Reimagining Land Development

Industry Context

A growing population, coupled with global urbanization trends, is emphasizing the importance of land development—better referred to as site development—in support of infrastructure projects. Today, more people live in urban and suburban areas than in rural areas worldwide (54 percent versus 46 percent in 2014) and the UN estimates that by 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban or suburban areas.  To cope with this growing demand, the AEC industry needs to accelerate the design and construction of buildings in the form of schools, offices, hospitals, residential, and retail, as well as invest $3.3 trillion annually in infrastructure. This results in the need to build 1000 new buildings per day and to close the current $1.2 trillion gap in current annual infrastructure spending. Our world is not getting any bigger and many cities are restricted in their ability to expand geographically because of oceans and terrain. These challenges are driving the need for cities to grow vertically, to go underground, and, even, under the ocean. Simply put, the land development industry is under great pressure to maximize the 3D space available for the necessary infrastructure to support this growth.

Today’s infrastructure industry is highly complex, in congested areas, and close coordination is required in real-time. We are constantly reminded of costly overruns, crumbling assets, the financial burden placed on large civil infrastructure owners, and the potential risk imposed on citizens. What we don’t often hear about is all the innovation happening in the industry. At the core of this innovation is Building Information Modeling (BIM) and, more recently, Connected BIM (BIM plus the power of the cloud) to digitalize the workplace. To be clear, BIM is not a product; it’s not a service; it’s the process of creating a highly-accurate, 3D, digital model and sharing that information with all project stakeholders.

Digitalization of the Workplace

Dam constructionThe benefits of BIM, such as reduced errors, greater cost predictability, better multi-party communication and understanding, optimized design, and improved scheduling, are well documented. In fact, the Boston Consulting Group recently estimated that within ten years, according to estimates, full-scale digitalization in nonresidential construction will lead to annual global cost savings of $0.7 trillion to $1.2 trillion (13% to 21%) in the engineering and construction phases and $0.3 trillion to $0.5 trillion (10% to 17%) in the operations phase. We have the capability to close this infrastructure spending gap and the industry’s move to Connected BIM is accelerating. This is evidenced by numerous countries regulating BIM mandates and the civil infrastructure owners, consultants, architects, engineers, contractors, and other stakeholders adopting this new way of working and collaborating.


a construction engineer measuring a freeway construction site.Connected BIM and the advent of other technologies are changing the way in which industry professionals plan, design, build, and maintain the world’s infrastructure. Owners are seeking end-to-end lifecycle workflows, including improved digital handover and the opportunity to better manage assets and portfolios over time. As the first phase of a projects lifecycle, land development is at the forefront of needing to digitalize the project site to ensure that the physical world can serve as input into the planning and design phase. Initial surveying and mapping activities to bring the field into the office, in the form of 3D visualization and simulation tools, provide great benefit to align stakeholders, as well as to facilitate better client and community engagement. This, in turn, helps to shorten the approval process, to reduce the number of RFIs, and to ensure a complete understanding of the real-world conditions during the planning, preliminary design, and project costing cycles.

Land Development Defined

One might argue that Land Development is a subset of the overall Urban/Master Planning Market. However, professionals often engaged in the various tasks associated with developing a site to support a future infrastructure project, both a new greenfield initiative and the rehabilitation of an existing asset, might be defined as follows:

  • Landscape Design: Responsible for the preparation of plans and designs to aid in the development of land for projects. This includes land and urban planning, site design, natural resource management, park and recreation planning, and environmental conservation.
  • Land Developers: Responsible for preparing sites prior to construction. Surveying, excavating, demolition, and installing basic infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks. Such tasks have become heavily integrated with construction companies.
  • Surveying and Mapping: Cadastral land surveying, including subdivision layout and design, topographical and planimetric surveying and mapping services, geodetic surveying services, including LiDAR and photogrammetry, and subsurface utility engineering.
  • Urban / Master Planning: The process of designing and shaping cities, towns, and villages. Largely comprised of geospatial solutions and visualizations.

In recent years, we have seen such professionals integrated within engineering, architectural, and construction service firms. Further, given that every infrastructure asset is location-based and the various software tools supporting CAD and BIM are geospatially enabled, the technological landscape must be extended to include GIS.

