With so much more emphasis on outdoor space as an amenity, landscape design has been receiving increased attention by developers and tenants alike in many property sectors — so much so that it is now an integral part of designing just about any project. And as the functionality of projects in each of these sectors evolves, so too will the design of the projects’ exteriors.
SoCal Real Estate spoke with Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, president and CFO of Newport Beach, California–based landscape architecture and design firm Lifescapes International Inc., and J. Wickham Zimmerman and Chris Roy, CEO and director of creative design, respectively, at Anaheim, California–based design- and themed-construction company Outside the Lines Inc. (OTL), about how landscape design will continue to evolve as the office, multifamily, retail, and hospitality sectors do, how developers can make these projects work for their budgets, and what’s happening on the sustainability front with landscape design.
SoCal Real Estate: In what ways will landscape design continue to evolve in the office, multifamily, retail and hospitality sectors?
Brinkerhoff-Jacobs: We will continue to see a shift in landscape design across all product types toward more experiential features. This can be seen in the shift from traditional office space toward more creative-office space. Multifamily properties are also evolving into more experiential, destination-driven environments. And residents are demanding all-encompassing environments where they can live and play in the same location. This experiential landscape design is a prime example of this, and we will continue to see it expand far beyond retail properties into the office sector, multifamily, and hospitality.
Zimmerman: Whether it is a commercial office space or a retail entertainment venue, people expect a plethora of amenities transforming their visit into an experience. Younger generations put a much higher value on experiences than they do possessions or tangible goods. Millennials want to see something different and worthy of photographing and posting on social media. What better way is there to provide the ultimate experience than to immerse them in beautiful landscapes and engaging water features?
Humankind is fascinated with water, so it is a natural attraction in itself. Our bodies are about 60 percent water, and approximately 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water. We are naturally attracted to water, and the sight and sound of it alone can induce relaxation and a sense of satisfaction. That said, today’s water features must be more than just static display. We can use the natural attraction of water to draw people in, but then we must engage them to keep their interest. That engagement can take many forms – it can be a choreographed ballet of water, lights and sound, or an exciting display of water movement.
When it comes to theming, consumer expectations have also increased dramatically. Theming must look authentic and real in today’s world. We have all been to a theme park or even someone’s backyard pool that has artificial rockwork and themed elements that are not terribly believable. Today, we are challenged by the demand to create rockwork and themed elements that cannot be distinguished from the real thing. In some cases, this requires integrating themed elements in with the real thing. In fact, our firm trademarked a concept to describe this — Geo-believability® — which is an offering we provide to commercial developers throughout the U.S. who are seeking themed environments and rockwork.
How can developers make landscape design work for their budget?
Brinkerhoff-Jacobs: Contrary to popular belief, the landscape design of a project only accounts for approximately 3 percent to 5 percent of an overall development’s budget. This is a relatively small number when compared to the overall cost of a development and delivers an immediate impact on the appeal of a project and its ability to connect with guests. By not cutting corners on a project’s landscaping, owners will find long-term value within their properties in terms of overall property value, as well as guest loyalty, which translates to increased profitability.
Zimmerman: A developer’s first step in creating a budget for landscape design features is to work with a knowledgeable team to help establish a budget. All too often we see great ideas and visions shattered when the pricing comes in. Our team recommends an approach where we engage early with the developer to understand the vision and their goals so we can then help craft concepts with associated budgets that are realistic.
Additionally, it is vital that developers realize that many of these amenities can be revenue generating and can actually pay for themselves, or at least defray a portion of the capital and operating costs. Ultimately, when we help a developer to make more money and have a more successful project, then we have been successful.
Roy: Achieving the right balance on budget is crucial when planning for landscape features. Unfortunately, when owners try to go cheap, it often ends up costing them more in the long run, either due to increased construction costs to repair poor workmanship, increased maintenance costs over the life of the project to make up for up-front cost savings, or decreased earnings caused by a project lacking quality and failing to live up to its full potential.
What’s happening on the sustainability front with regard to landscape design?
Brinkerhoff-Jacobs: Sustainability is a major component for any project, especially in regions with drier climates. We incorporate sustainable elements in all of our projects, whether it’s drip irrigation systems or sustainable plant materials, which reduce water costs and ensure the long-term success of a design.
For instance, we recently completed the landscape design for the $300 million expansion of the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California. The resort/casino is located in a dry region with intense heat. With this in mind, we created a careful balance between drought-tolerant plant materials and lush garden elements. While 60 percent of the plants throughout the project are drought-tolerant, we concentrated the lush plant materials in areas of the resort where they have the most impact: in highly trafficked areas such as the pool, event lawn, and entryway. This allowed us to deliver that entertainment-driven Las Vegas flair that the Pechanga team was looking for while ensuring long-term sustainability and reduced water costs.What else should our readers know about your designs and CRE?
Zimmerman: OTL does not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to our projects. We work very hard to truly understand the vision the developer or architect has for each project, and then we work equally hard to make sure that we provide a finished project that delivers that vision and exceeds expectations. The earlier that we can be involved in a project the more effective we can be.
Roy: Our projects are all about working with developers and owners, either directly or through their architects, to create opportunities which ultimately increase the value of their properties. We are able to enhance a property’s unique sense of place and create memorable environments that patrons will return to time and again. Developers can create spaces with many of the positive aspects of waterfront property without the cost and congestion, and their projects will benefit from all the organic marketing associated with the many photos people love taking in front of signature water features and sharing across social media.
For a more in-depth look at the changing terrain of landscape design, stay tuned for SoCal Real Estate’s October issue.