Computer Requirements for Landscape Architecture Students

Addendum to University and School Computer Requirements

Computer Requirements

Landscape Architecture Program
Addendum to University and School Computer Requirements:

For general information only.

This policy is reviewed and revised in the summer prior to each academic year.

No student will be denied admission to Virginia Tech based on an inability to afford a computer. However, by making the requirement mandatory, all entering students can include the estimated cost of a computer in their financial aid application.

Each incoming Virginia Tech student has been required to own a personal laptop computer. Broad specifications are announced during mid–May for students entering in the fall of the next academic year. Landscape Architecture Program course assignments given in studio and technical courses assume that each student has their computer complete with required software available for use at his or her studio desk.

Use of digital production media has become the norm in professional practice. A small percentage of offices use digital design and production technologies exclusively, but more commonly, the professional workstation integrates conventional drawing and modeling with digital work on the computer. The intent of this policy is to prepare, and seek cooperation from, parents and students in establishing this latter type of workstation — a workstation we believe is essential for contemporary design education.

To support the digital component of the studio work environment the Program and the School provide services and facilities that may otherwise be unavailable, or exceedingly costly, to the students. Current provisions include an instructional computing laboratory, an advanced GIS research lab in Blacksburg, and media services rooms that offer large format photocopying, large format scanning and photo quality plotting. The studio proper provides surge protected power and wireless Ethernet access to every student desk. A number of small format scanning, printing, plotting and copying devices are also provided within the immediate studio environment.

Each year the University and the School of Architecture + Design (School) establish baseline specifications for the entering class. Information on the University computer policy and the current School of Architecture + Design requirements can be found online at The frequently asked questions page and the specifications page contain a great deal of useful information regarding the purchase of both hardware and software. We strongly recommend that you review these web pages before making your hardware purchase. The Landscape Architecture Program adheres to the University and School minimum requirements and adds the following requirements and recommendations for the consideration of individuals purchasing new computers.

Who is included?

The University computer policy has at times been referred to as the freshman computer requirement. The policy makes it clear that the computer and software requirements apply to all incoming students whether freshmen or transfers, full or part–time. Transfer students are subject to the requirement that was in place for students at the same class level into which they will enter. The use of digital media is integrated throughout the MLA programs as is a significant amount of distance learning and network communication. It is essential that graduate students be similarly equipped to the undergraduate students in order for them to fully participate in the curriculum and in our educational community.

When is the computer needed?

All incoming students in the Program must comply with the University, School and Program computer and software requirements during their first semester of enrollment at Virginia Tech. Inquiry through the use of digital media and its integration with analog media begins in the first semester studio and other courses at all levels of the Program.

Undergraduate students:
For undergraduate students the computer is a critical resource within the Foundation Program. Early in their second year undergraduate landscape architecture students begin using applications that are more specific to the demands of the profession.

MLA students:
Graduate students immediately begin building their skills with professional level design software in their first semester courses.

What kind of computer do I need?

The University does not specify a particular platform. The School and the Program use both Windows–based PC’s and intel–based Macintosh computers. Either is acceptable, however, AutoCAD, a primary application for the production of technical work in the design professions, is not native to the Mac. AutoCAD file formats are an industry standard making it easy to move data to other applications we utilize in the Program — such as ArcGIS and SketchUp. Students who choose to use a Mac must purchase a Mac that is capable of running both Mac and Windows operating systems and will need to configure the software to run Microsoft Windows in addition to Mac OSX. The Program has not tested its required professional software on the Mac and does not intend to do so. Students choosing to purchase a Mac will be responsible for ensuring that the required software runs on the machines they purchase.

Since Virginia Tech is a wireless campus, the University requires students to purchase a laptop/notebook computer. Students in our Program successfully use notebook machines to complete all required tasks. At this time we do not recommend the purchase of a tablet laptop. Current tablet laptops do not have a powerful enough video card for efficient work in the design studio. The University recommends that students purchase the best machine they can afford. Our experience says that the minimum acceptable machine is the one that will run the software you want to use. Beyond that, the dollars spent are mainly based on convenience to, or the particular computing needs of, the individual user. We offer the following observations as friendly advice — not as a matter of policy — in the hopes it will help you to determine which machine is the “best” one for your specific situation.

