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.
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.
Vision and Design
Often as landscape architects, we spend a great deal of time designing our vision for the landscape design. However, this can get lost when we go from sketches, illustrative plans and perspective renders to 2D or 3D construction documentation(plans, sections, details, specifications, schedules, BIM models etc). It is key during the briefing (kick-off meeting) that you clearly guide the contractor through the design and make sure they understand the key design elements and your vision. Of course, a good documentation set provides this information to contractors, however, going through the design together gives a contractor a sense of what you are trying to achieve and allows them to ask questions and clarify any points. You are also hoping that the contractor takes ownership of the ideas and realise that you are entrusting them with the vision.
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.
Provide clear channels of communication including the key representative from your team who will make decisions and provide advise. When the person isn’t available (on holiday or left the company) then you need to make sure that it is communicated to everyone who is responsible for making decisions to avoid design issues and delays. Be sure to make clear the role of each design team member(landscape architect, architect, engineer) role and who is responding to various types of queries.
The timeline is critical on all projects as it requires good project management (on both sides) to ensure that the project hits the key milestones and deadlines. Always go through the programme including hold points, notification periods(hours/days required prior to inspection) with the contractor to understand when they will need responses, approvals and site visits.
Lose the bias and cut the tension
Over time some landscape architects have a grown bias and adversarial attitude towards contractors. Expressing this attitude towards contractors can quickly cause issues and loss of respect from contractors. We are collaborators and we need to work together, this doesn’t mean that there is not going to have hearty discussions about the design, timeline and substitutions but there is a need for mutual respect, that will often cut the tension between contractor and landscape architect.
Give Thanks and Credit
When the project is complete and everyone is heading off to other projects it is always key to thank the contractors and build a good relationship as you don’t know when you will meet again and either party may recommend the other to possible future clients. Also remember to give credit to contractors, they are the ones who work through the hot and cold days, site problems and create the reality from our vision.
Maintain your relationship
It is both the landscape architect and contractors interest to maintain an ongoing relationship so that you can recommend them in the future and vice versa. Most of all you can learn from each other about the current market conditions and any new changes (regulations, products).
Overall, remember that designing and building landscape projects is a collaboration between many team members (landscape architects, contractors, architects, engineers, etc) and to continue to be successful requires respect, collegial spirit between all team members and remember we all love what we are doing and here to have fun while creating and building.
Article Written by Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of WLA.
He is also a registered Landscape Architect and has extensive experience as a landscape architect in Australia, Canada, and China.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational purposes only. The content is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest. It’s not intended to be comprehensive, nor to constitute advice. You should always obtain legal or other professional advice, appropriate to your own circumstances, before acting or relying on any of that content. This advice is general in nature.