Improving quality through independent reviews

Independent reviews (peer reviews) are important for projects as they provide an assessment and feedback from an expert who is impartial and not involved with the project to critically review and evaluate the content. The quality of a project can improve with successive reviews at various milestones (end of stages) to ensure that issues are identified and either eliminated, substituted or controlled and allowing for a better result.

Reviewers need to be impartial and provide critical feedback however, they also need to balance the project requirements to ensure that quality and function do not override design and innovation.

Over the last six years, I have acted as the independent reviewer for many projects in Australia and China. These reviews were either design reviews, technical reviews or both and were seen by teams as helpful in providing an independent expert review of the project design. As we often know that large or complex projects can allow for basic and simple elements to be missed or not communicated as the people undertaking the project become “too close” to the design and don’t see the issues and opportunities. This is why an independent reviewer is key in offering a critical eye but also often providing a different perspective or solution to a problem.

Reviews can take many forms they can be formal with written documentation providing extensive comments and markups of the documents. Or it can be an informal desktop review that allows the team to go through the documents and take notes during the course of the discussion. Both formats have their pros and cons including the time required, finding an expert who is available.

Overall, I encourage all design firms to develop a design process that involves an independent reviewer who can offer guidance, ideas and solutions that improves the design and technical quality of your project.

What would be the ideal final year design studio at university?

Over a the of years, I have seen and heard about final year design studios (design subjects) and have been inspired by the design thinking and ideas presented by students. I also remember back to when I completed my final year design studio at university and then what I experienced as a landscape architect in design firms. I feel that there is a way to improve university design studios to better integrate how practices design into a university landscape architecture program design studio.

I fully support the need for students to learn how to design and the various the theory of various design theories, constructs, paradigms and going through the challenging process of design, however, there is also a place for experiencing collaborative design with other disciplines as may occur in the landscape architecture profession. Therefore, the following is the framework for an ideal design studio from the perspective of a practitioner.

A final year design studio (one or two-semester design studio) would be a culmination of everything learnt during the course (landscape design, history, culture, construction technology)  and the application of that learning into one studio which involves students from other programs (Property, Finance, Ecology, Architecture, Engineering, Interiors, etc) that would allow those students to also test, trail and experience their learning in a fully integrate multi-discipline design studio. I am sure that there are some courses in the world that undertake similar inter-discipline design studios (architecture, urban design, construction, etc) however, I feel that these are the exception not the standard approach for landscape architecture programs.

The framework for the final design studio would be to try and replicate a design project as it occurs for each profession (including the trials and tribulations). The studio would involve several different teams who would have 2-3 members from each program and they would be mentored by professionals from each discipline who would attend at regular intervals to act as advisors.

Once a site is selected and a brief and budget are formulated to allow students to explore design, but it also constrains them to a budget, physical site, local regulations and expected outcomes. This may be limiting their imagination and skills, however, having constraints (including financial ones) can often drive innovation and ideas. The course leader, tutors and industry professionals would act as the client with predetermined scenarios to provide input as the client and stakeholders. The different design teams would include a landscape architect, architect, engineers and other program disciplines and would work as one team but similar to many projects they would still work within their own university departments. The mulit-discipline teams would undertake the design studio including site analysis, interviewing stakeholders, and would work in workshops at the concept, design development and final design phases.

This idea to replicate a “real world” project may be looked down upon by many as it is not a pure design studio or testing the student’s design capabilities in line with design schools ideals, but it will allow them to experience designing a project in a collaborative environment with other allied disciplines where it requires the learning of interpersonal skills and empathy for others professionals to create a successful fully resolved design. This type of design studio will also allow students to learn how to obtain advice from other disciplines and learn about their limitations as design professionals.

I hope that this outline generates some discussion in design schools, practices and the broader design community. Feel free to contact me via email me damian@worldlandscapearchitect.com to discuss the ideal final year design studio.

