As landscape architects, we work with contractors to achieve our design vision for our projects and how we collaborate can impact greatly on the project outcome. There are various approaches that we can use to achieve the best outcome.
Start Early When we work with contractors it can start at different stages of the project, it may be at the construction documentation phase, tendering phase, or the construction phase. It is best to set up a relationship (observing tendering and contract laws) with the contractor as soon as possible. Building a relationship and understanding allows contractors and landscape architects to be at ease when construction starts.
Tailoring your approach Contractors appointed for your project can be civil or building contractors, road contractors to landscape contractors. Their level of skill, knowledge and experience can differ greatly and once you have an understanding of their type and level of skill you need to tailor your approach and guide them through the design and your requirements such as emphasising the need to secure trees early or what they need to take special attention to in the documentation package.
Setting Expectations and Communication There are many hold points and decisions that occur during a project, and often there is a need to set expectations on your availability, response time, and reinforce your approach(as per the specification) to design changes and substitutions. You and the client may be very wedded to the vision, key ideas and or details and this needs to be expressed to the contractor.
Recently, I reviewed Overgrown by Julian Raxworthy, in which he calls on landscape architects to create a new form of practice that learns from gardening and “optimizes the exciting properties of plants through changing the way landscape architects work” which he is calling “the viridic”. Raxworthy provides a series of positions “for reformulation of landscape-architectural practice that combines the landscape architect and gardener” including:
breaking the split between human and plant
recognising that the nature of a plant is to grow and that the result of the design happens after planting over seasons, years, and decades.
landscape design should learn from maintenance techniques of gardening and tailor plans to suit.
the role of the garden is a learning environment and testing ground.
the nature of “the viridic” is iterative.
leaving the office and our plans & simulations to learn from gardening and gardeners.
Through reading Overgrown and Cleveland’s Landscape ArchitectureI began to consider whether a new form of landscape architectural practice can be achieved? Can we move beyond our prejudices to embrace and learn from gardening? Can we design without falling back onto plans and specifications or can they be reformulated into more flexible documents to achieve the design through site design?
There are numerous examples of garden designers and landscape architects such as Olmsted, Guilfoyle, Repton, Mueller, Brown, worked with plans and gardeners in the field to create, sculpt, position, and evolve their designs. Of course, we as contemporary landscape architects cannot spend hours, days, weeks, on-site to achieve the design outcome we desire; however, we can use some of the ideas and methods to enhance our design process from concept to ongoing maintenance.
In recent times, the spaces of the cities have become places of protest and places of attack. The fear is that these spaces will become fortified and lead to the reduction in public exchange and erosion of democratic use of spaces to protest. This leads us to the question of how do we design the streets and public spaces of cities to allow for the exchange of ideas (through protest) whilst protecting the safety of those involved in the exchange without fear of harm or attack.
To design spaces for social exchange we need to understand the community, discover their needs and wants, learn from past spaces and seek to create a tapestry of program over spaces that allow people to thrive and take ownership of the space. Using these principles will create a space that allows individuals and groups to exchange ideas whether it is in small groups or by protesting as a large group.
In a recent WLA reader survey, the most common answer to the question What is your biggest problem you face working as a landscape architect? was a lack a recognition of landscape architecture by the allied professionals and clients. What is the solution to our lack of recognition? How do we let people know what landscape architects do and the value that we bring?
Landscape architects are often conflicted as they seek to create better places often thinking of the profession as a vocation and therefore wish to be humble achievers in the background rather than our colleagues in other professions who seek the limelight, we often don’t promote our role and also not acknowledged by architects or clients as was recently highlighted by a New York Times feature piece about the Chicago Riverwalk which didn’t mention the role of the Sasaki – the landscape architect for the project. We need to as a profession need to lose the notion that we are in a vocation and that landscape architecture is a profession like so many others that in an ever-increasing world of noise needs to grow a stronger voice to promote our work beyond that of our own profession. (if you don’t have the 5 minutes to read this article skip to the In Summary at the end)
Simplify our Language
The first step is to change and improve our use of language, landscape architects are known to not write and also when we do we use a blanket of jargon to create a sense of knowledge and academia around our work which in turn often alienates those who wish to learn more. Listen or read any recent presentation and you will find that there are peppering of jargon including public realm, tactical urbanism, spatial awareness and many others phrases that create a barrier between the profession and those who we seek to engage and acknowledgement.
