As landscape architects, we pride ourselves on creating elevated spaces on not only opening day, but also for years down the road. In fact, places should get better with age, like we do.
To make this happen, it’s important to consider the management and future maintenance of the space as it’s being designed. While a complete site analysis will address all aspects of a property, be sure to answer these three, critical questions:
1) What is the demand and anticipated use of the space or program element?
To avoid overuse which is difficult to manage, make sure the carrying capacity meets the demand. This can mean allowing enough space for selected activities or having the right amount of equipment and/or amenities for the population. Knowing the anticipated demand can also influence the selection of the materials used for the construction. Inexpensive materials may not mean savings after upkeep and replacements are factored into the financial considerations.
2) Where does the water go?
Water can degrade a site faster than nearly anything else. Proper siting and grading of outdoor spaces is critical to avoid problems with site drainage. Open space and park properties are often located in floodplains, if not floodways. Standing water creates issues for management and maintenance by degrading paving materials, rusting amenities and allowing algae and insects to grow and breed.
Maintaining proper streamway buffers for drainageways or creeks has many benefits. In addition to preventing erosion and sediment build-up in drainage channels, buffers allow for the migration of wildlife within a park system and can also host a diverse plant palette to attract a variety of birds and insects.
3) What is the right balance of sun and shade?
Some activities are most enjoyed in the sun, while others require shade for maximum comfort. The time of year makes a difference, as well. Knowing and finding the right balance means using the site appropriately, taking advantage of existing vegetation and designing the softscape of spaces with an understanding of current and future conditions. What may be in the sun now may be shady in a few years.
Also, sun can degrade elements within the landscape. Fading can occur with paintings, coatings and fabrics. Plastics and rubbers can become brittle. Man-made structures or the right tree plantings can offer protection for people in outdoor spaces, as well as designed elements.
Once these questions are answered, incorporate the responses into your design. Using this approach will help your outdoor space age gracefully, making it a source of lasting memories for years to come.