GIS in Vectorworks 2020

Incorporating GIS workflows into your landscaping and architectural projects can bring a new dimension to your work, writes David Chadwick

If you can integrate your building plans or landscape designs with one of the main GIS solutions then you have access to a wealth of additional tools that will add veracity and realism to your project. Vectorworks Architect 2020, already a comprehensive set of modules that allows users to design from terrain data through to a finished product, has enabled full integration with Esri - a global leader in GIS software - to bring its wealth of location information to its users. It allows project managers to consider many other factors when making design decisions, such as online mapping, terrain characteristics, prevailing weather conditions, existing infrastructure, aerial imagery, visual aesthetics and much more.

Esri brings its ArcGIS Online services to the partnership with Vectorworks, providing quick access to its GIS imagery, data and geometry, to the benefit of all modules of Vectorworks 2020 software: Vectorworks Architect, Landmark and Designer.

"The process of integrating GIS information with a BIM model became tremendously easier with the ability to incorporate data from Esri ArcGIS Online services early in the design process. Further, the resulting georeferenced files make it easy to collaborate," said Vectorworks Landscape Product Marketing Manager Eric Gilbey, PLA, ASLA. "A broad range of AEC and landscape professionals will benefit from the new integration including those planning with architecture firms or delivering government, master planning or campus planning projects. They'll notice a much more seamless and direct GIS workflow that is a huge time saver."

A couple of new Vectorworks tools have been added to provide access to online mapping and aerial images, namely Geoimage and Geolocate. Geolocate uses geographic coordinates and projection in a Vectorworks file to accurately geolocate properties simply by entering an address. If you subscribe to the ArcGIS Online services plan you will then be able to download more maps and other imagery directly into Vectorworks.

One Vectorworks user who has been trying out the software was much impressed. "I love how Vectorworks often takes a user request to the next level, digging deep into the nature of the request and planning far ahead to meet user needs into the future," said Anna Arbetter, licensed landscape architect at Futurity, Inc. "As an Esri user, the similarity to the ArcGIS environment makes Vectorworks even more of an asset for us. We use GIS extensively and incorporate it into every project. The streaming imagery service allows us to instantly assess whether our project data has shown up in the right location."

The GIS features in Vectorworks 2020 - Geolocate, Geoimage, GIS Stake, Graticule and Great circle - are accessed through a new tool, and are all georeferenced. I'll explain what the first three of these do shortly, but first you need to understand the processes that go into ensuring that, when you place your building on a piece of the Earth, everybody else knows exactly where it is. For this you need to know about georeferencing and its role in the process.

Pinpointing a spot on the sphere of the Earth and then showing it on the 2D flat surface of a map has always been a challenge with maps. It encouraged early navigators to devise a number of ways of achieving this, the most popular 'projection' being Gerardus Mercator's, developed in 1569. To picture this, imagine a cylinder wrapped around the earth with a light source at the centre of the Earth, etching the coastlines of all land areas onto to the cylinder, and then unrolling the cylinder and laying it out flat. Obviously the extreme or polar areas will be much larger than land masses near the equator, which is why Greenland and Russia appear much larger than they really are.

To produce workable maps, some modification was permitted to allow individual countries to develop their own internal grid systems, based on the Universal Transverse Mercator - which basically utilises a cylinder on its side instead of vertical. The Earth is then divided into 60 UTM longitudinal zones, each 6 degrees apart, from which individual countries have developed their internal mapping grid systems. In the UK we use the British National Grid, and in Australia it's the MGA or Mapping Grid of Australia, which incidentally has UTM zones 1000km apart instead of 670km - overlapping zones in the 45-56 UTM zone region in which Australia lies.

Clicking on the Geolocate tool in the GIS toolset brings up a warning dialogue which states that the tool will change the geographical location that corresponds with the document's - your map's - internal origin. If you are happy with that, you can then select the coordinate system that you want to work in. You have a number of options, but the one you should probably use is 'Use a common coordinate system or enter Well Known Text (WKT)'. If you click this it will lead you to the British National Grid / OSGB 1936 system, whose default location is usually London. As georeferencing needs to be set for each individual layer of your document, you need to go through the Navigation-Design toolbox to make sure it has the correct georeferencing system and setup. For convenience sake, you can also change the layer name to Geoimage.

You have now got to find out where you are in the world, and to do this you click on 'search for location'. Entering a town or place name allows Vectorworks to connect to the ESRI server and bring up a list of matches. Select the one you want and an image of the location is displayed and an internal origin is set in your document. If your selection is accurate then your building site will be near to the internal origin.

You can then add the location image to your document, either in Satellite or Map mode, by drawing a rectangular polygon which fixes an interactive image within the document - becoming, in effect, a window into the surface of the Earth. This image only displays when you have Vectorworks open and you will need to click the 'update' button each time you reload Vectorworks.

This allows you to place a modified Stake object, like a temporary aerial image or map, which depicts exactly where you are -and as it is interactive, it's coordinates reflect those in the georeferenced document. You can also then import a georeferenced DWG or Shape files file, confirming, again, whether they use the correct georeferenced settings, and under Advanced check its location, scale, whether it is 2D or 3D, and whether it is aligned with the internal origin. If everything is done correctly you will find the new images coincide with the rest of the information in the working document exactly. Adding georeferenced Shape Files adds a lot more information to the working document, and are used extensively by local authorities to check site data: blocks, zones, streets, perimeter's etc.

Typically, adding DWG files is done using a shuttle file - creating a secondary file and confirming all settings as usual, and referencing that from the working document, placing a Viewpoint to upload when required.

You can see the extent to which the GIS tools have had to focus on establishing precise locations, exact longitude, latitude and orientation settings, correct layer usage and matching settings throughout, until you come to the reason why you have done all this - placing your building precisely where it should be.

With a few more tweaks (and there is somewhat more behind that laid out above) having set your 'user origin' in your document and selecting another layer and locking it so it can't be moved, you can import your IFC file with a few simple commands (Building - IFC ) whereupon it is imported as a georeferenced model. You can then render it in OPenGL, change the viewport and view your building precisely located where you would like it to be. Job done!

Echoing Anna's earlier comments, once you start integrating GIS with your Landscape and Architectural documents you will get so much more satisfaction about the entire process and enjoy dropping your designs exactly where you want them to be. Impress your clients even more than you usually do!