How can new technologies support planting design and spatial studies of living systems?


By Gabriela Arevalo, Eco Lab Member and Landscape Designer at OLIN

Planting design has always been a complex process that deals with living materials that change, evolve, compete, and thrive supporting not only important processes in nature but also generating a pleasant moment for those who experience it.

As designers we must be aware of the biological implications of plants but we are also interested in exploring the spatial qualities and aesthetics that plants can offer throughout the year.


There is a lot that happens behind the scenes when we are designing plants communities. At OLIN we are interested in exploring how technology can help us from the early design stages all the way through sharing our vision with our clients, the general public, and our professional colleagues.


The new Business, Engineering, and Psychology building at Swarthmore University in Pennsylvania is one of the projects that allowed us to explore how innovative approaches and computer programs can be applied in planting design. By using a new and exploratory workflow, we were able to better understand our design, to generate iterations, to graphically represent our ideas, and to present the work in a compelling way.


We began with a clear planting strategy and a deep understanding of our planting palette followed by traditional documentation using CAD and LandFX to quantify and communicate with other members of the team such as constructors. Moving forward Rhino and several customized tools were used to study the proposal for its spatially and aesthetically qualities. Another layer of information was added to represent time and change using a customized algorithm that helped us representing blooming of selected species in 3D space during spring and summer.


As a final step Illustrator and After effects helped to create an explanatory video to share with the client, friends of the Swarthmore Arboretum at several conferences, and other professionals at the 2018 ASLA Field Sessions.

Partner: Richard Newton

Designers: Darell Campana, Kristen Loughry, Gabriela Arevalo

Software Developer for Rhino tools: Chris Landau

Rhino Studies and Animation: Gabriela Arevalo