The design process is linear in nature but highly iterative, feeding back on and informing itself with every decision we make along the way. Each step of the design evolution builds upon the last and is analyzed against the big picture goals to ensure a cohesive, well considered end result is achieved. Remove an elemental piece and the whole has to be revisited; everything is in relationship to something and hinges upon the whole. The following steps represent the typical stages of design. These may take months or years to complete as design is not done until the project is complete.
Pre-Design is the getting to know you phase that includes analysis of the property in question, the establishment of program elements and project goals, understanding your aesthetic preferences (likes, dislikes and desires) as well as how you intend to use the place upon completion. We embody this information and continue to refer to these basic building blocks as guides when we begin Schematic Design.
Schematic Design (SD)
During this phase, alchemy occurs. This is the most exciting part of any project as we move further into defining and solving the puzzle. Relationships between the program elements are considered, how will the pieces will fit together and be located on the site? This phase takes into account the architecture present on site as well as the opportunities (views, light, shade & topography) and constraints of the place (wind, heat, bad views, etc.). As program elements start to find their natural place in the land, proportions are considered in relationship to the scale of the landscape and the architecture so all is in keeping with itself.
Alternatives are often developed in SD (there are many ways to solve any problem) and at times only a single solution may be proposed. Schematic Design is still a getting to know you phase and what is proposed is not set in stone, but a way of feeling the place out and what might work for you. It’s only ink on paper! Ideas are being explored and trust is being developed. More ideas can always be found. Formal plans are prepared and presented for consideration; feedback is obtained, discussed and incorporated into the design as we move into the Design Development phase.
Design Development (DD)
During this phase, an agreed upon layout is further refined and relationships are strengthened between the parts. We begin to consider materials and how these important players will build the language of the project and reinforce the spaces created. The mood of surfaces, walls, stairs and other built elements are strongly considered and how they come together is defined in DD. Structural plants that may be employed to create space, shade or block undesirable views are also examined. Sample palettes are presented for owner approvals and the story builds.
In our work, the parts all have to relate to each other, the home and the land; again reinforcing the feeling we are teasing out of the place we are creating. Budgets are often considered during this phase as the picture starts to take shape and preliminary costing exercises are often performed. With a sound understanding of the characteristics of the design developed, we move into construction documentation.
Construction Documents (CDs)
A further in depth study is performed now that a refined plan is in hand and development of a set of detailed plans for bidding and construction happens during this more technical phase. Civil, Soils and Structural Engineers may be employed and documents for permitting are developed (if required). Grading and Drainage plans, footings and other construction details are developed to describe the project and its component parts so it can be better understood for pricing and eventually being built. While this phase is typically more left brained, an eye for how the details play into the over gestalt of the project is always open. Plans are reviewed with clients and with approvals, an approach for manifestation is determined.
With our detailed set of approved documents in hand, bids can be obtained, analyzed and compared for selection of the contractor(s) to do the work. Value engineering is often trigged during this phase if costs are to be cut or phasing options might be considered to make the total more palatable over time. Ideally a contractor is selected and the plans are refined as necessary and re-priced until we are ready to begin construction.
Construction Administration (CA)
Construction Administration (CA) is the overseeing of the manifestation of the plans, working with the selected contractor to ensure the plans are built per specifications and you the client are getting what you agreed to and are paying for. Our involvement during this phase is paramount to the success of any project. This is where the rubber hits the pavement. Up until now all has been on paper, things get real when the contractors stage for construction. Like all good journeys, plans are a road map that get us out the door and started on our travels. Construction is the actual trip, this is when it all comes alive and sometimes things come up or present themselves differently than anticipated.
Variables are different on every project, some easier to foresee and control for than others and Client tolerances for change also vary. Our goal in developing a set of plans is to be as prescriptive as possible in the beginning, to consider all of the options and make as many decisions as possible prior to the commencement of construction. What is not resolved in plan will have to be addressed in the field. We are planners after all and this definitive approach to design can avoid ‘fires in the field’. During CA, we always prioritize for jobs under construction when issues arise. After all, with a crew in the field, time is of the essence.
Our involvement during this phase is critical to the successful manifestation and final refinement of the design. Many of our greatest projects have unexpected additions that came as a result of our leadership during the construction of the developed plan set. We do our best to avoid surprises, but unforeseen obstacles may arise and opportunities may present themselves that lead to new possibilities. Our plans are a working set of documents with a flexible set of intentions that can adjust as needed along the way, with our involvement, to ensure the greatest possible outcome is achieved.
Keeping the parts in alignment throughout the project utilizes another part of our skill set and its importance cannot be overstated; we not only design but manage expectations and assist in manifesting the developed vision. One of our goals is to keep the process transparent and make sure there is full understanding for all parties during the process. We aim to minimize unexpected changes and trust that everyone involved will rise to the occasion when challenges present themselves.
Post Occupancy Evaluation and ongoing garden consultation
Once a contract is completed and the project is ‘done’ it is your time to live in and enjoy the place we have created. We often return to see how things are going, how the spaces are working, what gets used and what doesn’t. This feedback is important for our growing body of knowledge and the information aides us in future projects. As we are practical in nature we want to understand what is essential to the success of a project and what is not needed.
Not everything works right off the bat either, some of which the contractor can handle and other times we offer alternative solutions and adjustments if required, particularly within the realm of planting. In the end we are often judged by the planting and this aspect of a garden is the hardest to get right the first time around and the easiest part to work with and update. With a discerning eye for detail, our continued consultation service protects your investment and ensures the proper development and fullest possible expression of your garden.
No project is ever finished, its construction may be completed, but it is a living entity that will change over time and needs to be maintained and guided as it grows and evolves. There is no such thing as a low or no maintenance landscape, landscapes require a certain input of energy if they are to stay fresh and alive and give back to its inhabitants. Many people find enjoyment and a sense of purpose and refreshment when involved with the upkeep of their gardens, many do not. Either way, regular, skillful maintenance ensures long term results and optimal enjoyment of your landscape. This is not a service we provide but one that we can help oversee with periodic visits to ensure the maintenance is taking place properly with our intended results.
In the end, each project is a unique combination of parts and a series of decisions that bring us to the final product. The iterative aspect of our design process has an integral feedback loop within to ensure that you, the client, understand what is happening at all stages of the design and construction of your project and that your needs and desires are being met. Everyone is different and each process is unique. We adjust as we get to know you, trusting our instincts, bringing in the collaborators we believe will fit, saying ‘yes’ when it’s appropriate and resisting when necessary to ensure overall goals are met. We are the keepers of the vision we have developed with you and have the experience and ability to bring it to fruition. While overall design is a demanding process with many steps along the way, it can be an enjoyable experience and leads to the fabulous outdoor living environments we create. Each project is a time consumptive journey requiring attentiveness and awareness at all times. Our goal in the end is a wonderful garden with happy clients enjoying a noteworthy creation that gives for years to come.