 

Service Procurement – finding the right people

As a landscape architect, one of the hardest things is to find great people to collaborate with. And we often have to look to procure services from other professionals including architects, engineers, horticulturalists, ecologists, irrigation designers, lighting designers, landscape contractors and many others. How we obtain these services is often based on past experience and word of mouth. Some landscape architects consistently use the same professionals because they know their work and enjoy working together. However, we often need to obtain new services due to unavailability, a new area of expertise, or you have a project in a new location. Often we seek the experience of others to find new people to provide a service but how can you reduce the risk of working with the wrong consultant?

Similar to when landscape architects are bidding for projects there are a set of criteria and it is best practice to do the same including:

  • Past experience – does the company have past experience in that area of expertise and location?
  • The right people – do they have the right people with the expertise you need? Also are those people available?
  • Willingness – are they willing to work with a new client? (i.e. you)  – some consultants have a large pipeline of work and aren’t seeking new clients.
  • Financially viable – do they have money/cashflow issues? (this is the hardest one to evaluate as most companies are private and don’t publically disclose financial information)
  • Qualifications and certifications – does the company have the right qualifications and certifications such as ISO9001 or ISO45001?
  • Insurances – do they have the right insurances and coverage?
  • Industry reputation – does the company have a good or bad reputation? Are there particular people in the company who are great to work with?

These are ways that you can minimise risk when looking for consultants to join your project team. It also comes down to relationships and working well together. If you can build a good relationship then it is a pleasure to work together and create projects as a team and you will also start to recommend each other to others. Word of mouth and networks are a great way to procure and win work.

Site Observations – a first person take on landscape architecture projects

I have had the idea for a while to write first-person experiences of visiting landscape architecture projects. The idea was to not critique but provide the reader with a narrative of walking through the site. My first “Site Observation” was on Grand Park in Los Angeles. I enjoyed writing it but it did not get the readership that I thought, so I am still working on the next one.

To read my first Site Observation  go to WLA

Site Observations is a new feature of WLA. Seeking to provide a first-hand experience of landscape architecture projects. These are not design critiques but seek to provide observations, impressions, perceptions of the site and experiencing the space. 

Grand Park is a large park situated in downtown Los Angeles……

What did I learn from the Elon Musk podcast?

Recently Elon Musk appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast which has generated a lot of mainstream media for what they drank and smoked, which is indicative of the direction mainstream media is heading ( headlines for clicks and views).

Elon Musk is an interesting person with an amazing intelligence and if you have ever met someone with this level of intelligence you try and absorb the ideas and discussion without prejudice.

What did I learn from Elon Musk during the podcast? That the current use of social media has created an almost cybergenic state that we live in as our mobile phones have become an extension of

I already knew of the issues with Artificial Intelligence and the problems associated with the “genie in the bottle” theory, i.e. that once it’s out there is no getting it back in. The main revelation for me was that Artificial Intelligence will remove the issue of bandwidth for human thinking and that it could assist us in developing technologies and at some point, we may start having AI attached to our neural network.

The other interesting points that he raised were that AI might not be all bad and that there is the other side that it could create solutions for many problems and eliminate many issues that we follow. Joe Rogan raised the issue that AI might wish to eliminate us (terminator style) as we humans would be seen as unnecessary due to our influence on the earth and damage we cause, but this soon turned into a discussion around how AI might not think about us and that similar to humans and the way that we rarely think about monkeys and we don’t go around trying to wipe them out as they could be seen by the human race as useless.

Also Elon confirmed my thoughts about flying cars and drones, in that they are too noisy due to the engines and even if there were some way of creating silent engines that the noise of air movement would still prohibit them from becoming a viable form of transport and that tunnels are more viable as they are a 3D and multilayered so you create many tunnels in the same direction and by using the technology of sleds and maglev combined with vacuum tubes (e.g. hyperloop) that you could travel at high speed.