A great example of using simple everyday language is the Landscape Institute’s #ChooseLandscapecampaign which discusses places, outdoors, spaces, environment, nature allowing those viewing and reading the message to quickly and easily understand what landscape architects do and the range of careers that landscape architects can choose.
As landscape architects, we need to improve the way we explain our designs, often we are too engrossed in analysis and explaining our response to the site that we forget to create a story about the design and what we have created a space for people and other inhabitants. This could be that we were not educated in our university courses to create stories and narratives but more to justify our designs. We need to become better storytellers through written and visual media, whether it be a display board, presentation or video.
Over the past decade, we have seen landscape architects moving out of shadows and increasingly leading projects from residential developments, placemaking, urban design and climate change initiatives including Resilient by Design projects or reimagining a city precinct or leading a conservation and tourism plan. The profession of landscape architecture has increased in profile and also influence in designing cities and places.
The shift from being hired last to being hired first is great for the profession, however, we need to harness the energy of this shift to improve the profession and also increase our influence on shaping the built environment. There are numerous changes and movements occurring including smart cities, increasing urban density, water shortages, social inequality, climate change that we need to voice our opinions to ensure that the cities are changing for the better.
Sometimes, we get off track and you realise that where you are is not where you want to be. You had a dream, ideas, and a plan to get there, you visualise what you think the dream will be like and what you want. Once you reach that point where you thought was the point of happiness you realise it is not what you thought it was going to be, it is not living up to the expectation and the dream. Maybe it was the process of getting there or only part of the dream that you wanted. You have stray from the core idea that drove your dream. You chasing something that wasn’t what you were looking for.
With WLA and other parts of my life, I have realised that what I thought the dream that I wanted is in actual fact far away from where I ended up. I have strayed from the core of WLA and what it meant to me and landscape architecture. Two things triggered this realisation; one was a book review I did that was trying to not be too hard on a poor quality book, however, I should have called it out for what it was. I received some criticism for the book review being harsh and ignoring the books intent, but in fact, I was being kind in my review. I have since taken down the review from WLA. The review strayed from the idea I had of WLA. The second trigger was a video from Casey Neistat posted below. The video is currently how I feel about WLA and landscape architecture.
It is time to reassess what WLA is and the core principles of WLA and also what landscape architecture means in my life. Time for change for the better.
My landscape architecture blog – WLA has been a labour of love for 10 years and has luckily had supporters for about 6 out of the 10 years. It has always been hard to get financial supporters for WLA as it seems even now in the prosperous time’s people don’t see the value. WLA is not the only landscape architecture blog or writing that struggles to get funding. I am not complaining and understand the pressures of running businesses. However, it is troubling when the industry doesn’t back its own in promoting the industry, especially when every month I am paying out $$$ and not getting a salary or stipend for promoting the landscape architecture industry.
Many ask why don’t get more suppliers support WLA due to the high traffic on the website (50K visitors/month and 235,000 ranking in the world) and often my response is a mix of “suppliers don’t understand the value of blogs, digital media and are still into buying print and going to expos” or “they do their own blogs, social media and marketing so allocate the budget inhouse”. It is challenging and frustrating at times, usually at the end or the start of each year I think it is worth continuing for another year? What am I gaining? What are the benefits? Many think that WLA is some large team with a large budget when the truth is it is a one-man show using my own funds to keep it going. Many landscape blogs and sites have come and gone over the years, there are four (some old and some recent) that remain on different platforms (some with institute funding), 2018 will be interesting to see the changes.
I hope that 2018 is a good year and that I can get some more sponsors and partners. Currently, I have a few for this year and are thankful for their support.
I recently posted on WLA my blog predicting the future landscape architecture trends of 2018 and beyond. It is always an interesting blog to post as there are numerous topics to cover, but it sometimes it feels like I am doing a laundry list. I look to make the post an inspiration post whilst trying to balance out the doomsday side with more exciting tech and ideas. It is always interesting to see the reactions of people to the post – it either wows them or I get the “you don’t know what you’re talking about” comments. Either way, I enjoy writing and posting the predictions to promote discussion within the industry.