A long-planned guide on construction documents for landscape architects is aimed at experienced and emerging professionals alike.
By Zach Mortice
This week, ASLA’s Professional Practice Committee has released The Landscape Architect’s Guidelines for Construction Contract Administration Services, which offers practitioners guidance to ensure that landscape projects are constructed in accordance with their contract documents. The guide is especially aimed at younger practitioners and emerging professionals starting their own firms, who may have less experience executing built work. “We decided that what we really needed was something that provided someone who is opening a business a basic understanding of where the risks and liabilities, as well as the responsibilities, lay,” says (William) Dwayne Adams Jr., FASLA, an Arizona-based landscape architect, and the editor of the guide.
The guide is arranged chronologically through the life of a project, and it presents the construction process from the perspective of not just landscape architects, but also the client and the contractor. Adams says that construction contract administration responsibilities often get delegated down to younger practitioners without much experience, and because of this, it’s necessary to provide greater context on what project partners are working through. “So what you have is a very parochial view of the world, that the landscape architect is pre-eminent in all the matters of site construction,” he says. But in reality, “you’re a team member, and you need to know what the other members of your team do.”
The guide, which is the result of input from many landscape architects, is a product of ASLA’s Professional Practice Business Owners Support Subcommittee, and has been in the works for 14 years.
By focusing on the goals and concerns of the client and contractor, the editors hope the guide will widen designers’ perspective and make them better team members. Katie Riddle, ASLA, is the director of Professional Practice, and says it was important to show how other team members work “because the role of the landscape architect can vary from project to project.” For example, designers could be creating a bid document, or instead might be attending a prebid meeting so they can submit a proposal. In these different scenarios, their relationship to the client and contractor will change considerably, and knowledge of other team members’ process is vital.
This perspective also makes designers more aware of the pressures on their project partners. Contractors, for example, deal with slim profit margins, tight timelines, and dramatic labor fluctuations, and understanding how this affects landscape projects can help keep the team productive. “It’s oftentimes considered an adversarial relationship,” Adams says, “and sometimes that’s what it turns into. But that’s a bad place to begin.”
The guide focuses on enabling efficient communication by highlighting critical parts of the process when team members should meet and what should be on their agendas. “Designers are not invited to the project site or to the construction meetings as often as they should be, specifically subconsultants,” Riddle says. Also specific to the discipline of landscape architecture, concluding sections of the guide touch on how to set up clients to maintain landscapes after their construction.
Limiting liability is a central aim of the guide, and it delineates which types of communication are usually legally binding (written, not oral). It also cautions designers to not get directly involved with contractors’ “means and methods” of construction, as the guide (reviewed by legal counsel retained by ASLA) is meant to ensure that completed work is consistent with the project’s contract documents, not the management of the entire construction process.
Brad Hilliker, ASLA, a San Diego landscape architect and contributor to the guide, has seen the document evolve from its beginnings in 2006, when he was chair of the Professional Practice Committee, and he expects it to continue to change. The role of technology, he says, will alter how project teams work together to build landscapes, especially when construction managers and others are able to delve into the drawings, specifications, and 3-D models of a project on site with a tablet. “This is a snapshot reference of where we’re at right now,” Hilliker says. “It’s always going to be a work in progress. There are always more things that are learned or that change through the years that happen in the construction of a landscape.”