The Landscape Guide

DIY criticism

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Designers are often advised to view their plans upside down, back to front or from the far side of a room. This lets one see the design as an abstract composition. But the individuals who will make your design real, and then use it, are not abstract people. Please consider your work from other points of view. Put yourself into their frames of mind. Try to become a do-it-yourself (DIY) critic.

Financiers care deeply about the designed relationship between revenue and expenditure. They love the former and they hate the latter. You need to learn something of their language and their concerns. Initial capital cost should be related to annual cost-in-use and revenue. High capital expenditure is viewed as less unacceptable if it leads to high rental income and/or low maintenance costs. Income-generating facilities are more appreciated than general beautification projects. Self-contained phases make schemes more fundable, especially if the first phases are the most profitable and there is a possibility of never embarking upon the loss-making phases.

Contractors are practical folk. One day, they will arrive on site and start work. They will need a sequence for stripping topsoil, building haul routes and site roads, implementing temporary drainage works etc. They prefer to carry out earthworks in summer and planting in winter. Equipment must be secure at night, and workers must have a place to drink tea. All these operations become simpler and pleasanter if the designer has exercised forethought. Try and think how you would plan them if you were the project manager. Perhaps you will be.

Users are the people you should really care about. I recommend the Peter Youngman method of evaluating a scheme from the user's viewpoint. As a star critic at the University of Greenwich, his practice was to trace round a student's scheme with his right forefinger. How will I find the site? Where can I park my car? What will I see as I walk towards the lake? Is there provision for cyclists? Are the toilets visible from here? Will I see through, or over, this group of plants? Is it safe for children? Direct your finger along different paths and think about alternative scenarios for a visit: on your own; with a car; on horseback; in a wheelchair; with a pram; without good vision.

Maintenance teams will never forget you. Even if you have moved on to other jobs, their repeated curses, or incantations of praise, will get through to you in one way of another. How much hand-mowing, gang-mowing, hand-weeding, machine cultivation, hedge-cutting, chemical spraying, thinning, replanting and bedding-out have you set them to do? Are there convenient tractor routes around the site? Will they just ignore your fancy drawings?

Photographers will make or break your reputation. Try to compose some spectacular viewpoints, where they cannot help taking good photographs, which the best journals will yearn to publish.

Animals will always make up the largest group of site users. Please think about them, especially when writing specification clauses. How would you like to be sprayed with herbicides in late spring and early autumn?

Lawyers will hope to see you in court, one day. Please work hard to deny them this pleasure. Negligence suits are much easier to defend if you have not been negligent. Keeping good records helps, but did you take "all reasonable steps' to survey the site and check on the safety aspects of your proposals? If not, please redouble your professional indemnity insurance cover.

Whoever pays, the Local Community are your true clients for public projects. What should you be doing for the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the energetic and the disabled? What kinds of drawing do they need? Most probably, they prefer realistic models, cartoon plans and birds eye views to any of the traditional technical and presentational drawing types. See the webpage on community planning.



Maintenance man