In the course of practicing landscape architecture, we become quite familiar with the steps in the design process: site analysis, schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding, and construction administration/observation.
As a young landscape architect, I can remember finishing a set of construction documents, completing the bidding phase, and feeling a great sense of relief – I was done! After working on a project for a long period of time, it is tempting to want to get on to the next project – analyzing, coming up with fresh/new ideas, developing rough schematic sketches, collaborating, preparing illustratives – you know, the fun stuff.
Construction administration/observation can often feel like the forgotten piece of the process, but I strongly believe it is the most important part of the design process. This is where we get to see the implementation and fruition of our ideas that we invested so much time developing. As a designer, I have learned to embrace this final phase of design with the same enthusiasm as I do the earlier stages.
Sometimes the perception is that we put together a great set of construction documents, the bid has been awarded to the Contractor, and all the Contractor needs to know is right there in that great set of plans. No matter how hard we try as designers, a perfect set of plans doesn’t exist (but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for a perfect set!). Just like any form of communication, construction documents often require further direction and clarification. Unfortunately, the construction administration/observation budget is often the first to suffer when a project undergoes cost cutting. It is in the best interest of the client, landscape architect, and contractor to maintain this budget to ensure a successful outcome of the project.
Secondly, construction administration affords the opportunity for the Landscape Architect and Contractor to communicate through the use of Requests for Information (RFI), submittals, and construction memoranda. Submittals provide the designer the opportunity to check products, materials, shop drawings, etc. and verify they are according to the plans. The RFI process allows the Contractor to ask for more information, often clarifying a specific design element. This provides the opportunity to identify inconsistencies and resolve them before it is too late. At the end of the day, the Contractor wants to get it right, and we as designers sometimes do not always get it right, which brings me to my final point.
Construction observation allows the Landscape Architect to review the transformation of the design from two dimensional on paper to three dimensional in the real world. This phase allows us to analyze and assess the finished product and ask ourselves, did all the design elements; type of wall, stone selection, play equipment, pool coping, pavement pattern, site furnishings, plant palette, and colors specified work as anticipated?
Participation in construction observation allows a designer to learn and grow, leading to stronger, more innovative, and more functional designs for future projects.
I strongly encourage everyone to get out and visit your projects as often as possible. Not only is it rewarding to see your project become a reality, it ensures design intent is reflected in the final built work and makes us better designers along the way.