April 5, 2007

Add value to your team with a landscape architect

  • Landscape architects have a diverse background and working knowledge of the other design disciplines.
    Bradley Design Group

    Question: “Do I need a landscape architect on my design team?” Answer: “You can’t afford not to.”

    Twice in a recent week our firm was asked to participate in early planning meetings with an owner and other design professionals to roundtable potential projects that were being evaluated for market viability. A survey of the site was laid out on the table and each of us took turns sketching on flimsy paper and discussing how the proposed uses could best be sited to cause minimal impact to natural systems and still pencil out financially.

    Images courtesy Bradley Design Group
    Three outdoor learning rooms were created for Whitman Elementary School's central courtyard.

    The cast of characters included a geotechnical engineer who steered us clear of unsuitable soils; a civil engineer who dialed in appropriate road widths, impervious surface thresholds and preliminary stormwater systems and volumes; a wetland biologist who identified habitats, setbacks and mitigation options; and an architect who offered footprint options for structures.

    The landscape architect’s role was to integrate design parameters presented by the other team members and current best practices into site-specific design options that functionally and aesthetically balance the built and natural environments.

    Did you get that? Let me expand further.

    Our roots

    In order to understand what value a landscape architect can offer to a project, one must first understand our background. Landscape architecture is considered an environmental design discipline where, in a professional degree program, students learn to be effective designers through hands-on participation in multidisciplinary design processes. Course work spans the gamut from earth sciences, construction materials and methods, plant and soils science, social sciences and humanities, site engineering, landscape/architectural history and cultural studies to local, urban and regional site design and planning, professional practices and the visual arts. This tool chest of skills supports a landscape architect’s ability to creatively reshape the world, enhance its artistic and functional dimensions, respect the ecological health, and enhance the cultural significance and social relevance. Basically, landscape architects are the Jack (and Jill) of all trades in the design profession.

    Real world application

    Bradley Design Group created the master plan for this lakefront estate. It transitions the built enviromment into a restored native area.

    So how does that apply to the working world? Back to the table of design professionals reviewing the proposed project. Once the unsuitable soils and protected native areas were delineated, stormwater system loosely defined, general square footage of buildings and their interrelationships determined, then the landscape architect’s work began. We first considered preservation of significant site features that included stands of native vegetation, view corridors, access to shoreline areas and a historic structure. We also evaluated on-site and off-site views to determine how siting the improvements would impact significant views from within and outside the project area.

    Why would that be important you ask? Allow me to deviate for a moment.

    A short story

    A cross-country ski facility wanted to expand its operation on the north slope of the Lake Tahoe basin. This involved expanding an existing structure and adding two parking areas to accommodate guests. The facility was located along a highway designated as a scenic corridor that offered some of the most spectacular views of the Lake Tahoe and Mount Rose wilderness areas. As you pass through the pristine wilderness area and crest the grade with Lake Tahoe opening before you, the last thing you want to see is a sprawling ski hut and sea of asphalt full of parked cars.

    Our visual analysis report reviewed several siting options for the proposed improvements, identified opportunities, constraints and mitigation measures for each, and gave a recommendation for the best design alternative. Our site data included aerial photos to map existing vegetation, topography maps to determine sight lines from various critical view points, site photos, and (the best part) physically traversing the area to study design solutions.

    Back to the roundtable

    With views, protected areas, setbacks and preferred access points known, we began programming the site to best accommodate the proposed structures, pedestrian and vehicular circulation corridors, storm and utility systems, and open space areas. What began as a series of bubbles and wavy lines, later that morning evolved into a scalable series of master plans that the owner and team members could put numbers to for initial project costing. Landscape architects, with our diverse background and working knowledge of the other design disciplines, were able to integrate those elements into a comprehensive design that respects the site and offers a functional and aesthetic solution.

    Front runners

    Landscape architects have been the front runners in the environmental design approach since the profession emerged. While LEED accreditation and certification are the buzz words in architectural design circles today, the early pioneers of landscape architecture were using the benefits of the same natural systems to create sustainable sites in both urban and rural areas. And our profession is constantly evolving and growing, designing greenroofs, greenwalls, healing gardens, playgrounds, campgrounds, parks, urban plazas, rural conservation districts, native habitat restorations, zoo exhibits and downtown restorations. A landscape architect will add depth and value to your design team.

    Kathleen Reader, LA, ASLA, is principal of Bradley Design Group, a Tacoma-based landscape architecture firm that offers a full range of design services to private and public sector clients across the Northwest.

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