Landscape Renovations Impact on Established Condominium Sites

Today’s perception of landscaping and its positive implications have not changed much over the years for those in the property management field or for condominium boards.  I hope to change those perceptions or at least provide some education of how properly executed site design can benefit the site stakeholders. I will be using actual site examples/case study to illustrate a point.

Many people in property management and boards regard it as no more than horticultural make-up – cosmetic decoration applied to a site only to enhance the appearance of the building. However, landscape design deals with so much more than this.  Architectural landscape design can and does enhance the building’s appearance, adds value to a property and provides the site owners an attractive and welcoming place to live. Perhaps, one of the more important challenges is to address site problems which have developed over the years.

A well-researched and executed site design will in my opinion, overcome many conflicting and functional site problems, will provide recreational and leisure amenities while providing an eye appealing environment. It’s important to understand a newly created/renovated landscape implies the need for stewardship of the new environment.

Landscape design address issues of topography, drainage/flooding/standing water, lack of shade, too much shade, poorly functioning site lighting, handicap issues, driveways, roads, trees and shrubs, site lines, privacy concerns and paving are just a few of the concerns dealt with during the design process.

Landscape design is a process in which the designer will, to name just a few, meet with the client stakeholders or their representatives to discuss what their concerns are and how they perceive the site should function. What are the site problems? What is the wish list for site amenities, if there is one?

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I am describing is through a case study.

This first example illustrates the complexity of problems which we deal with to achieve a successful outcome.

Case Study

To Design a New Porch and Associated Landscape For Two Elevated Town Homes

CONTEXT

We had been working with this site for a few years.  The site consisted of a large number of town homes built some forty years ago. The site topography was quite hilly with significant grade changes throughout the site. Elevation changes were supported exclusively with timber retaining walls and stairs which were in various stages of decay. Structural integrity had been compromised over the years. Maintenance had been the ‘lick and stick’ approach to the point now that it had become a safety issue. I suspect this occurs in many of today’s older condominium sites.

This project, like many others, commenced with a site meeting with the Board president, property manager and myself. The project was to design and engineer a new porch and steps for two elevated town homes, area retaining walls and steps and the associated paving and soft landscape.

STRATEGIES and DESIGN PHASE

Our design team met with the client and management on a number of occasions to establish a ‘scope of work’ which would correct site problems with drainage, lighting, tree and shrubs replacements, colour, sight lines, must haves, like to have and easy ingress into this section of the site, just to name a few. Since no survey or topographical plans existed we informed the client the need for an accurate site topographical plan. This plan showed the site layout, house locations and the all-important, differences in elevations relative to all the site amenities.

The design team undertook an in depth site analysis including photographs and made survey notes. We called in our surveyor to create a site survey and topographical plan which enabled us to move forward in creating a base plan which showed all the existing site features.

Our next step was to create a vision with a preliminary conceptual plan which incorporated the clients wishes as well as our vision on how we saw the site functioning. This plan went through a number of changes before the client finalized the design.

Since the main challenge was to design a new porch and stairs, we submitted our drawing to our engineering firm to create the engineering plans and ‘how tos’. We proceeded to write the tender and specifications and issued the project for construction pricing at the same time applying for a building permit.

The design used a block masonry porch with a stone cladding, cast in place cement steps and metal perimeter railings and handrails. We incorporated storage spaces under the porch while providing an under walkway entrance to the parking garage. The site sidewalks were widened, each unit walkway was widened and reshaped, and new site specific shrubs, perennials and ground covers were introduced.

Excavation for the porch footings resulted in significant changes to the structural design. After digging down to a depth of fifteen feet there was no sign of the house footings. Not only that but, the pit started to fill with water. After an inspection by our engineers, construction was stopped pending further investigation.  A geotechnical investigation and soil survey indicated  the existing soil structure did not have the ability to hold up the weight of the porch without the porch sinking.

After the soil studies, a new engineering plan was created using a system of helical piers bored to a depth of twenty-five feet and interconnected with concrete grade beams.

Another problem which surfaced was the unexpected discovery of a hydro duct bank along one side of the porch. A duct bank is a concrete duct carrying a number of hydro conduits. This discovery resulted in more engineering changes to extend one of the grade beams to form a cantilevered support over the duct bank.

After resolving all the design and engineering challenges, construction proceeded without any further surprises.

CONCLUSIONS

After three months of construction the project was completed resulting in a new concrete porch and steps twelve feet above grade, with storage space under the porch for the two unit owners.

New area precast modular retaining walls and steps, new unit stone unit entrance sidewalks and all new soft landscape (trees, shrubs, perennials). The area lighting was enhanced with indirect sidewalk and step lighting. The area irrigation was also renovated topping off the whole project with a new stone granite stone sign for the Condominium Corporation which was installed into the street retaining wall.

The unit owners were thrilled with the end result. This portion of the site suddenly became the in place to live.  As a result of the site renovation property, values went up. This is a common occurrence when a high rise building or a group of town homes grounds are renovated and enhanced.  Through a series of studies conducted by both the American and Canadian Association of Landscape Architects and Landscape Ontario, it was determined that property values can rise by up to 15 percent with a well-designed site renovation plan.AFTERAFTERBEFORE

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