Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Landscape Design and Construction - How to Work with a Design Professional

Here is a guest post from Michael Radner, Landscape Architect:

There are many reasons to improve the landscape around us. Many studies have determined that shoppers spend more time and money in stores shaded by street trees. Property values of single family or multi-family homes are as much as 15% higher when they are set in well-designed, well-maintained landscapes. Test scores go up when school classrooms have visual access to trees and open space. The mental and physical health benefits of healing gardens in hospitals is well documented, and even crime is reduced in neighborhoods planted with trees.

Yet many home and business owners don’t know how to get started when the need or desire for landscape improvements hits. There are three basic options for those who don’t want a “do it yourself” job.

1. Hire a “Design/Build” company to take you from design through construction. This is an attractive option, as it gives the consumer or builder a one stop shop for services. These are primarily landscape construction companies that employ landscape designers or landscape architects on staff, or on a consulting basis. The company may charge a nominal fee, or nothing at all for design services if you contract with them through construction. In reality, one pays for the design through increased construction fees, so despite appearances you may not be saving money. The company’s motives are obviously to maximize profits and sell more landscaping, not necessarily to look out for the owner’s best interest. On the plus side, the owner can potentially save valuable time by hiring design and construction services at once, cutting out the time for bidding and hiring a General Contractor. A good Design/Build firm will also provide insight into the construction process early on, saving time, money, and aggravation later.

2. Hire a landscape designer for design services. Landscape Designers come in many shapes and colors. Many are quite talented, have years of design experience, a degree or certificate in landscape design, beautiful portfolios and many happy customers. I find that landscape designers are more comfortable with smaller residential projects versus larger luxury residences or commercial projects. Many other providers may not have the prerequisite training or experience to provide the proper services that will protect the health, safety and welfare of their clients, and the public. There are no state laws or statutes that govern the practice of landscape designers. Make sure you check their credentials and speak with former customers before hiring them.

3. Retain a Landscape Architect for design services. LA’s are registered professionals, exactly like Architects and Engineers. They have a duty under law to provide for the health, safety and welfare of their clients and the public. The vast majority of LA’s are degreed professionals, with Bachelor’s or Master’s Degrees in their field. They are also covered by professional liability insurance, commonly known as “errors and omissions” insurance. This is not always indicative of the quality of the design work, but does ensure a minimal degree of professional competency through the completion of licensure (which is achieved through several years of apprenticeship and a rigorous, multi-day written exam). LA’s are typically involved in larger residential sites, and commercial or civic projects such as multi-family developments, parks and recreation facilities, or retail sites. As such, they will be familiar with local and state environmental statutes that may impact construction, and can guide the client through any permitting processes. They also are used to working with allied professionals, such as Architects, Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineers. LA’s will usually have ASLA or RLA after their name, indicating membership in the American Society of Landscape Architects, or “Registered Landscape Architect”.

Of course, when hiring any design professional or contractor, check references, licensure and the State for any complaints.

Radner Design, Inc.
215 Boston Post Road, Sudbury, MA 01776
ph: 978.443.9679 fax: 978.443.4636
e: mradner@radnerdesign.com
web: www.radnerdesign.com


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