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The Stages of a Landscape Architecture Project

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Designing, developing, and maintaining a landscape architecture project is a process — that’s why it is important to collaborate with expert design professionals to do it right. Hiring an extraordinary landscape architect is essential to ensuring your site-specific project is aligns with the design vision and meets all specifications.

In this guide, we’ll give you a general overview of the process and a landscape architecture project and the steps needed from design to completion.

At USA SHADE, we partner with Architects, Landscape Architects, and other design professionals to efficiently integrate customized fabric structures into projects. Contact our team to learn more!

An Overview of the Process

The job of a landscape architect requires excellence in a variety of skill sets due to the position’s versatile nature. Architects fill the roles of the planner, communicator, designer, innovator, problem-solver and calculator. The success of a landscaping project relies on the extent of the planning and research done in the beginning, so you want someone who is thorough.

However, it’s equally important to utilize creative and flexible problem-solving abilities during the project. All construction projects experience changes throughout the building process but landscape architects must contend with a degree of unpredictability brought by natural sites. As a result, architects must be ready to problem solve, reinvent and offer new solutions based on changes in the job site, client objectives and restrictions that may be posed by nature.

Using an organized, systematic approach to this extensive process gives a project the best chance of ending with a successful outcome and higher return on investment. Thinking through every possibility in the brainstorming session gives the architect, developer and client the most solid foundation to work from — and they can then be better prepared for roadblocks they face in the future.

If everyone involved in a project understands the steps of a landscape architect’s job, they can effectively communicate their needs and goals. Improved communication will only make the project more successful in the long run for the people who use the space.

The Job of a Landscape Architect

The primary objective of a landscape architect is twofold. They must design spaces to fulfill the developer’s objectives, while respecting the natural environment. Their jobs could be directly tied to revitalizing natural spaces impacted by human activity, such as restoring streams, wetlands or areas near a mining site. However, even if the job does not explicitly pertain to natural restoration, they prioritize maintaining the existing environment while optimizing the use of the natural space for the client’s purposes.

Landscape architects can work on a wide variety of projects, include public parks, college campuses, monuments, hospital grounds or the area surrounding a corporate headquarters. They also could get involved in town and urban planning during a county development or assist in restoring a historic area. They maximize function while focusing on natural preservation. A successful landscape design does not resist the natural landscape but instead works with it.

Landscape architects can’t start designing plans until a developer gives them a site to work with. The landscape of the location impacts the design of whatever structure the developer needs the architect to create.

This job requires a diversified set of skills to fulfill the tasks of communicating with clients and inter-industry colleagues, surveying future sites, designing a variety of plans, working with contractors during the execution of the project and maintaining the project for some time after the site’s completion. The job requires long hours, attention to detail, project management skills and a genuine appreciation for natural spaces. The position blends the arts and mathematics, as architects must see creative solutions and understand the mechanics required to make that vision work.

Understanding what goes into this complicated role will give you an appreciation for their craft and will help you consider how you can best aid them throughout the project.

The Landscape Architectural Design Process

Landscape projects cover a diverse array of objectives. The same architect could work on designs for a healing garden for a hospital or design an innovative dog park on the roof of a luxury living complex. While the methods and specifics change with each project to match the particular goals of the job site, the process stays relatively consistent.

To better understand the role of the landscape architect throughout the planning and execution phases of production, we’ve compiled a list of steps these projects go through:

1. Design Brief

The design brief stage in landscape architecture is all about asking the right questions. The architect interacts with the client’s developer, so they can communicate the goals they have for the project. These objectives inform what the design plans will look like — this process gives the architect the information they need to craft the questions that the final design must answer. It’s the time for brainstorming, weighing options, envisioning possibilities and offering propositions on how to fulfill the client objectives.

This stage narrows down the realm of limitless possibilities. The architect finds a solution that solves the problem while working within the restraints of the location. While landscaping comes with many technical aspects, the field at its core is a creative venture. Any landscape “problem” or “prompt” that a developer wants to fulfill has almost limitless solutions. By asking and answering questions, the architect narrows down possibilities to find the exact one that suits the developer’s needs and preferences. They collaborate with the natural environment and follow the county’s codes and regulations.