Technology Disruption

Connected BIM

Beginning thirty years ago, we ushered in the shift from the drafting table to the computer with AutoCAD, helping the industry leverage digital technology and away from the error-prone and inefficient manual processes. We then changed the deliverables and the processes used to create and maintain these project deliverables, from 2D data and tabular reports to intelligent 3D models. We are now entering the Era of Connection. The focus of design technology will be the interconnection of data to better understand infrastructure systems, make well-informed decisions, and to construct and manage with reduced risk and improved outcomes. Think of this as moving beyond the M (modeling) of BIM to the I (information), utilizing this expanded information to connect people, process, and ideas like never before. This is a new age of opportunity for planners, designers, constructors, and owner/operators and it all begins with the land development phase of the asset lifecycle.

Connected Insight comes from the ability to capture, create, and compute enormous amounts of data and evaluate alternatives in a real-world context. Expansive analytical insight early in the design phase supports “best possible” as opposed to “best practical” performance of completed projects. InfraWorks creates district wide models with rich information that can be used for simulating performance in the real world, building out context by federating data with design and the ability to layer more detail or accuracy when you need it, moving from CAD to model based design, and connecting visualization, simulation, and analytics directly to our designs. Through Connected Delivery, we extend digitalization to the construction site, the industry will be better positioned to realize the cost savings. Finally, by Connected Teams the workflow transitions from applications and files to put the project data in the center from the start. Teams are kept up to date in the office and on the job site, using the cloud, connected data and systems to unlock capabilities to share and collaborate across the lifecycle in real time without barriers.

As the infrastructure industry adopts a Connected BIM workflow across the project lifecycle, to eliminate the loss of data and transition of data between phases that have prevented the use of a common data environment, land development professionals must set the course from the onset by utilizing the technologies described in the next section. They can and will deliver content that their downstream clients can utilize, as well as ensuring a digital mirror of our physical world.

Technology Portfolio

For land development, we traditionally think of AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT. The first step is to move to 3D by leveraging our flagship products such as Civil 3D or Map 3D. These design tools can then be complimented with ReCap Pro which provides an end-to-end solution for converting reality captured photography and LiDAR scans into a 3D mesh. Powerful 3D modeling and rendering for design conception is provided by 3DS Max and then brought to life in visualizations and immersive VR experiences using Stingray. The ability to coordinate data from multiple teams and the linking of 3D models to schedules for 4D simulation is provided through Navisworks Manage. This 3D workflow then interfaces directly with Revit—our market dominant parametric modeling program for building and infrastructure design. Now, by connecting the power of the cloud to these well-established products and workflows, we are helping our customers achieve new and innovative deliverables that a Connected BIM solution provides.

Drone Image of NDOT project
Photogrammetric mesh of NDOT Boulder City Bypass Project

Project context is all about bringing the field directly into the design phase. The wave of innovation in this space is undeniable when we think of the advent of drones, LiDAR, and mobile mapping systems for surveying and mapping. ReCap Pro helps bring this reality capture into a 3D model. Aggregating vast amounts of information and collaborating across multiple project stakeholders is made possible by leveraging InfraWorks as the geospatial and engineering BIM platform for not only planning and design, but also for analytics & simulation, taking full advantage of the storage and processing power of the cloud. The cloud also brings collaboration and mobility to the design process. BIM360 allows project stakeholders to work in one central workspace with cloud-based collaboration and reporting that is extensible through mobile technologies for field crews.

Our efforts to simplify how we can best serve you as your technology partner may be summed up as The Power of One.

One Model–Annual subscriptions:  Providing you with a better experience of access (SW support, Innovation, Budget), control (self-service), and insights (data analysis).

One Path–Collections:  Paying less for more while gaining access to the cloud and innovation.

One Destination–Connected BIM: The Future of Making Things for our industry.

The era of 2D and manual processes is long gone. Industry demands and accelerating trends require a seamless exchange of reliable data across the lifecycle of all infrastructure projects, for both new greenfield programs and rehabilitation initiatives. Furthermore, the power of the cloud and the focus on the “I” in BIM is creating a connected ecosystem of data sharing that delivers well documented benefits and is seeing rapid adoption world-wide. The land development industry needs to be at the forefront of this data creation and data sharing.

We are surrounded by the advent of new technology and the convergence of existing technology in support of reality capture. By adopting this technology, we can create a true digital mirror of our physical world. This information will be used to support and inform decision-making during planning, design, construction, and eventually operations. Much of this work takes place within the land development market by leveraging geospatial, surveying, and mapping expertise.

Autodesk is leading in the delivery of solutions that bring the real world directly into the virtual world or design space through strategic partnerships and in the creation of interoperability between software products.