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Landscape architecture should come sooner, not later in design

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Michael Biafore Michael Biafore

Michael Biafore, PLA, ASLA is a licensed professional landscape architect in West Virginia and Maryland. He is president of Biafore Landscape Development, a landscape architecture design build firm, and currently serves as chairman of the West Virginia State Board of Landscape Architects.

The practice of landscape architecture is perceived by many as the last step in making the exterior of a building look attractive. Typically, clients and owners will wait until the completion of a building or residence to call in a landscape architect to consult on planting ideas, patios, lighting and possibly swimming pools. 

Landscape architects are used more often in commercial or institutional landscape design and site planning. Here they can act as the lead or join with the owner, architect and engineer as part of a comprehensive team. This team of professionals explores and develops the best functional and aesthetic solutions for a site or land development project.

At the residential level, however, landscape architecture is often relegated to the last step in not only the design phase of a home, but also the construction process. Many benefits can be realized in the planning and construction of a home by hiring a landscape architect to work on site design, sometimes even prior to the selection of an architect and/or a home builder. 

A landscape architect can assist in selecting the best site for a home design already selected by the client. He or she also may help in selecting the best fitting home design for a site the client has already obtained. Once the site and house plans are selected, the landscape architect can then advise on the many and varied aspects of residential landscape planning. The landscape architect will determine the best orientation of the home on the site to take advantage of the solar path, wind direction and microclimate. The consideration of orientation can help to save money on utility costs and weather damage to a home over the course of time. 

The next step in the residential design process is to consider the elevation of the home in relation to its immediate and offsite site factors. By setting the house at the proper elevation and in the correct position, the home can be constructed in a manner that avoids drainage patterns and potential flooding situations. If there is a threat, future drainage issues can be avoided through attentive site design. 

The next design element to consider is circulation, both pedestrian and vehicular. This is the study of the way people or vehicles move about and through a site. By taking into account daily and guest parking, service vehicle patterns and pedestrian approaches to the home and throughout the lot, a designer can plan for the most fluid and convenient ways to progress through the site. Definition of these circulation items, such as walkways (both primary and secondary), driveways and parking areas will influence the rest of the site design. 

After the previous elements are decided upon, a landscape architect will start to look at the more desirable amenities of a site design, such as entertainment areas, swimming pools, outdoor kitchens, privacy screens, planting plans, overhead structures and even outdoor theaters and sound systems. These more "sexy" elements of a residential landscape design can, and should, reflect the tastes, styles and desires of the clients. A complete "outdoor experience" can be created based on the individual characteristics of the site. Care should be taken that the client's personality and needs are incorporated into the design. The worst thing a design professional can do is to impose his or her own style and taste on a client's property. The homeowner's needs, wants, desires and intended uses must be investigated, nurtured and explored so that they are provided with a lifetime of enjoyment from their home and landscape. 

It is also critical for landscape architects to use their knowledge of design principals and elements such as unity, balance, scale, contrast, form, texture and shape, to name a few, to create a cohesive and pleasant landscape design. Landscape architects do not follow the adage "form follows function." They believe that with the right perspective, research and utilization of the design process that form and function go hand in hand.

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was quoted as saying "No house should ever be built on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other." A landscape architect will help marry the home to the site and make both environments one.

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