Enhancing Landscape Design Skills: Portland Stitch Competition

Landscape Architecture is a broad discipline requiring a vast professional skill set to be successful. You must be able to analyze and respond to everything from knowing how people walk, bike, and drive around to what views will exist 20 years from now when trees mature. You need to be able to predict what people will use a space for while simultaneously appreciating the aesthetic that will appeal to the end user. You must be able to understand landscape design from the scale of regional neighborhoods and adjacent cities down to construction techniques of a seat wall and know how changes in the details will relate to the whole. It is to say the least a complicated profession.

It is not uncommon for some of these skills to go unused in day to day activities in a busy Landscape Architecture firm. Not due to anything intentional, but more to the speed at which work moves through the office and the various people that have a hand in it. One person does the planning, another does the design, and yet another handles the details of implementation. At K&W this is no different. It speaks to the success of the company and the client relationships we have built.

One way for us as practicing designers to keep our senses sharpened is to participate in design competitions. So we come to the Portland Stitch competition. It was a small charette to design a concept for a small park capping a sunken highway with the intent to reconnect long disassociated neighborhoods.  It was an exercise that seemed to have a simple outcome, design a park, see if you win the competition. But in truth it had a much broader more important purpose and result. It made us realize how much we don’t necessarily know the skills and talents of the people we work with. While we see them every day, team style hierarchy can keep us from really knowing the person at the next desk.

So we met once a week, first bringing together our research to understand the history and culture of a neighborhood and city unfamiliar to us, then to share various concept designs, and finally to flush out our ideas into a presentable project. We remembered those lessons from school about site analysis and design themes that we’d tucked away and we reactivated our collaborative brains. The end result is a team of designers that remembers the importance of making sure the details we pour over fit the design intent of the spaces we work in and a greater appreciation of the people we work with everyday.

The process wasn’t simple. Of course if the solution were an obvious one, anyone could be a landscape architect. The competition was open ended with very little direction. We were given a site size (200’ x 200’), told the general motivation for this particular park space, and given the rules for the final product (6 – 11”x17” sheets max). The vagueness of this set of directions meant we on the team spent much of our time discussing how much feasibility should be a part of our design. Can this be built? How much would this cost? How conceptual should our final product be? We decided to find a middle ground between feasibility and completely conceptual design.

The main feature of the design…”the creek bed”, started as a glass floor that you could stand on and see the highway traffic moving under the park. This would capture movement and connect the history, reality and future of the space. As we discussed feasibility, it was decided to pull that back slightly to an under-lit glass tile that would allude to the history but be much more build-able  in another example, during the research phase of the project, we learned that the neighborhood had a history of being home to Chinese immigrants that would often have vegetable gardens for growing vegetables they had brought with them. This was a concept we followed for a while looking at Chinese vegetables as landscape plants and designs that paid homage to a patchwork of garden plots. But as this was developed, it felt too specific to meet the needs of the current neighborhood and the need to reconnect to downtown.

Of course as we look at the project in its entirety, we do what all good designers do and see things we could do better. These projects highlight areas in our personal and group skill sets to continue developing. That, of course, is the entire purpose of this type of work. We are striving to connect with colleagues, develop under-utilized skills and to grow professionally.  Portland Stitch served for us as a first step in doing just that.

Edgar, Michael, Peter, Aaron and Danielle

Competition Team: Edgar, Michael, Peter, Aaron and Danielle

A little about the Author of this post – Peter Caldwell

Having shared in the joys of marriage and fatherhood, Peter now wades through the vast layers of knowledge attributable to a career in the most misunderstood of professions. Somewhere between a lawn mower and a master planner of the universe, he now sews the seeds of future landscapes and community in which he designs for… 

Humor aside, joining Kudela & Weinheimer Landscape Architects in March 2014, Peter came to us from Purdue University in Indiana. Peter recently completed his Master of Ecological Sciences & Engineering, which compliments his BSLA (Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture), both from Purdue University. Peter has an entrepreneurial spirit having had his own real estate appraisal company, co-founding “World Help Solutions” (currently based in Kansas City), and starting a dog grooming salon with his wife Andrea.  Father of two sons Noah (14) & Ian (6), the three of them are Lego fanatics and love building & launching model rockets. Peter is a lifelong student and loves observing people around the world to learn what is common and celebrate what is different.  He is settling into his new home and life here in Texas and spends his weekends with the family exploring dog parks (for their 4 dogs) and visiting local restaurants, parks and activities.

