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October 25, 2017

The 3 W’s of Working with a Landscape Architect

Bringing a landscape architecture firm onto your team can result in cost-savings for your project, but knowing what to expect and when to add them to the team can be unclear. Here, we’re sharing the three W’s of working with a landscape architect. Find out when to use one, what to expect and why they add value. 

When?
To ensure your project is a success, landscape architects follow a design process that is similar to that of an architect or engineer. It starts with goal setting and ends with construction administration. They work on a wide variety of project scales and project types, which can make defining what they do difficult. Before engaging a landscape architecture firm, think of these questions: 

  1. Do the proposed or desired improvements influence or impact the environment?  Will the environment impact design decisions?
  2. Will the program include planning of or disruption of existing vehicular or pedestrian traffic patterns?
  3. Does your project require phasing that will leave property unused until future financing is available?
  4. Are there opportunities to create unique and functional outdoor spaces for the benefit of employees, guests, or customers?
  5. Are there features, either structural or on the ground plane that need considered or highlighted?
  6. Are you looking for ways to make a larger impact for less?
  7. Are there municipal requirements to meet stormwater or landscape improvements for your project?
  8. Are the first impressions of your project important?

What?
If you answered “YES” to any of the questions, then you should consider hiring a landscape architect. Look for a firm with licensed, experienced professionals who understand your goals and can successfully perform the project. Feel free to ask for references and relative project examples. Once hired, you should expect to follow these steps: 

  1. Start with a face-to-face consultation meeting. This helps a landscape architecture firm learn more about your needs and project goals. Firms should work with you to tailor their scope of work to meet your objectives. Whenever possible, they will visit the site and examine existing plans or photographs to better understand how your vision fits within the context of the site. They often offer ideas right on the spot, provide suggestions for next steps, discuss your schedule and plan to prepare a scope and fee for your review. 
  2. Make a plan. Once they understand the project’s intent and your goals for success, they will prepare a detailed scope that outlines what you can expect from the process, what your deliverables will be at each phase, how many meetings they anticipate, the amount of time each phase will require and what to expect for fees at each phase. Once approved to begin, they will complete their site analysis, gather the required and desired input and finalize the site’s program.  
  3. Seek creativity. Depending on your project, a landscape architecture firm may choose to charrette with you to develop concepts and illustrate your project’s potential for almost immediate gratification. This tends to accelerate the timeline since revisions, comments and discussions happen in real-time. If this is not the desired approach, they will take their efforts back to the studio and develop concepts for review. This phase usually involves lots of trace paper, colored pens, markers and pencils. Once concepts are complete, the review process can include a variety of engagement types from website interaction, public or stakeholder surveys, or workshops and open houses.  
  4. Finalize your design. Once a concept is approved, design development ensues. It is in this phase that all the design details and dimensions are determined and products and materials are sourced, so no questions remain and estimates of cost can be prepared. This allows the entire project team to ensure it is on track with your vision and budget.
  5. Prepare construction documents. Included in the final set of plans are specifications and final cost estimates.  These plans, upon completion, are reviewed by a senior licensed professional to ensure the plans are all-inclusive and error-free. These plans are sealed by a professional.  This seal indicates the professional responsible for the content has the education and experience to respresent the health, safety and welfare of the public, as determined by the state where the project is located.
  6. Begin construction. Similar to other design professionals, it is critical landscape architects are involved during construction to ensure the project is executed as designed and as the owner expects. This phase includes assistance with bidding the project, selecting a bidder, attending pre-construction conferences and reviewing pay applications. Once construction has started, your selected firm will make site visits, review submittals and shop drawings, develop a punch list and complete a final walk-through. 

Why?
As well as lending their experience to a project, landscape architects also add value by offering innovative and cost-saving design ideas. Landscape architects are skilled with problem-solving and able to see the big picture. On a recent project where we had influence on the site layout of a multi-family development, our plan, while still meeting the municipality’s and the client’s desired program elements, utilized 30 percent less asphalt parking and 28 percent less linear feet of curb. This equated to a considerable cost savings for the client.  Additional benefits from our inclusion on the team were a more defined vehicular entry, and the addition of a community garden space and a focal element that was part of the existing program, but was deemed unattainable from the previous plan. It also kept an existing property from being double-fronted with drives.