This time allows the developer to explain what requirements they need to see met by the conclusion of the project for them to consider it a success. This way, the designers can create something that works for the client while fulfilling all the design and functional needs of the space. By creating these benchmarks, architects have a framework to measure the end product to know when they succeeded.

If clients skip the design phase, the project remains open-ended. If the client never establishes the metrics of the eventual goals, the architects have no way to measure if the project achieved the client’s objectives. The architect works with the developer to understand what the design must do for the client. Later on, the architect figures out how the design will accomplish those objectives — and that phase begins with research.

2. Design

The design stage begins when the proverbial pencil hits the paper. The architect takes the ideas discussed with the developer and turns them into plans on a digital page.

The steps of the landscape architecture project design process are:

  1. Pre-Design
  2. Conceptual Design
  3. Design Development
  4.  Construction Documentation

Throughout the design phases, the landscape architect will consider factors such as cost, purpose and features of the site itself. When designing, the location is vital to the development of the plan. The architect has to keep in mind the original site. They must protect the natural vegetation and resources while accomplishing the objectives of the developer.

The architect relies on the expertise of multiple professionals while constructing the design. They consult civil engineers, hydrologists, geotechnical engineers, environmental scientists and foresters. The landscape architect only works on the exterior of the building, so they rarely consult structural engineers.


The preliminary design phase consists of researching the restrictions and requirements of the project. The architect analyzes current features in the location, such as existing walkways, buildings and utilities. They also consider environmental factors such as climates, micro-climates, moisture retention, existing plants and soil erosion. They infer areas rather than focus on specific calculations and details.

As a part of their research, they will also consider which plants would work best in the area to help them achieve their objectives. If they’re working on a wetland retention area, they need a plant that is resistant to drought but can take on a lot of water. Knowing what types of plants will work in these systems and climates helps them shape their ideas.

Conceptual Design

This phase of design consists of fleshing out multiple sketches of high-level design concepts. Architects are starting to create a plan with basic numbers and an understanding of the requirements of the jurisdiction.

For example, they need to follow the codes specific to the county, city or township about open area requirements and landscape ratios. During this stage, architects look at the factors the project must adhere to in order to bring the project into compliance. Later in the conceptual stage, they try to identify issues that may arise when getting clearances from governing bodies.

Design Development

This stage of the landscape design includes all the necessary calculations and delves deeply into the specifics of all the structures. The architect becomes mindful of components such as stormwater management, contour grading and elevation drawings. They select one of the conceptual designs and refine it to define the necessary specifications. They make sure their plan follows code and fulfills the needs of the developer.

This plan includes specifics about the methods that the construction team will use and the aesthetics requested by the developer. They address potential issues, including accessibility as required by the ADA and drainage specifications of the requirements of jurisdiction — this plan is lengthy and extremely detail-oriented.

Another document they need to create is a table with all of the plants necessary for the site and their different specifications — this chart includes sizes of the plants, their comprehensive data, the number needed for the site, how they will be planted and future details on how to care for them . They even need to list types of grass the contractors can use.

Construction Documentation

This phase will cycle back and forth between itself and the design development phase. Now, the plans are finalized and sent to different review agencies for approvals. Since this is the final stage before the contractors break ground, every detail and calculation must comply with the governing bodies’ requirements.When plans don’t fit every code, they get sent back to the architect to get reworked to fit within those parameters.

This part of the process generally includes a civil engineer to help with all the technical calculations. They work on proper grading, sewage and pipelines to make the original design technically viable. They must be aware of the state’s rules and regulations to make sure the plan satisfies all the conditions of a business operating within that specific state. All decisions are made based on particular regulations, including quality-control checklists, specific country requirements and interdisciplinary coordination needs.

Once these plans receive approval from all necessary agencies, the architect ends the design stages. They now have a plan that includes all the documents required to hand off to the contractor to start construction.

3. Construction

A landscape architect’s job does not end with the final submission of plans. Even though they pass the active part of the process on to contractors and construction companies, the architect still participates. They oversee the construction process for landscape architecture projects to varying degrees, depending on the complexity of the project <— they perform site visits, meet with the client and developer, and assist the contractor.