These are only a few of the topics discussed during the podcast and I would encourage you to watch it at https://youtu.be/ycPr5-27vSI

 

Spaces for Social Exchange and Protest

In recent times, the spaces of the cities have become places of protest and places of attack. The fear is that these spaces will become fortified and lead to the reduction in public exchange and erosion of democratic use of spaces to protest. This leads us to the question of how do we design the streets and public spaces of cities to allow for the exchange of ideas (through protest) whilst protecting the safety of those involved in the exchange without fear of harm or attack.

To design spaces for social exchange we need to understand the community, discover their needs and wants, learn from past spaces and seek to create a tapestry of program over spaces that allow people to thrive and take ownership of the space. Using these principles will create a space that allows individuals and groups to exchange ideas whether it is in small groups or by protesting as a large group.

Read the full article at WLA

How can we better promote landscape architecture?

In a recent WLA reader survey, the most common answer to the question What is your biggest problem you face working as a landscape architect? was a lack a recognition of landscape architecture by the allied professionals and clients. What is the solution to our lack of recognition? How do we let people know what landscape architects do and the value that we bring?

Landscape architects are often conflicted as they seek to create better places often thinking of the profession as a vocation and therefore wish to be humble achievers in the background rather than our colleagues in other professions who seek the limelight, we often don’t promote our role and also not acknowledged by architects or clients as was recently highlighted by a New York Times feature piece about the Chicago Riverwalk  which didn’t mention the role of the Sasaki – the landscape architect for the project. We need to as a profession need to lose the notion that we are in a vocation and that landscape architecture is a profession like so many others that in an ever-increasing world of noise needs to grow a stronger voice to promote our work beyond that of our own profession. (if you don’t have the 5 minutes to read this article skip to the In Summary at the end)

Simplify our Language
The first step is to change and improve our use of language, landscape architects are known to not write and also when we do we use a blanket of jargon to create a sense of knowledge and academia around our work which in turn often alienates those who wish to learn more. Listen or read any recent presentation and you will find that there are peppering of jargon including public realm, tactical urbanism, spatial awareness and many others phrases that create a barrier between the profession and those who we seek to engage and acknowledgement.

A great example of using simple everyday language is the Landscape Institute’s #ChooseLandscapecampaign which discusses places, outdoors, spaces, environment, nature allowing those viewing and reading the message to quickly and easily understand what landscape architects do and the range of careers that landscape architects can choose.

Storytelling
As landscape architects, we need to improve the way we explain our designs, often we are too engrossed in analysis and explaining our response to the site that we forget to create a story about the design and what we have created a space for people and other inhabitants. This could be that we were not educated in our university courses to create stories and narratives but more to justify our designs. We need to become better storytellers through written and visual media, whether it be a display board, presentation or video.

Read the full article 

Should landscape architects have minimum fees?

This blog post caused some interesting discussion but less about the topic and more about the act of discussing minimum fees. Depending on the which country you are located and the legal frameworks and legislation around fees it is advised that you seek legal advice prior to undertaking any discussion public or private. My preferred alternative is for the profession to concentrate on promoting landscape architecture and the value you bring clients, the public.

Excerpt from the blog post

Providing a minimum fee scale may provide some comfort that we are “all playing on a level playing field” but it may only work for short period of time as eventually some landscape architects will charge less than the minimum due to a lack of work or working for smaller profit margins due to smaller firm size or outsourcing work. This would lead to landscape architecture or government organisations having to enforce the minimum fee regulations which in turn would create administration and costs that many organisations are not willing to bear. The alternative is for organisations and firms to work towards promoting the profession and the value it brings rather than policing the infighting over minimum fees. We all need to get more involved in providing more education and promotion to the public and clients about the value of landscape architecture and in turn, this will enable us to charge fees that are commiserable with the services we provide.

DISCLAIMER: This post 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.

Read the full article at my landscape architecture blog – World Landscape Architecture