 

Must-Have Amenities for Multifamily

Four Must-Have Amenities – Multifamily Bisnow.

Bisnow released an email newsletter (see it at the link above) about the “Four Must-Have Amenities” for multifamily tenants. Not surprisingly, they include dog parks and pools. Kudela & Weinheimer has long known the power of amenities that bring the “WOW factor” and entice renters of multifamily developments. The better the amenities the more premium price you can get for the units as well.

#1 WiFi & #2 Fitness Centers:  It’s obvious K&W doesn’t have anything to do with the WiFi or the fitness centers inside of buildings, however we do design spaces for fitness in the outdoors. Those amenities could include sand volleyball, basketball courts, tennis courts, lap pools, outdoor workout areas, and hike/bike running trails; but really the options are endless. So far we have only had a few requests for these types of outdoor amenities but we do get a lot of requests for more passive entertainment amenities such as putting greens, bocce ball, and movie theaters.

#3 Dog Parks:  “About 60% of residents have pets (with most being dogs), and most have at least two dogs and consider them family” says Christina Natal.Dog parks are a highly demanded amenity for multifamily developments right now. With the increase in high density urban apartment homes, dog parks are being placed in very clever places such as garage rooftops, easements, and flood plain areas. Occasionally multifamily developers will even purchase an adjacent partial of land or devote a section of their current land to design and develop a public dog park which offers improvement amenities not only to residents but also to the community, doing this can sometimes lessen community push-back and complaints on the development itself.

#4 Swimming Pools:  Probably one of the biggest selling features of a multifamily development is it’s pool (even if it goes unsaid). Regardless of whether the tenants use it or not, it’s sort of assumed that when renting an apartment that you get a nice pool, especially when renting a “Luxury Apartment Home”. Nine times out of 10, the pool is visible from the leasing office; that is not an accident! First impressions can make or break a deal whether it’s at an apartment, office building, institution or other! Hint, hint, LANDSCAPE IS IMPORTANT.

When multifamily communities are competing for renters the amenities become one of their most important assets, especially amenities that make a first impression. Admit it, no one wants to invite their friends over to a dumpy looking place.

 Kudela & Weinheimer (K&W) is a professional services landscape architecture firm located in Houston and San Antonio. Founded in 1991 by Thad Kudela and Darin Weinheimer, K&W has grown from a two man shop to a thriving firm that has completed over 3,000 projects as they approach their 25th anniversary. With exemplary work on landmark, award winning projects such as Memorial Hermann Medical District in Memorial City, Town & Country Village and Carruth Plaza at Reliant Stadium, K&W is proud to have become one of Texas’ largest landscape architecture firms. 

Butterflies at St. Luke’s Hospital in The Woodlands

Kudela & Weinheimer is honored to be the designers for the Butterfly Garden at St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital. The goal of this ½ acre project is to provide a peaceful, beautiful area for patients and their family members to relax and reflect. The space includes trellises, berms, benches with donor names engraved on them, and donation pavers throughout. The garden also features plants that are not only native and adaptive to the area but also attract butterflies, it overlooks the lake adjacent to the hospital. Butterfly gardens supply food and shelter for all phases of a butterfly’s life which includes caterpillar food plants, butterfly nectar plants and sunshine. Stones incorporated into the garden are helpful because they absorb some of the heat and provide a basking spot. Damp and shady areas are also needed for them to get water and retreat when temperatures get too hot. Butterflies are cold blooded creatures and need warm (but not too hot) resting places. Both nectar plants and host plants (where butterflies will lay their eggs) are needed. Butterflies tend to lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. Plants they like include lantana which is very heat tolerant, milkweed, zinnias, butterfly bushes, pentas, salvia, batface cuphea, verbena, coreopsis, and fire bush. Perennials they enjoy include Echinacea, lavender, joe-pye weed and penstemmon. This is a donor funded project through St. Luke’s and is one of many examples of how St. Luke’s utilizes donations to touch the lives of patients. 

St. Luke's Butterfly Garden Schematic Design

St. Luke’s Butterfly Garden Schematic Design and Idea board

If you would like to give a gift to St. Luke’s to see this or other projects come to fruition, please contact Mr. James Nicas at the St. Luke’s Foundation, 832.355.5857!
St. Luke’s The Woodlands is located on the west side of I-45 at College Park Drive, in The Woodlands of Course. K&W has worked on other projects for this hospital including the front drop off expansion area and the Main Street Extension. Sr. Project Manager Wesley Salazar continues to manage this interesting project. 
 

