Posted: March 2016

March 24, 2016

The Heart of Thoughtful Design: Landscape Architecture in an Engineering Firm

Photo of a bioswale in Oak Terrace Preserve

Good design is not only aesthetically pleasing but also must function to best fit the end users’ needs while serving the site’s landscape. Davis & Floyd’s landscape architecture team knows more than anyone how the ideas of form and function interact on a project. Our landscape architecture team is trained to identify and address constraints early in the process. This is why including a cross-disciplined team’s insight is one of the most advantageous things a developer can do. Initial objectives by our landscape architecture team include research, site analysis, and problem solving before anyone gets into a hard-hat zone.

Constraints as Design Needs
On finished sites, many aesthetic features actually began as functional choices at the start of the project. For example, to the unknowing observer of a bioswale, it is just a ditch with attractive native plants within and around it. In reality, a bioswale’s function is to treat stormwater with specifically chosen plants, slow water flow and let it percolate into the soil, and provide native fauna food and shelter.

During the final stages of a recent project, the developer informed the design team that SCE&G was locating a series of electrical equipment on the site and these elements would significantly impose upon the views of the building and the users’ experiences. Additionally, this change required that the controversial project go back before the municipality’s design review committee – a potential hurdle to project permitting and construction. Our landscape architecture team provided a planting design to accommodate the SCE&G requirements while also screening the equipment with vegetation so that it did not detract from users’ interaction with the proposed development. To illustrate their solution, our designers also created a series of photorealistic renderings of the pedestrian experience to gather consensus among SCE&G, the developer, and the municipality’s design review board resulting in a favorable approval and subsequent building permit acquisition.

Considering a Site’s Uses
Whether environmental or municipal, constraints require additional investigation in order to decide how to proceed with site design. Our landscape architects balance the needs of the developer with the requirements of the municipality while also taking into consideration the environment and the experience of the individual interacting with the site. An important aspect of the design process is forethought of experience, which can vary from someone in a car driving through the site, to the experience on foot, to the view from a window in a building.

How a person feels in a space can be manipulated based on choices made during the design process. Paving materials can be used to regulate speed and features like the fragrance of blooming plants and various sidewalk materials all invoke different responses from the users of the space. Trees often are placed to frame chosen views from a building’s window.

From big picture to small details, our landscape architecture team excels at finding solutions that are engineering-minded while using the site and thoughtful design to solve problems and evoke experiences.

March 11, 2016

Q&A with Scott Hildebrand, PE, Senior Civil Engineer

Photo of Scott Hildebrand

Q & A with Scott Hildebrand, PE

After serving 12 years in the Navy, Scott Hildebrand attended Trident Technical College and The Citadel, where he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering. Today, Scott is a senior civil engineer at Davis & Floyd and manages projects that include hydrologic and hydraulic analyses supporting the study and design of bridges over riverine and tidal estuarine water courses, flood insurance studies, stormwater management master planning, and large-scale urban drainage improvement projects. He is the project manager for the City of Charleston Market Street Drainage Improvement Project, an undertaking that will revolutionize and revitalize downtown Charleston’s historic market.

What challenges are engineers facing in the water sector and how has your work approached those issues?

The newer clean water standards based on the Non Pollutant Discharge Elimination System call for regulating not only construction phase runoff, but also post-construction runoff water quality. This is an ongoing challenge that we address, especially for state and municipal projects, but it often increases project costs to follow best practices.

What project are you currently working on?

I am currently working on the last part of the Market Street Drainage Improvement Project, which began in 1995 and features a 9-foot storm drainage tunnel system connected to the Concord Street pump station. This phase focuses on designing the surface collection system on Market Street, which will discharge to the tunnel system. This is a unique design in which tunnel and pump stations are used to convey stormwater to the Charleston Harbor during storm events. Because Market Street begins to flood at high tide (due to low elevations), this is greatly exasperated during storms.

The Market Street Collection and Streetscape Design is by far the most rewarding and challenging project of my career. It is one of the most recognizable features in Charleston. Nearly 4 million people per year visit Market Street. Through the project, the area will receive a facelift through streetscape design that includes wider sidewalks, undergrounding of electric power service, new curbs and gutters, inlay brickwork, and resurfacing of the asphalt travel and parking lanes.

We have worked hard to coordinate the design efforts with various stakeholders including both mayors, building owners, horse carriages, shed vendors, etc. and the process is best served by moving at a slower pace to ensure we have met expectations and they understand the design and construction process.

See Scott’s presentation “Innovative Stormwater Collection: Thinking Outside the Dropshaft” at next week’s South Carolina Environmental Conference.

March 7, 2016

Not Just a “Pretty Picture”: Landscape Architecture in an Engineering Firm

Photo of Davis & Floyd's landscape architecture plans

Not Just a “Pretty Picture”: Landscape Architecture in an Engineering Firm

As landscape architects (and designers) in an engineering office, we know that we are in a prime position to help our clients visually communicate their project’s goals early in the planning phase. A powerful and persuasive graphic can sometimes be the very thing needed to push the project forward. But what is sometimes missed in translation during the unveiling of the ‘pretty picture’ is the carefully thought-through process involved in every step of its creation as well as the collaboration among disciplines across Davis & Floyd.

Defining Wants vs. Needs

In the beginning of many projects, we typically start with a client kick-off meeting. During this meeting, clients share their vision for the project and their goals for the site. Because clients range from private developers to local, state, and federal agencies to industrial manufacturers, client needs vary greatly and each site also has its own unique characteristics and development requirements. At this juncture, the client’s primary goal is often to get people excited about an idea without investing too much time and effort into the detailed design. Developers often take this step to get investors on board, rally support for the development, and get the ball rolling.

Even though it is still early in the planning process, understanding the realistic intersections between wants and needs is crucial. Depending on the client and project, goals may relate to the overall use of the site, programing, amenities (pool, ponds, parks, etc.), parking requirements, building sizes, density, etc.

Exploring Site Constraints

Once we have a clearer understanding of a client’s vision, our next step is to research the property to identify site constraints. Site constraints can be any of the following: zoning, utility easements, topography, wetlands, access to public rights-of-way, buffer requirements, greenspace requirements, and tree protection and mitigation requirements among others. By identifying most of the site’s constraining issues during this phase, we can create a strong and informed skeleton of the conceptual plan by aligning specific site characteristics with the client’s defined goals. This process often includes multiple revisions and meetings with the clients to develop a plan that works best to address their unique needs.

An important advantage to having a conceptual plan developed by a cross-disciplined team (landscape and civil) is the ability to dive deeper into all aspects of the plan early in the process, ultimately driving the overall project schedule forward at a faster pace. At Davis & Floyd, our Planning and Landscape Architecture team’s ultimate goal is to find that perfect marriage between the client’s needs, site’s constraints, and design’s function and aesthetics while working hand-in-hand with the engineers to ensure that everything is feasible, efficient, and cohesive.

In Part 2 of our series, we will explain some of the creative, thoughtful ways that engineers and landscape architects use to work together to solve problems.

Davis & Floyd’s entire landscape architecture team across our offices contributed to this article.