The Daily Tools of a Landscape Architect

The Daily Tools of a Landscape Architect

By: Jordan Wilkinson, PLA


As Landscape Architects and Designers, we utilize many different tools and techniques to complete our daily tasks. Some of these are advanced technological innovations, while others are more simplistic. Here is a look at some of the tools, objects, and programs we utilize to get our job done well.

This list is not an absolute list, and often there are times when we will utilize many more tools to complete a project. Every project is different, with a different budget, and may only require the use of the simplest of techniques to achieve a project goal.

Sketchbook and Good Pen(s)

Any self-respecting Landscape Architect has a favorite type of sketchbook and pen that they bring with them almost everywhere. From jotting down meeting notes, to sketching a quick concept or diagram, sketchbooks are a must-have form of technology that never fails.

Trace Paper

Like a sketchbook, trace paper is often used early on in a design phase to capture concepts and ideas that can later be refined. Trace is a quick and easy way to overlay multiple ideas during analysis, design, or detail phases of a project. We use trace paper in all sizes, which makes it great to collaborate with colleagues to share ideas in one quick method of bulleted lists or diagrammatic drawings.


There are two basic types of drawings scales that are used in our field. Both types are used to measure and draw scaled documents accurately. Landscape Architects mostly use what is referred to as an ‘Engineer’s Scale’. For example, if we know that a drawing or image is printed to an accurate scale of 1” = 40’, we can utilize the ’40 scale’ side of the scale to take quick measurements. Similarly, an ‘Architect’s Scale’ provides scaled measurements at a smaller scale, for example ‘1/4 scale’ means that 1/4” of the drawing will equal 1 foot. Scales are typically 3 sided, with 2 different scales on each side for a total of 6 different drawing scales.

Markers and Pencils

Sometimes color is needed to convey an idea, or provide visual interest to a design. We utilize markers and pencils at different phases of design. Markers can be used quickly on trace paper to diagram a site, or finessed to create a presentation graphic for a project. Like any artist supply, you get what you pay for with these. Good Chartpak Ad markers like this can be expensive at $3-6 each, but provide great quality and will usually last for years.


Reference Books

There are many great books written by and for Landscape Architects. Some of our favorites are: “Design with Nature” by Ian McHarg, “The Landscape Urbanism Reader” by Charles Waldheim, “Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture 2nd Edition” by Charles W. Harris and Nicholas T. Dines, and last but surely not least Michael Dirr’s “ Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” – lovingly referred to simply as ‘Dirr’ by most design offices. Recent issues of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) are always great to have around the office as well.

Digital Camera and Tape Measure

These 2 basic tools make site visits much easier. We often use our smartphones to snap quick pictures and video of a site, whether that be during an initial site visit with a prospective client, or during a construction phase of a project. Likewise, having a good tape measure on hand helps to verify dimensions and take quick measurements of a space.

Printed Construction Drawings

Although we like to save some paper and do much of our work on screens, sometimes there just is no substitute for printed or ‘plotted’ drawings. CD sets (especially at half scale) are handy to bring to sites during construction observation phases of a project. Printing a progress set of prints is a typical practice, as many times our eye will catch minor errors or graphic issues on a print much easier than on a digital pdf.


Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Software

CAD software is a must-have for creating detailed technical drawings. For decades now, software such as AutoCAD has been the go-to for drafting construction documents. These programs make it simple to organize and detail our designs in a manner that can used to create construction documents. The drawing files created by CAD programs can also be utilized in other software, such as SketchUp.

SketchUp – 3D Modelling and Rendering Software

SketchUp is a great tool for portraying a design in 3D. A design can be drawn from scratch here, or imported via a .dwg file from CAD. Rendering software add-ons can be utilized to add realistic textures, reflections, and lighting to a scene for final presentation style graphics.

Adobe Creative Suite Programs

Illustrator (3), Photoshop (4), and InDesign are 3 Adobe programs that I use nearly every day. Photoshop can be used for something as simple as editing images, or something as complex as creating a realistic perspective presentation image. Illustrator is a vector-based program that can be used to create crisp linework in diagrams and plans. InDesign is our document production program for presentations, proposals, and design drawings. Together, these programs can tackle any graphic presentation goal.

Google Earth / Google Maps

Google Maps and Google Earth are great tools for quickly analyzing a site and its surroundings. Now with street-view technology, we can learn even more about a place without being there in person. These tools can be used to take crude measurements for planning purposes as well.

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