The design process can best be described as a form of alchemy; ‘a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination’. How do you get your ideas? people often ask me. Well, it’s hard to explain but it is a process with a series of layers that build upon themselves and a certain magical quality that is a part of the experience. First we take the site with all of its inherent characteristics, both its wonderful opportunities and its more challenging constraints, then we add the client with all of their programmatic needs, aesthetic preferences and concerns, often there is an architect or other consultants involved as well. We talk and absorb the available information along with the place, the needs and the possibilities. Our intuition goes to work on the problem with its many component parts that have to come together to make something special. We let it brew. We taste it and consider, trusting in the process. Sometimes we have to stir and let it settle out, give it some time. All the while we are drawing, always drawing and thinking. Somehow, out of this process, a plan starts to take shape, relationships fall into place and an idea is born. Therein lies the mystery of design and therein lies the fun! This is what we do.
The archetype of the Architect is a celebrated role in our society, often glorified in movies and commonly misunderstood as a glamorous, ‘well to do’ individual. Less known is the Landscape Architect, but our profession is coming into the light in the 21st century and I am proud to claim this title as my own. Not only are we creating a landscape, we are working with structures and everything else on the land, nestling all of the parts into their place; organizing cars and roads and imagining how it will unfold, what you will see and experience. We develop a vision for a place, what it will feel like, how it works and what you will remember.
We evaluate each new project based upon a number of criteria to see if it will be a good fit for our firm. We are a purposefully small team and get to be selective in the commissions we accept; a project’s duration can last for a year or two and we want to ensure that we are the right people for the given task. Our exploration begins with a courtship period to test the waters and make sure all aspects align and feel right for both parties involved. A few of the factors we consider while entertaining the notion of any new commission are the following (these are the main ingredients in the alchemical process of design):
The owner is the one we are working for and an essential part of the equation. Without a client there would be no project. We are hired to help them bring their needs and desires into light in a way that is pleasing to them and the place that they love. We value our client relationships and appreciate the great people we have worked with over the years. Their trust in us allows the magic to happen.
The true potential of every great project starts with the site. There is nothing better than working on a nice property with wonderful characteristics and a strong sense of place. Our job is often to stay out of the way of the place and silently bring out its best features. At other times it’s more about creating a sense of place and performing site repair. No matter the case, the setting is a key source of inspiration for our work. Interestingly, a garden is developed for a place as much as it is for its people, but unlike other possessions, you can’t take it with you when you leave.
The building(s) is also of key importance, whether existing or new construction, how the structure sits in the land and supports the needs of its inhabitants is paramount to the success of the project. Challenged siting will inform the work we need to do to make it a better place. Much of what we do responds to the architecture present (or created) and extends the language out into the landscape, knitting the place into the landscape and beyond.
4. Program Elements
These are the pieces we get to create and fit onto the site, the wish list of the client. Swimming pools, bocce courts, outdoor kitchens and dining areas are but some of the outdoor uses we get to nestle into the gardens we create.
An adequate budget for the tasks at hand is important and can be a helpful guiding point as we begin design and move forward. Too much desire without the resources to bring them to fruition is no fun! While it is not always known what a project will cost upon its inception, the development of a sound budget is often necessary; a realistic approach to costs must be entertained or nothing will be realized.
A realistic schedule is also important on every project; good things can’t be rushed and a well-considered, thoughtful project with full client understanding takes time to develop. Most rush jobs lead to some sort of disappointment or missed opportunities when a more measured approach would garner greater results with less effort and strain. Design, permitting, costing, construction and their coordination takes time to be done effectively and leads to better end results on every front.
7. Commitment and Trust
Every project is a commitment, it is a journey, a process and no two projects are the same. Each one is different and they all require commitment on everyone’s part to be successful. Trust is also an essential element in a successful process and final outcome. Trust is built as we explore ideas in the preliminary stages of design and continues to build as we move through the development of the plans until they are finally realized in the field in built form. We are striving for excellence in our work and look for that same commitment from our clients.
All these factors and more are under consideration as we evaluate the feasibility of a project. We invest our time and energy, heart and soul in the process and want to ensure our efforts will garner great results in the end. We are about to embark upon a journey together and we are being hired to lead the way. With all of these elements in place, a great project can happen!