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Contours logoBy Stephanie Rose

Labels are often deceiving:  They don’t always tell the whole story.

In the green industry, for example, most of us identify ourselves as either designers or contractors, but after 18 years of landshaping, it’s clear to me that a majority of us are really to varying degrees both designers and contractors.  The very best designers understand construction and the rigors of the installation process, while the finest contractors are savvy when it comes to design details and nuances.   

As a professional landscape designer in that context, my road to success and excellence is all about knowing my capabilities, accepting my limitations, embracing collaboration and recognizing that when competent, open-minded professionals truly work together, the result is typically a better final product.  Achieving this collaborative success requires everyone involved to accept the fact that no one discipline dominates the process.

This thought was driven home for me recently by an article I read about a couple who, after finishing architecture school, embarked on the renovation of their own home.  Having been known in school for creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking, they began the project with tremendous enthusiasm.

Then the realities of construction set in:  They found themselves obsessing over the tiniest design details and significantly delayed the project’s progress with elaborate discussions when all the contractor really wanted to know, for example, was whether to use two-by-fours or two-by-sixes.

It was all too familiar to me:  Designers seeking to create something unique, creative, different, beautiful and eye-catching, interacting with contractors who have completely different sets of criteria for project completion.  In the young architects’ case, their impulse to focus intently on every decision soon conflicted with the contractor’s schedule, costs and ability to deliver on time and within budget.

And so, two worlds collide – creative and concrete.  In this instance, the architects learned a valuable lesson about construction and just how important it is to balance the creative process with practical considerations.  (It’s my firm hope that the contractor also learned a thing or two about working with creative people, but the article didn’t say.)  In truth, this is a lesson landshapers of every description need to comprehend.  

Yes, there are always more creative ways to solve problems and yes, there are limits to the ways we can build things (although that changes almost daily).  For those reasons, my aim as a professional is to work with others who embrace creativity and know the construction process and also appreciate the fact that by knowing something about both, they achieve better results.  Further, my mission as editor of this magazine is to create a forum in which designers explore the construction process and contractors gain insight into design.   

I once heard someone say that “dirt is for contractors and soil is for designers.”  I’ve always believed that pointing to distinctions in this way is counterproductive and that we all need to work instead to find the commonalities that bind us together.

As landshapers (a term we coined to unite everyone who reads LandShapes, no matter their specialties), we’d be better off ignoring categories and focusing instead on learning more about each other’s expertise.  It’s the best path I know for elevating our industry as well as our individual practices.

I’ve never had a problem with getting my hands dirty and I know there are contractors out there who are interested in knowing more about the soil I till.

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