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Landscape Architecture Process

Following, is a chronological process outline detailing steps often encountered on larger projects in regulated areas. The word program is used frequently and refers to architectural spaces and their intended uses; a program, however, is only part of a larger puzzle with additional pieces, like environmental and zoning constraints, that must be solved. While uniquely qualified to choreograph the process outlined below, landscape architects do not manage or supervise work by other individuals or entities. Not all projects require all steps but some steps, like design consultation and topographic surveyare required for all projects. 


Design Consultation: Once a lead is qualified, a cursory investigation is conducted to identify information that may impact the project. An in - person consultation is then scheduled at the owner's home or project location. It is critical, at this time, for the owner to provide a full accounting of all program elements up front so the landscape architect can tailor on - site observations and document existing conditions in accordance with the interests of the project. All subsequent fees and work are predicated on the owner's originally stipulated program, whereas changes made after the fact are more costly and time consuming to execute.


Topographic Survey: Surveys reveal critical information that may otherwise be hidden or unknown such as zoning conditions, physical site characteristics, and other concerns. In some cases, surveys may require coordination with other consultants like a soil scientist to map wetlands. Surveys afford a comprehensive view of existing conditions across multiple interests simultaneously, and are specific to the project for which they are created. Although more expensive up front, surveys reduce overall project expenses by eliminating the need for costly site visits and drawing revisions due to missing or incomplete information.


Drawing Phases: Local zoning and building code is researched to ascertain any relevance and potential impact on the project. This information is added to the survey to form a base sheet over which a preliminary concept plan is drafted. The plan is informed by the client’s program, zoning research, information revealed by the survey, and the landscape architect’s knowledge and expertise; it always reflects the best approach, value engineered across all concerns, for the project. The plan is presented for at least one review and revision cycle so that the client has an opportunity to provide feedback prior to completion.


Civil Engineering: Houses, driveways, swimming pools, and patios are examples of impervious surfaces that do not allow for the infiltration of rainwater into the natural surfaces they have replaced; instead, stormwater runoff into adjacent areas is increased, thereby causing erosion, sedimentation, downstream flooding, and property damage. Climate change, including an increase in the frequency and duration of severe weather events, has exacerbated the issue to where many towns now have thresholds, in terms of proposed impervious surface areas, that trigger the requirement for engineered stormwater management systems. 


Proposed Survey: Prior to the issuance of regulatory agency approvals and building permits, some jurisdictions require that proposed features be added to the topographic survey to create a proposed survey. These may include architectural designs, engineered drainage and septic systems, and a zoning chart showing that the project is in compliance with all requirements. In essence, the proposed survey packages work from requisite consultants into a single document that functions as a basis of comparison for the as - built survey that will be conducted once the project reaches the point of substantial completion.


Town Meetings: Regulatory agencies have been established in order to ensure that proposed work is compliant with town code as applied to special concerns such as wetlands, coastal areas, and steep slopes. Some projects may be governed by one or more agencies, each of which involves research into the regulations governed therein, project drawings illustrating conformance with the regulations, and presentations at meetings and public hearings; the process may involve multiple meetings that inform amendments to previously submitted drawings in order to address an agency’s concerns or conditions for approval. 


Construction: The heavy lifting required by a landscape architect for most projects is complete once regulatory agency hurdles have been cleared. The baton is then passed to the owner’s contractor who is responsible for obtaining building permits and managing the construction process. While a project is under construction, landscape architects may provide contract administration services including meetings and site visits, hand selecting materials, and assisting with layout in the field. Landscape architects may also function as impartial mediators in the event of owner / contractor disputes.


As Built Survey: In some jurisdictions, underground components of drainage systems must be surveyed prior to backfilling in order to verify proper installation, thus setting the stage for certifications that may later be required by the civil engineer. Once a project has reached the point of substantial completion, the surveyor returns a final time to complete an as - built survey that will be filed with the town. The as - built survey features all recently completed features and will be compared to the proposed survey in order to ensure that all work was completed in accordance with town approved drawings and regulatory agency conditions.


Project Closeout: A final walkthrough is scheduled to ensure that work has been completed. Certification letters are provided by project consultants to verify that code - informed installations, like drainage systems, have been properly installed. Final inspections are scheduled with relevant agencies, and paperwork is submitted by either the owner or their agent to obtain the certificate of occupancy, or CO. The CO is important because without it, an owner will not be able to sell their house. It is a legal document certifying that all work has been successfully executed and is safe for current and future owners, as well as visitors to the property.

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