image: HOK)

Augmented reality?

Not quite ready to fully launch into virtual reality? Some designers are using augmented reality to help prospective clients imagine how their interiors would benefit from the addition of indoor plants. Plant Life Balance has produced one such app. Using the Plant Life Balance app, the user takes a photograph of the room they want to style with indoor plants. They can drag and drop plants from the app into that photograph giving them a sense of the look and feel those plants will provide in their space.

While this app targets the household consumer, interior plantscapers may potentially be able to use it to communicate to prospective clients how their plant selection will look once in situ. Or you could go one step further and develop your own app to develop and showcase potential designs.

Plant Life Balance app (Image: Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited)


Whatever dimension or reality you choose to work in, remember that all the programs, plug-ins and ‘what-not’ mentioned above are only tools that can potentially serve your needs. Before launching into the development of any 3D models, make sure you have your communication campaign mapped out and really know your target audience. Who are they and just how interactive do they like their design to be? Find the tools that show off your designs within your budget and most importantly meet your clients’ needs.

NB. This story was originally published in the Interior Plantscape Association's August 2019 e-newsletter.


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