The technology that drives the landscape architecture profession today includes animation, video, drones, and augmented reality, and Assistant Professor Natalie Yates knows how to make these high-tech ventures accessible to students. The field has typically relied on the static, Yates says, and knowing how to use dynamic tools such as augmented reality and video editing can give students an edge in presenting their ideas.

Upon arriving in 2017, assistant professor Natalie Yates felt the friendliness of people in Muncie and in the college in particular. “It feels very supportive here. There are a lot of resources in the college–some of them are hidden in the basement–and the faculty are excellent,” she says enthusiastically.

A drone or even kite photography enables users to take digital elevations, assess plant health, and gain up-to-date site-specific information. A computer simulation can demonstrate change over time. 3d animations bring a project to life.

In spring 2019 she co-taught The Dynamic and the Digital, an elective, with John Fillwalk, director of the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts. The class introduced students from multiple CAP disciplines to video production and editing, drones, animation software, game engines, and augmented and virtual reality platforms.

Zack Hall, a fifth-year landscape architecture student, was one of 12 students. “I am really technology-driven in my designing,” he said. “I don’t do a lot of hand drawing.” He and Yates and another classmate spent three hours on a Saturday flying a drone over Indianapolis’ Camp Belzer to capture 1,200 photos of the terrain with a focus on the iconic activities center. Hall pared the photos down to 600 quality shots and used the drone software to create a 3D model of the building and site for his final project.

Blaine Cora, a third-year architecture major, created a virtual reality landscape, first crafting a 3D model and rendering in Rhino then using Adobe and Sketchup software to fine-tune the images before importing to Lumion then exporting into virtual reality, and layering with sound. The new skills have given him confidence, he says. “These are things I never would have thought about using before.”

Yates taught for seven years at Washington University in St. Louis and with Bradley Cantrell co-authored the book Modeling the Environment: Techniques and Tools for the 3D Illustration of Dynamic Landscapes before coming to Ball State in 2017. She has published research at the Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture national conference.

“Natalie is an innovative and creative landscape architect,” says Martha Hunt, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture. “We are inspired by her use of drones to assess landscape systems, and ability to bridge the artistic with the scientific.  Her current research is pushing the boundaries of augmented reality and landscape assessment, and this, along with her gift for graphic visualization, positions her to advance our response to today’s complex landscape problems.”