HSR University Integrates Civil 3D into the Classroom

Students at HSR University of Applied Science at Rapperswil thrive with AutoCAD Civil 3D

Project summary

In a recent research paper, Professor Peter Petschek from the Department of Landscape Architecture, HSR University of Applied Science at Rapperswil, Switzerland cites Humphrey Repton, the famous 18th century English landscape gardener. “Repton,” he says, “was not only innovative in marketing and the use of surveying equipment, but also in the visualisation of projects.”

He describes an engraving showing an elegant Repton using a theodolite – “one of the first high-tech tools in landscape architecture”. The gardener also used watercolour paintings to show clients his proposed designs. “Very often the clients were so impressed that he was immediately hired,” says Petschek.

Petschek believes that this combination of advanced technology and the best available visualisation techniques is still a potent mix when it comes to both selling and executing a project. These ideas were recently taken up by one of his degree-course students, Thomas Haug, who used them as a basis for his final year diploma project.

Haug is one of the first students at the university to have been taught using AutoCAD Civil 3D®, a three-dimensional, design software solution that integrates the drafting capabilities of AutoCAD® with dynamic, relationship-based civil engineering functionality.

The first stage of his project – the creation of a design for a new city park in Zurich – puts this knowledge into practice. The second part applies Petschek’s recent research on real-time visualisation and uses Autodesk® 3ds Max® and real-time software TerrainView from the Swiss company Viewtec.

Haug says that using AutoCAD Civil 3D enabled him to complete the project within a tight nine-week time frame. His work included experimentation with many “what-if” scenarios to get exactly the right grading for the sloping site.

“AutoCAD Civil 3D is particularly flexible for university projects such as this as it enables users to quickly explore ideas and experiment,” he says. “It would have been impossible to present so many different options using physical models and a traditional drafting solutions – but AutoCAD Civil 3D’s dynamic engineering model makes it simple to manipulate the design and make changes, knowing that accuracy will be retained.”

Forward looking

The Department of Landscape Architecture at Rapperswil, around 40 kilometres from Zurich, is one of a rapidly expanding number of European university departments using AutoCAD Civil 3D to teach both drafting and design. Its professor for site engineering and IT in landscape architecture, Petschek, is known for creative thinking and his forward-looking use of technology. However, he is keen to stress that his research and teaching is also very practical.

He currently teaches around 120 students using the software. “I want to show that a technology such as AutoCAD Civil 3D is actually easy to use and also helps students grasp design concepts faster. It is a new way of teaching and there are many benefits.

“For example, before my students learn how to do grading digitally, they have to go through a whole term doing it manually. They are really pleased when suddenly they begin to use AutoCAD Civil 3D and the contours are created automatically. They progressed very quickly after that.”

In the final year of their degree course, students develop a practical project and Haug chose to propose alternative designs for a new city park in Zurich. He used AutoCAD Civil 3D to find the perfect terrain model for the park and then showed that Petschek’s recent research on real-time visualisation could actually be put into practice.

His park is divided into two contrasting sectors. The first is a grassy square; the upper part uses the more hilly terrain to create a less formal landscape with trees and views over the surrounding area.

“I wanted to use the existing terrain. On one side it is flat and on the other it rises around 20m – not especially elevated, but certainly the highest spot in the area and I wanted to make the most of this,” says Haug.

“Using traditional methods I would have created a physical model in a material such as sand to find the form of the terrain. I did do this once – but then I worked with AutoCAD Civil 3D so that I could experiment.

“I must have tried out up to 15 different versions of the terrain. Imagine having to make that number of sand models. With a dynamic model you just click and drag it to how you want it to be and every other part of the design changes accordingly. If that’s not right you do it again and so on. It means you can reach your ideal design very quickly.

“Using AutoCAD Civil 3D you are using the computer to develop the entire construction project – not in plastic or sand but electronically. You can slice this model to give different views, you can create contour models, view it from different angles.

“Plus, once the digital data has been created – and is constantly updated to keep it accurate and reliable – it can be exported to other applications,” says Haug.

When the design was completed it was exported to Autodesk 3ds Max for rendering. Then, with TerrainView, Haug used the data to create a virtual fly-through of the planned park to enable interested parties to view the design from any angle to understand its features and impact.

“TerrainView worked well with the Autodesk products showing that real-time presentations are a viable proposition for both industry and government applications,” he says.

Petschek sees visualisation as a new necessity in gaining public acceptance of plans. “For example, in Switzerland, every public project with a construction sum of above 10 million Swiss Francs has to be voted on.

“A convincing public presentation is, therefore, very important. 2D plans are not easily accessible to laypeople – they use abbreviations and symbols which not everybody understands.

“In short, the public are becoming more demanding and sophisticated. When children are playing computer games using the latest 3D graphics, adults don’t want to put up with flat paper plans taped to the wall in the town hall.”

Although the project involved the pioneering use of technology, Haug emphasises he is, “not a techie. My main aim is to design and the computer is just a tool, however, because I have been taught using AutoCAD Civil 3D, I find it easy to use this type of program. “It takes away the need for endless volume calculations, for example. This left me free to concentrate on getting the design right.”

This type of student reaction has convinced Petschek that AutoCAD Civil 3D will increasingly play a key role in university courses. “Of course students need to learn traditional methods. Yet, it is equally vital that they can go out into the world equipped with the latest skills.

“However, one of the main reasons for using AutoCAD Civil 3D in the university classroom is that it helps students understand concepts far faster – picking up ideas in a few weeks that otherwise would have taken them a whole term to learn, so I predict it will lead to better results.

“And because it takes away much of the drudgery it enables them to concentrate on designing – which is what most of them come here to do. In this way it makes courses more attractive and exciting – in fact, reversing the whole image of engineering. They also become part of the global Autodesk Student Community which offers free software downloads, forums, networking groups and job postings.

“Today’s students have grown up with the idea of virtual reality and expect to be able to use sophisticated tools to design and communicate their work,” he concludes.

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