Industry disruption - distance landscape design

Industry disruption - distance landscape design

In the early 1990s landscape architects still used drafting boards, Rotring pens and razor blades. 
I worked for Bovis Homes in the UK as a landscape architect. My colleagues and I did surprisingly well, even winning regional awards or two for our efforts designing residential housing developments, display homes and university grounds. Led by our visionary leader ‘Andrew’ we did, however, have a different approach to design than many landscape architect firms. We rarely, if ever, visited site. Our designs were often based solely on information received from engineers, surveyors and architects.

Today with the use of modern technology it is relatively easy to design at a distance. This is certainly true for smaller projects, building a new home, small developments, or home renovation.

A planting plan in Rippon Lea, Melbourne designed remotely from Spotswood, Melbourne.

Designers can, through the use of Google maps, digital photography, email, telephone and Skype discussion, design a landscape just as easily and well as if we had visited the site.
To those that would throw up their arms in disbelief, I admit that site visits are often preferable. But just remember that the famous UK designer David Stevens, author of numerous books, has been 'postal designing' for many many years with great success.
The incredible advances in technology are very rapidly meaning that visiting site is not as necessary as one might think. This is especially good news for building designers, developers and home owners in remote locations.

A project in Adelaide designed from Melbourne.

Pros and Cons
The most obvious benefits of designing from a distance are:

  • the reduction in time spent travelling to and from site (less ‘waffle-time’ in meetings and less ‘hassle time’ in traffic.)
  • the flexibility with on-line meetings via Skype and communication via email. The client has a very flexible way of communicating with the designer unconstrained by physical location. 

The most obvious cons are:

  • Not visiting site or the local area
  • Not meeting client in person

3D animations and imagery as part of a distance design project.

The vast amount of information required to develop a landscape plan is available equally to both in-person and distance designers. Information pertaining to the site layout, soil analysis, weather, local plant types, materials and contractors is all available in digital format, online or as digital files.

The distance designer (and consequently the client) actually misses out on very little. 
He or she still uses CAD software, email, dropbox and google drive etc for communication and handling files. The design process remains the same. Consultation, concept, detail, etc. are still required. But now the way those concepts and details are discussed and communicated has changed.

For the forward thinking, tech savvy home owner or developer, in a busy world, distance design works.