 

Designing a Splash Pad

The Auburn Trails splash pad has a backdrop beautiful trees.

A Splash Pad can also be known as a splash park, water park, spray park or spray ground. However, if you ask a kid, they would probably call it a FUN PARK! With zero-depth water, splash pads are considered safe and eliminate the need for lifeguards because there is practically no risk of drowning. The parks can include ground nozzles, rainbows (semicircular pipe showers), mushroom and flower showers, dump buckets, movable nozzles for squirting and little rotating creatures that squirt water, usually in bright colors, the options are endless! You can spot splash pads at public parks, hotels and resorts, planned housing communities, daycare centers and even at the Houston Zoo.

As safety has become paramount in today’s world, especially for children, private communities have added splash pads, in addition to pools, as amenities offered to the families living in those communities. As well, some public parks have offered splash pads in addition or in place of public pools. Some local Houston public splash parks are at Hermann Park, Discovery Green, and Terry Hershey Park area, these parks are always busy with local area families, so having a splash pad in your “backyard” so-to-speak is a great perk of some master planned communities.

When Kudela & Weinheimer designs the landscape for a splash pad several factors go into the concept:  safety, end users, client budget, maintenance and aesthetics. Kudela & Weinheimer usually specifies Vortex equipment, because of their high quality and great reputation. The Vortex equipment can withstand a high level of commercial use and has a “SmartFlow “ adaption to reduce the environmental impact of water usage of splash pads designed with their equipment.

The landscape architecture recipe for splash pads includes tried and true design, as well as a dash of common sense. Here are the main factors the Kudela & Weinheimer team takes into consideration when designing a splash pad:

Surface Material:  Must be nonporous to prevent bacteria and buildup, must also be slip resistant, and have a good grip for running children. Brushed concrete surfaces can be made more interesting by stamping, etching and coloring and are a low-cost choice that has excellent traction and minimal maintenance. Other surfaces might be a rubber safety surface such as Pebble-Flex® which is specifically designed for splash pads and outdoor play surfaces.

Placement of Equipment:  Most of the time spray pads/parks are set up in zones depending on children’s ages.  Usually divided into 3 zones – toddler play, medium action and high action play zones, the right design can entertain children from 1 year of age to over 10 years of age, and some of you adults out there too, as long as you have a plastic mug with a margarita.

Safety:  The splash pad areas drain off immediately, making them “zero-depth” and eliminates standing water and risk of drowning! These parks accommodate the young children who haven’t learned how to swim just yet. Although some very shallow depth pools also integrate water cannons, mushroom showers and dumping buckets. Other criteria to consider for safety are slope grade, drainage, trip hazards, water flow rates and large diameter stainless steel components to discourage climbing.

Budget:  Developers have budgets, of course! When designing a splash pad / spray park / water park, Kudela & Weinheimer considers the overall site which will contain the splash pad and the developer’s specific requirements for water usage (see below). Splash pads start out with a ‘baseline’ cost of the underground system that you cannot see. However, there are several ways our firm can design splash pads to stay in budget; designing  in phases so that the splash pad can be made bigger and better as more funds become available, determining the size and number of components and design for minimal maintenance. Kudela & Weinheimer will never sacrifice the quality of the equipment or materials, which might end up in increased maintenance and repair costs!

Water Administration:  There are a few popular ways to use and/or reuse water on these structures. 1. Potable water that drains to a waste system and uses fresh water each time. This reduces any risks that may be associated with unclean water. This is not usually a good option for large spray parks or parks looking to maximize water conservation.  2. Re-circulating systems are similar to treatment systems used in pool facilities. Water is drained to a holding tank, filtered and chemically treated through one of the following procedures: chlorine, chlorine plus ultraviolet [UV] light, CO2).  A lot of thought goes into the planning of water consumption, to help conserve resources. 3. Controllers and Activation systems: Most splash pads use controllers for activation of the water jets. Of course there can be timing activators and activators used by the children where they push a button to get the water going.

Taking all of the above criteria into consideration, Kudela & Weinheimer can creatively design a splash pad that is fun for all ages but attainable for the developer’s budget and site requirements.