System Configuration

We strongly support the University’s requirement of a laptop/notebook computer. Our students use their computers in many of their classes, in the library, at their residences, and on occasion “in the field.” In addition to portability, keeping the computer in one’s possession provides an added measure of convenience and security.

We recommend the following approach to working more comfortably on a notebook computer. First, a good optical mouse is a necessity. The trackball and touchpad features typically found on laptops are not suitable for detailed graphic work. You may also want to consider adding a full size external keyboard. Since most students keep a footlocker near their studio desk in which to secure personal items, an external mouse and keyboard can be kept there conveniently. They will be well worth the price during periods of extended use.

To address the limited screen size of most laptops, we heartily recommend that students purchase a larger, flat-panel external monitor and use the “two display pages” feature that is available under Mac and Windows operating systems. This feature allows a single notebook computer drive to show two screens at the same time (the notebook LCD and an external monitor). Configuring your notebook’s display adapter to use two displays at once will more than double the viewing area and will be particularly useful when you begin using the required graphics intensive software. Some students construct inexpensive shelves over the top of the rear portion of their drafting board and leave the monitor in place at their studio workstation. A cable lock to secure the monitor to the table is recommended as a prudent precaution.

The School minimum specifications for hard drive, memory, processor speed, monitor, video RAM, and network cards are adequate to current versions of the applications used in the Program curriculum and well matched to the overall computing environment. Your notebook computer should include standard Ethernet, and wireless network connectivity to maximize opportunities to network from various locations.

Optional Items

We prioritize optional items as follows:

1. A portable back-up hard drive is an essential purchase. Files should be backed-up daily at a minimum.
2. A USB flash drive (4Gb minimum) for transferring files.
3. Printer (Low priority for studio use):
Though we do not think it necessary, some students wish to have their own printer for convenience sake. If you purchase a printer, we suggest a color ink jet printer. Some students prefer machines that combine a color scanner, low capacity copier, ink jet printer and fax in a single device. However, printing and scanning — in that order — are the two main uses to consider.
4. System upgrades above minimum specs:
If you wish to upgrade your system above the minimum University and School requirements, we recommend you prioritize in the following order: upgrade memory, video RAM and then speed.

Required software

Required software for all entering Landscape Architecture students includes the following:

• Microsoft Operating System and Office License
(maintains currency of student’s operating system and/or Office software throughout the duration of a program of study and includes licenses for additional MS products.)

• Adobe Creative Cloud (annual subscription)
(Adobe Photoshop®, Adobe Illustrator®, Adobe InDesign®, Adobe GoLive®, and Adobe Acrobat®.)

• Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D
(includes AutoCAD software engine – Autodesk provides renewable 13 month licenses for currently enrolled students) AutoCAD Civil 3D is the standard interface for work in our technical classes. AutoDesk Student Engineering and Design Community for free student downloads can be accessed here.

A 1–year time limited version available to students each year for the duration of their program of study. (see Details)

Rhinoceros NURBS 3D Modeling for Windows.
License is included in student software bundle.

• SketchUp
Visit for free and student licensing options.

Additional details about purchasing the software package are available here.

Each student should also install anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware software, available free on-line.

Virginia Tech University Bookstore

The University Bookstore provides hardware bundles from most of the major computer vendor and negotiates with the vendors yearly to provide the best pricing possible. The bundles typically include printers, cables, and accessories as well as advanced service options. The bundles include Educational discounts that are not available in individual consumer purchases and can substantially lower the overall cost of purchasing and supporting a computer while at Virginia Tech.

Purchasing Software

Incoming undergraduate students are required to purchase the required software package from Student Software Distribution. Undergraduate student accounts will be automatically billed for the software bundle cost. Incoming Graduate students may purchase the required software package from Student Software Distribution but, with the exception of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, are not required to do so. However, all graduate students must have the required software on their computers, as well as email client and virus protection software.

Software Costs
The cost of the software provided through the University varies each year, but typically significant savings will be realized through the software bundle from Student Software Distribution.

Additional Software
We suggest that each incoming student review the range of additional software available through Student Software Distribution and through the University Bookstore. We also suggest that you talk with current students to review any additional software they may have found useful.