They are still involved in this process because if the contractors have issues at any point during the physical construction process, they’ll need the architects and engineers to step in with a request for information (RFI) or submittals to correct the plan to account for the discrepancy. For example, while constructing, the contractor may find a pipe that was not noted anywhere on any surveys. Depending on the regulations, the architect may redesign the plans, or the engineer might recalculate grades of new piping.

Architects will also perform site visits to inspect the landscaping process. They make sure it adheres to the originally approved plans. Having the designer of the project visit the site can help mitigate any lapses in communication, from the ideas on paper to the physical execution.

4. Closing Out the Project

The close-out reviews the accomplishments of the project and confirms the finished project fulfilled the expectations of the client. The architect then compiles all the documents, including drawings, manuals, renderings and specifications. The plan transfers over to the owners in case they ever want to make changes or updates or need to reference the original source materials in the future.

Beyond abiding by the technical aspects of the project, the close-out gives the team a chance to reflect on success, review metrics and consider ways to improve in the future. Providing closure to the end of the project allows all parties to evaluate the project before they consider the job complete.

5. Maintenance

One of the most intriguing facets of the landscape architecture design process is that you’re building something intended to change on its own. With traditional construction projects, the only expected changes are decay, remodels or repairs. With landscape development projects, the land continuously changes on its own. Architects can be involved in the project for years to come.

No matter how much planning and analysis goes into the plans, plants and landscapes are impossible to predict with certainty. The only thing you can predict is that in one, three or five years, the project will look different from the finished product. Maybe the plants grew more successfully than imagined or a tornado ripped through the landscape. The developer may ask the architect to reevaluate the site and make minor or significant changes to the project.

An essential part of making sure the project changes for the better, rather than falling into natural disrepair, is through routine maintenance. Places like college campuses employ groundskeepers to maintain the structures after contractors finish the projects. Their tasks include caring for the plants and performing routine maintenance of the properties under the instruction of the landscape architect. Through continual upkeep, projects have a much better chance of continuing to improve over time. They are also less likely to need a complete revival from square one after only a few years.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation

Post-occupancy evaluations (POE) give fantastic insight into the functionality of the completed building. POEs are surveys and data sets compiled to see how the structure functions once people become a part of the equation. It’s the architect’s opportunity to get genuine feedback on the life of the building. The POE explains and grades how the space functions in real life, rather than on paper.

The two questions the POE focuses on are:

1.) Does the building behave as intended?

2.) Are those who occupy the space happy with its function?

Sim Van der Ryn and Murray Silverstein, the two inventors of the POE, said that before this process, there was no feedback channel for the building to assert its function or failure. The focus of the POE determines if the structure works for the users in the way it was originally intended.

Are people able to use the space to its full capacity? Could the area be used more effectively? What changes could improve the ROI? What updates should future architects make on this project?

How did the structure succeed? What unexpected benefits came from the structure? How does the architecture improve the landscape?

Companies rarely perform POEs because the contract does not cover its cost. Still, the findings of the POE generally save money by giving both the developer and the architect a better understanding of how to increase efficiency. A POE also provides the architect with a way to make their designs more successful in the future.

The user’s experience of the space measures the success of the project, and without the POE, architects do not have access to this information.

Going Forward: Dedicated Solutions and Expertise

The field of landscape architecture is an incredibly interesting and rich field of study. Landscape architects are able to think big while also focusing on the details. They do creative design in an office in addition to practical site visits. Every project brings new challenges, so throughout their career, these architects can continue to use their creativity and learn more about nature and the art of construction.

It’s essential to prioritize communication when working on a landscape architecture project. Optimize your communication channels and practices, so the architect can get all the information they need. The architect could not work on a solution to a problem if they were never made aware of in the first place.

USA SHADE appreciates and supports the intricacies and complexities of landscape architecture. We understand that having the right person for this integral position plays a crucial role in the success of a project. That’s why we have an architectural specialist division to collaborate with these types of design professionals for landscape architecture projects.

For a unique addition of fabric shade structures to your project, consider USA SHADE’s inspirational custom designs focused on resilient design solutions that respond to site-specific considerations.