For developers the really different aspect to splash pads is that by Texas code they are not required to be fenced – although we usually fence them to prevent vandalism -and can be separated from the pool area for access all year if the weather is nice (Houston happens to have many nice days outside of pool season)! That brings up another point, splash pads can usually be maintained by the same company that maintains pools and needs about the same level of attention.

And that’s how landscape architecture for splash pads is done!

Kudela & Weinheimer has recently designed and finished construction administration for the new Fairfield Community splash pad with adjacent dog park and recreation center (construction drawings came from the San Antonio office); Lakes of Savannah splash pad; Oak Crest splash pad; and Auburn Trails splash pad and Eagle Springs recreation center and splash pad, which hasn’t been built yet. Visit our website to see more parks and community design.

In the Bisnow Multifamily News

MULTIFAMILY MONDAY – Real Estate Bisnow (HOU).

Kudela & Weinheimer makes the Bisnow news! We are honored to have been mentioned in the Houston Bisnow e-publication as the first article for this June 18th edition.

In fact, even though we weren’t mentioned we are also working with Ziegler Cooper on the 3 projects for Gables also mentioned in this e-publication! Working with Ziegler Cooper Architects is great, and having a good collaboration with the building architect is necessary to create a successful project.

 

 

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It’s Off to Work They Go

At Kudela & Weinheimer we really treasure the level of service we are able to give our clients. Our firm has enough staff power to handle large, complex projects yet we are small enough to provide a high level of personal service. We promise that we always put the “A” -Team on every project, and we do! With a lean, mean, well-oiled office machine -of currently 18 employees – we are expanding our office personnel – soon to be 23- to keep deadlines on time and make sure clients continue to receive extraordinary customer service! With a Texas size welcome, we have 4 new people coming to the Houston office, well actually 3, but if you count Nick Weinheimer (seasoned intern extraordinaire, and Mr. Weinheimer’s son), we’ve got 4.

We are very excited about all of our new employees but Michael Averitt is a special addition and will be joining our conceptual design studio. He will work under the direction of Thad Kudela, doing schematic design, we are looking forward to seeing his innovative ideas. Mr. Averitt comes to us from SWA, where he was based in Shanghai, PRC. With a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas and a Master Degree of Landscape Architecture also from The University of Texas at Austin, he has a well-rounded education and life experience to compliment that. His work experience has included “hands on” nursery experience, as well as working at famed Peter Walker and Partners (PWP Landscape Architecture) in Berkeley, California. Just for reference, PWP designed the National 9/11 Memorial and is currently working on redesigning the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Mting “Miki” Fan has a Bachelor of Arts in Landscape Architecture from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Although Ms. Fan is young, she is a bilingual, bright and talented student with a knock out portfolio that includes being a finalist for design of the Mercer Butterfly Garden. She researched, designed and presented her submission to the board of the Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Harris County. We are looking forward to mentoring her and expanding her skills within our fast paced office.

Danielle Bilot is joining us from Oregon, and will work as an intern for six months. Ms. Bilot has a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from University of Wisconsin and is currently working on a Master of Landscape Architecture from University of Oregon. Ms. Bilot was acknowledged in GROW – Wisconsin’s Magazine for the Life Sciences for the positive effects of the Neu-Life Park built in Milwalukee. Having multiple awards under her belt, she is a talented landscape designer and we’re happy she is coming to spend 6 months with us in Houston, starting in the summer. Hopefully the winter will win her over and she’ll actually want to come back.

Nick Weinheimer has grown up around landscape architecture, from being a wee-tyke hanging out at the office with dad during the after-hours, to learning the ropes of CADD working as an intern during the summers. Mr. Weinheimer is following in his dad’s footsteps by going to school at Texas A&M University in College Station to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture. He’s currently a Junior, becoming a senior in the fall and has been working summers at Kudela & Weinheimer for 6 years.

The San Antonio office is adding one employee.
Kenzie Porter is a graduate of Texas A&M University in College Station with a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture. Ms. Porter has hands on field experience and landscape design in-office experience. She has also had the opportunity to study abroad in Bonn, Germany. The San Antonio office of Kudela & Weinheimer is excited to have her joining the team, and is looking forward to teaching her the way it’s really done, Moczygemba style! Watch out, Kenzie, he’s a slave driver.

Kudela & Weinheimer scours the US, and apparently China, looking for highly qualified talent with extraordinary portfolios. We are insistent about only hiring the best for our team. A big “welcome aboard” to our new guys and gals!