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.

 

The Mullet a Graffiti Art Showcase; Business in the front and Party in the Back

The Mullet Graffiti Art Showcase

This has to be one of Kudela & Weinheimer‘s most “fun” projects to work on. A graffiti art showcase! The owner Johnathan Estes, purchased a site with a 16,800 square foot warehouse and had an idea to have galleries in the front rooms and parties in the big open space behind those rooms which is where the name, The Mullet, came from. Inspired by the 80’s haircut, “business in the front, party in the back.”

Located southeast of town at 10900 Kingspoint, Kudela & Weinheimer Landscape Architects, working with Windle + Volpe Architects, has so far, designed a schematic plan for the 8.3 acre site which includes two amphitheaters, semi circular graffiti chapels (for lack of a better description), graffiti walls sprinkled throughout on a triangular patterned recycled concrete pathway and possibly a small retail/concessions building. One amphitheater is proposed as being bermmed with lawn seating and the other is a flat paved amphitheater. Proposed for the site are several smaller buildings which will be used for artists workshops.

The idea is to have a very flexible space that could be used for things like farmers markets, artists studios, community gardens, specialty events and small concerts and possibly even small businesses. The result should be one very eclectic and interesting space!

Check out the article in The Chronicle for more details about The Mullet

Visit The Mullet’s Facebook page

Kudela & Weinheimer Landscape Architects is a full-service landscape architecture firm with offices in Houston & San Antonio Texas. Registered in 13 states. 

K&W is a team of creatively talented quality conscious professional Landscape Architects with a growing national reputation who derive professional fulfillment from building projects that embody our client’s vision and purpose. Along the way we provide truly expert advice to our clients. We invest in the latest technology as a means for providing the highest quality deliverables while remaining competitive. We value our employees and view them as our greatest asset. We strive to gain the respect of everyone we meet though Honesty and Integrity.

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.

BILLIONS! It’s all going to the dogs

K&W not only designs with people in mind, they design with Fido in mind. The newest trend for multifamily developments is the addition of dog parks. Giving residents an oasis for their four-legged friends provides yet another selling point for luxury and urban apartment homes. Dog parks have become a necessary amenity for high-end residential leasing.

Some developers will go to extremes to make sure their resident pooches have a nice and tidy place to get some fresh air. Recent examples of cutting edge development include Gables Park Plaza II in Austin, Gables Memorial Hills, Gables Bering, Gables West Ave, 2411 Washington, Greystar Champions and Tuscany Court. The developers of these projects have asked Kudela & Weinheimer to design top-notch dog parks for their residents’ furry companions, some even have doggy potties, state of the art Extreme Dog Washers and extra special Green Links Turf for on-structure dog parks. It’s no wonder these multifamily developers want to keep their residents happy by providing amenities for their dogs, because according to Bloomberg Businessweek, Americans spend $41 billion a year on their pets!

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