V1.4 Key Feature: Landscape
The built environment sometimes includes elements that aren't built at all. In this blog post, we're taking a deep look at Modumate's new Landscape tools, including the Terrain Graph and Flora Tool.

V1.4 Key Feature: Landscape

The built environment sometimes includes elements that aren't built at all. In this blog post, we're taking a deep look at Modumate's new Landscape tools, including the Terrain Graph and Flora Tool.
July 2, 2021
6 min read

Landscape is arguably the most important part of building design. It was certainly the first discipline: even before humans developed their first dwellings, they lived in nature. As long as we’ve studied the human experience of buildings, we’ve observed that connecting occupants to nature offers numerous health and comfort benefits. The phrase “indoor-outdoor living” is far more than just a trendy buzzword - it’s probably the most direct path to a comfortable, enjoyable space.

This respect for landscape design is why we’ve prioritized landscape design so early in Modumate’s development, and included it as a flagship element of our V1.4 release.

Landscape design involves choosing and composing two categories of objects, terrain, and flora, to create exterior spaces.


Terrain: The Bedrock Of It All

Terrain is an undulating 3D surface, plus the materials below that surface. However, terrain is typically described through 2D “grading plans” that provide height info using survey points or topographic contours. Landscape designers typically work in 2D because it’s what their software was designed for in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but in reality, they’re trying to describe a smooth 3D surface that the software struggles to depict.

We knew from talking to several landscape architects that we wanted to achieve both outcomes - offer a 2D interface that matches their tools today, but instantly convert it into a smooth 3D surface that looks just like the smooth landscape in video games.

Introducing… the Terrain Graph.

The Terrain Graph is your new tool for plotting survey points and material transitions. Its vertices carry Heights. Its faces carry Materials. This information projects up into a beautiful, precisely curved 3D Terrain Mesh.

The Terrain Mesh often blocks your access to the Terrain Graph. So each Terrain Graph has an “x-ray mode” that makes its Mesh see-through and lets you target the Graph.

And as with all 3D -> 2D workflows, this Terrain Mesh provides a nice smooth line to your instant DWGs - so when you cut many site sections, their elevations are all nicely coordinated!


Flora: Happy Little Trees

Flora, such as plants and rocks, are designed in two ways - small items like grass and ivy are specified as covering an area, whereas large items like trees and boulders are specified individually. Landscape designers typically describe area-based flora using hatches and place each individual plant one click at a time. They typically do this in 2D drawings, because most 3D software that produces drawings cannot handle many 3D plants at the same time.

But game engines such as UE4, on which Modumate is built, have come up with tons of tricks to help AAA video games show lush landscapes. Meshes are “instanced” - collapsed into a single call to the graphics card - and possess many levels of detail, so when you’re close to a tree, the game shows you a 500,000-triangle mesh, and when you’re far away, it shows you a 500-triangle mesh.

(I guess you could say this explanation is a little… in the weeds)

You can place individual plants using the Flora categories of our FF&E tool.

And as with Terrain, all your 3D creations are instantly projected into beautiful DWGs.

Tips, Tricks, and Benefits

  1. Vertices dictate Height. Edges dictate material borders. It is not necessary to draw an entire topo line across a surface, as long as the vertices you want are present.
  2. Try entering the vertex’s height before creating it. It saves you clicks.
  3. You can move vertices around and watch the Terrain Mesh update in real-time.
  4. Use “Toggle Gravity” to walk around the terrain like a video game.
  5. Select faces of your Terrain Graph to assign materials to the mesh.
  6. Our early testers indicate that their clients respond approximately 1328% more favorably when design presentations include landscape - you should add it to yours!
  7. Architects and landscape designers can work together in Modumate and finally share a 3D “source of truth” model together! No longer must the architect link 2D Landscape backgrounds into their 3D model to create a Frankenstein 2D-3D scene.

Feature Roadmap

We’re already aware of some extra design features that landscape architects are clamoring for. We plan to add these features gradually over the next 24 months. 

Terrain design:

  • Curved boundaries between groundcover materials
  • Multiple soil layers
  • Larger material library
  • Sculpting brushes for swales, berms, paths, etc.
  • Import from satellite data

Flora design:

  • Craftable metadata on plants (sun/shade, water use, growth over time, etc)
  • Larger flora library
  • Custom mixes of 3D groundcover (grasses, flowers)

And then, of course, there are documentation tools:

  • Grading and planting plans
  • Water use calculations


Try It Today

If you’ve been designing landscapes in 2D, or struggling with modeling landscape in other 3D tools, try our Terrain and Flora tools - it’ll feel like a breath of fresh air (wow, our pun game is on point today)!

To get it, either run your older-than-V1.4 install of Modumate and upgrade when it prompts you, or click "Get Started Free" on this page.

If you have any feedback, we’re excited to hear it. Just write us at info@modumate.com and we will personally respond to your suggestions.

Until next time, cheers to the future of building design!

-the Modumate team

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Modumate is a 3D building design platform for professional architects and contractors who draft drawing sets in 2D CAD, quantity estimates, and renderings.

Using Unreal Engine 4’s gorgeous graphics and our unprecedented approach to BIM, we supercharge your 3D design abilities and export instant 2D DWG backgrounds, quantity estimates, and renderings.

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