Designing outdoor spaces for your high-end, multifamily or mixed-use development projects should be an exciting and collaborative process. But doing things the right way and not rushing through the process is crucial to make sure you’re getting what you truly want out of your investment, which doesn’t always feel attainable.
The design process outlined below describes how landscape architectural projects are structured in terms of the key stages that form important milestones. As you better understand this process, you’ll be able to take action to know you’re setting out on the right track.
The Landscape Architectural Design Process
The design process can be broken down into four phases: design brief, design development, construction, and project closeout. These phases are not a linear sequence but overlap and interact in many ways.
Phase #1: Design Brief
Although the design process is iterative, the first phase of a project is always to understand the your needs and goals as the developer. Your vision is clarified or refined in this phase as general expectations and desires are articulated. Asking the right questions at this point is imperative to success. That’s how the endless possibilities for your landscape are narrowed down to arrive at a design plan that is right for your development. This assessment will help the landscape architect find the keys to unlock the potential of your development and its outdoor areas.
Although this step is critical to starting out on the right course, it is often neglected by both the developer and the landscape architect. If both parties fail to set actual metrics to guide the process, the success of the landscape architectural design is difficult to measure. Without a meaningful conversation about the desired future state of your project, you shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t live up to expectations. This step is so imperative to the success of your project because it sets the stage for your vision to come to life. Thus, it has the opportunity to provide more value to you than any other phase.
Phase #2: Design
This phase is comprised of the following four steps:
During the pre-design stage, the landscape architect and developer map the project. They work to anticipate problems that may affect budgets and schedules during the course of the landscape project. It is necessary during this step to discuss cost and establish an informed investment range for the project. Pre-design explores the relationships between the development project and its surrounding environment to help determine optimum choices for the site and the users. This is the planning step, and as a result the priorities are:
- Researching the market
- Conducting site analysis and evaluation
- Performing feasibility studies with possible outcomes
- Defining and optimizing a vision
- Creating a realistic budget and timeline
2. Conceptual Design
The conceptual or schematic design stage builds upon the vision developed in pre-design. This is the step for thinking “outside the box,” for exploring innovative concepts and trends in outdoor amenities, and working toward the broad goals and objectives set out in pre-design. Often, several design options are explored and evaluated in this step. The purpose is to find the right design concept without getting lost in detail prematurely. This process is largely informed by the site analysis and budget setting, making conceptual design possible and more useful as those tasks are completed.
3. Design Development
The project is now taking real form as the landscape architect develops your chosen design direction and guides you through a series of decisions. This culminates with final design approval. The first part of this step is to take the overall look of the design to the next level of refinement. Next, the landscape architect delves into detailing—apportioning the layout and honing in on finish levels and material selections. With these decisions in place, the landscape architect coordinates this stage of the design in collaboration with all other design consultants.
4. Construction Documentation
Construction documentation is the final design step within the project delivery model. This stage focuses on finalizing a set of comprehensive drawings and specifications for landscape components. These components form the basis for the project’s building permit application and approval process. Construction documents establish in detail the requirements for the construction of your landscape elements. These include the quality of materials and building systems required for obtaining costs and providing instruction for the construction of the project.
Phase #3: Construction
In this phase, the main design plans are realized. Many factors must be considered to ensure the goals of the project are carried through to completion. Qualified contractors are chosen, communication procedures are set in place, and the expanded team works to transform the abstract into actuality. Pay special attention to the design intent in working through the inevitable construction-phase changes and adjustments.
During this phase, the landscape architect assists clients with the following:
- Bidding process
- Review of contractor material submittals
- Addenda, ASI, and RFI responses
- Site observation visits
- Supplemental information
- Confirmation of construction completion prior and during turnover of the project from the contractor to you, the client
Phase #4: Project Closeout
This is a key transition phase during which the design team must verify that responsibility for and knowledge of the project is properly transferred to new stewards: the owner, occupants, and operations staff. The landscape architect should assemble the whole product into one comprehensive book detailing the process and plans. This includes all relevant documents, drawings, renderings, specifications, and manuals. The manuals ought to be tailored to allow optimal maintenance for your final product. Make sure that all of this gets to the right hands, be it the new owner or the new manager of your property.
This is also an opportunity to recognize a job well done and review the metrics for success established during the initial design brief. Record the lessons learned and celebrate the physical manifestation of your hard work and careful planning.
Editor’s Note: Originally published December 4, 2017. Updated November 5, 2019 and February 23, 2021 to provide additional information.