07.21.2022

Landscape Architects Put it All Together

A story in the June 2022 issue (vol. 112, no. 6) of Landscape Architecture Magazine titled “The Upside of Downstream” (pp. 78-95) by Jeff Link featured a West Virginia Parks and Recreation project on which E.L. Robinson Landscape Architect Todd Schoolcraft played a major coordinating role in collaboration with many other stakeholders.

That’s familiar territory for us. The work we do can be very complex. It often spans phases, disciplines, miles, and even years. One thing many of our projects have in common is that they involve many different stakeholders and contributors. The Landscape Architecture Magazine article articulated the importance of coordination, collaboration, and a long-term vision.

To preserve the physical artifacts of this history, Schoolcraft says, ‘Coordi­nation was key.’ As a former combat engineer for the National Guard, he was no stranger to big, hydra-headed projects. So when E.L. Robinson convened a team of geotechnical en­gineers, structural engineers, and civil engineers to develop a detailed design and FEMA-approved con­struction plans, he knew how to fit the pieces together. ‘We don't want to build something back that will just get washed out again next year.’ Schoolcraft says, ‘It could happen. But hopefully, we're making it a little bit more durable so that it won't’’

The Clendenin and Clay, West Virginia projects featured in the article were significant initiatives to remediate flood damage, restore key parks and recreation features, preserve historic elements, and leave the area in better shape than we found it. It involved numerous examples of collaboration with landscape architects in a coordinating role. Let’s take a look at what Schoolcraft referred to as “a hydra-headed project.”

The Role of the Landscape Architect

Landscape architects at ELR work closely with our engineers to provide creative design, planning, and development of municipal, private, and commercial site development. Areas of focus include parks and recreation design, community and public facilities, urban planning, and streetscape design, just to name a few.

We design and develop the spaces that surround and enhance other structures like buildings, bridges, and railroad tracks; natural terrains like streams, hills or mountains, and trees; and features like sidewalks, soft scapes, and parking.

With an eye on form and function, the big picture and details, landscape architects envision what the space will become, collaborate with other specialists to determine what has to happen for the design to work, and blend as well as possible with nature while minimizing the impact on the land.

We often start with hand-drawn renderings to help others visualize the end-game, and it becomes a powerful tool throughout the process. Landscape architects also prepare the technical drawings, and coordinate land surveying, base mapping, core soil boring, grading, drainage, retaining walls, and other site-specific evaluation and design.

Hydra-Headed Projects

Referencing early Greek mythology’s giant multi-headed snakelike sea monster that grew two heads back if one was cut off, a hydra-headed project is “a difficult or multifarious situation” according to britannica.com. So what are those heads in a massive project like the one in Clendenin and Clay, and how do we tame that monster to optimize the outcomes?

Government and Economic Development Entities

Virtually all of our projects involve various levels of collaboration and compliance with one or more government entities across federal, state, county, and municipal levels. The secret to working well with government agencies is to know what to expect and what is expected. The biggest challenge and opportunity is to align interests from the outset.

In the Clendenin and Clay example, we got involved following a devastating flood in this river valley town built on a floodplain. A recently completed “Rails with Trails” project was essentially washed away, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funded the remediation and rebuilding effort.

There were several government agencies in this example. The owner of the project was the Clay County Business Development Authority in Clay County, WV. The Town of Clendenin, in partnership with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR), hired us to prepare a topographi­cal survey, geotechnical evaluation, and construction plans for a pro­posed boat launch that promised to make better use of the space in a way that could accommodate future flooding.

In this case, the State Historic Preservation Office was a key player as well, because the site included the country’s last functioning steam engine railroad. Finally, we worked closely with West Virginia Local Flood Plain Managers to ensure that no part of the project jeopardized this or other communities in the future using pre-post run-off analysis.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Local utilities and infrastructure are very often involved in projects like this one. That can mean electric, gas, water, sewer, and railways as in this instance. Collaboration is necessary to ensure that new problems are not created in the pursuit of resolving project-specific issues.

Professional Ecosystem

There are so many layers in the professional ecosystem surrounding complex projects like those encountered in Clay and Clendenin. In more urban projects, we often work with “vertical” architects on greenspaces around buildings, sidewalks, and parking.

In parks and recreation projects similar to this project, we spend our time collaborating with contractors like Clay County general contractor Chesapeake Thermite Welding, subcontractors like Lycoming Supply Inc., related engineers like Stone Consulting, Inc., and other professionals from within E.L. Robinson like geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, construction services, emergency management, stormwater management, and environmental planners.

Landscape Architects Collaborate with an Eye on the Future

All of our planning, collaboration, and communication is done not just for the near-term, but also for the long term. We consider everything from the growth of trees and shrubs to potential erosion and future floods or other natural disasters. We design to leave things better than we found them over the long run.

Todd Schoolcraft summed it up in the Landscape Architecture Magazine article on the Clay and Clendenin project. He said, “The goal is to build back bridges, railroad tracks, culverts, and bike trails as closely as possible to pre-flood conditions, but fortify slopes against future erosion by reestablishing vegetation and upsizing culvert pipes to manage runoff from heavy storms.

Looking for your next great collaboration partner on a landscape architecture project or something even bigger? Contact us to discuss your project.