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Thoughts on Landscape Architecture

For this week’s Learn article we ask Secret Gardens of Sydney Director Matthew Cantwell about how to approach a potential landscape project, common issues faced by clients, and how the landscaping component of a renovation or build can interact with the architectural one.

1. What are the main points a client should consider when deciding whether/how to commission a landscape architect?

• Was the house designed by an architect and does the garden need a similar level of detail
• Are the works likely to require council approval
• Do I need a basic makeover or are there some fundamental flaws with the layout requiring a major restructuring of the job
• How long do I plan to stay and what is my budget

2. Is a landscape architecture project more effective when commissioned before or after an architectural project?

By and large , yes it is best considered at the same time. Depending on the size of the house renovation and build the council often requires a landscape plan to be submitted with the house plans. Designing at the same time ensures that the junction of house meeting the garden and the adjacent areas are more fluid. The garden design often influences elements of the house design as well. One of the major benefits is that there will also be economies of scale from a construction perspective if both scopes are considered at the same time.

3. How does being commissioned prior to or after a project’s completion affect the outcome of the landscape architecture?

Too often we see a house designed that does not take advantage of a potential asset, particularly a green outlook. An architect visualises a house from the inside looking out most of the time. A landscape architect will concentrate on experiencing the house from the outside. For the best result you have to consider the whole picture, otherwise opportunities will surely be missed.

4. In your opinion, why do clients wait until after a project’s completion to commission a landscape architect?

I think that sometimes it all gets a bit hard for the client and also the less experienced house architect. The better architects will ensure the clients engage a landscape architect early on. There is also going to be concerns re budget and the cost of installing the garden but at least look at the concept plan of your garden at the same time.

5. What are the differences between being commissioned by an architect as part of a project or directly by the client?

The architect often places greater emphasis on aesthetics, less on the practical requirements of the home owner. This is important to the client of course but they often focus on the practical elements first, aesthetics second. ‘’Where is my clothesline, bins, where will my children kick a ball, I need a dining table that will seat 10’’. Sure it has to look good, more importantly it has to work but an equal balance is the best outcome.

6. What are the main mistakes/misunderstandings that arise when designing a landscape? How do you think these could be avoided?

The design solution has to be practical and needs to be able to adapt to the home owners changing needs. A simple design that balances the structural requirements with the horticultural elements is the starting point. Ensuring that the nice outlooks or views are enhanced and that unsightly ones and overlooking from neighbours are addressed complete the picture. Ornamental pieces need to be subtle and tasteful, “Garden bling’’ will date and is an unnecessary expense. An understanding of the maintenance that a client is prepared to perform or pay for also needs to be established. If the right maintenance does not occur, the design will not be realised.

Matt Cantwell