Monthly Archives

February 2020

Stakeholder Values Strengthen the Master Plan

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A city parks department goes after funding to update a well-loved park. But in order to apply for various funding resources, they must have a plan – what the industry calls a master plan. A master plan determines community goals and aspirations in terms of community development. It can both express and regulate public policies on transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, and housing. But where to start? Landscape architects are one of the resources available to parks departments and other public entities, serving as a guide for the development of a master plan. One key tool that design teams utilize for information gathering is a series of public forums with the various stakeholders. Clients generally start the process with many ideas for the plan but need additional input to build a unified vision. This is where the public process comes in: engaging the community (including many user groups with varying needs) to collect an informed response of what everyday users would like to see in their public project.

One of the Liberty Lake Master Plan Public Forums
One of the Liberty Lake Master Plan Public Forums

The public process is important for a variety of reasons. It provides transparency to the public, allows time for feedback, airs concerns, and creates a sense of buy-in and ownership from the community. Feedback gathered from the process informs the design, allowing consultants and public entities to consider additional factors and unique insights. These ideas are potentially not evident solely through site observation and client direction, and all contribute to the overall vision. One challenge we often find in the information gathering stage is engaging a wide range of age groups and families, based on various schedules, comfortability with technology, and access to information. In order to overcome this, it is important to use a multi-faceted public input process, allowing the best range of feedback. Some of the techniques we use include public meetings, mailed surveys, online surveys, voting boards, comment cards, and pop-up studios.

Liberty Lake Regional Park Master Plan
Liberty Lake Regional Park

From the Liberty Lake Regional Park Master Plan to the Sandpoint Parks Master Plan Update, our landscape architecture team has been increasingly involved in the public process phase for projects. The success of these projects would not be the same without community members investing their time to share what matters most to them.

Written by Julia Culp, ASLA

Preparing for the Design Review Board

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We sat down with Chuck Horgan, AIA, Bernardo Wills Architects Associate Principal and member of the City of Spokane Design Review Board (DRB), to learn more about what the DRB is and why it’s important to Spokane and our clients. 

What is the Design Review Board, and what is their purpose?
Firstly, the Design Review Board is made up of both citizens and practicing professionals who represent community interests. It is important to have diversity of both design and technical professions on the board in order to represent as many folks as possible. The Board was established to improve communication and participation among developers, neighbors, and the City early in the design of new developments (subject to design review – more on this later). The Board’s job is to ensure the projects under review are consistent with adopted design guidelines and help support the City’s comprehensive plan, as well as add to the overall aesthetic quality of Spokane’s public realm.
What kinds of projects require DRB review?
Publicly funded projects anywhere in the City (Schools, libraries, etc.), any project in the downtown area, and projects that are requesting Design Departures from prescribed standards all require review by the Design Review Board. There are other additional, more specific triggers – a skywalk over a public right-of-way and projects requiring a shoreline conditional use permit (CUP).  So far I’ve helped review primarily public and downtown projects, though the DRB is about to review a project due to a shoreline CUP.
Why did you decide to get involved with the DRB?
I felt a responsibility to join the DRB due to my professional interest in helping make Spokane a better community, and personal interest in a vibrant local arts scene. I believe that well-designed buildings and public spaces are important for a vibrant, strong and engaging community, and I’m interested in how the arts can be incorporated into, and enhance, the built environment. Working as an architect gives me a professional understanding of how the design of the built environment affects resident’s and visitor’s experiences in our community. I am also a member of the Spokane Arts Commission, which has a set on the DRB, and they like to fill it with an architect. It’s an honor to serve in both capacities, and it offers both professional and personal fulfillment.
What should our clients know about the preparation for DRB presentations?
For the DRB submittal, the client and design team provide information about the design (site, access, massing) and neighborhood context for the initial meeting, then provide more detail about the specific solutions being proposed, including materials, landscaping, lighting, etc. at the subsequent meeting. Communication with the City staff (early and often!) is encouraged and helps the process proceed smoothly. The DRB presentations can be integrated into the project schedule without adding time to the process, but there is additional work for the design team to prepare for the presentations. In practical terms, there is a cost to the DRB process, but it is small in relation to the overall design effort.

North Bank Playground Construction Officially Underway

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Construction is officially underway at the North Bank Playground site at Spokane’s Riverfront Park, with LaRiviere leading the way as the general contractor. Demolition of the operations and maintenance building makes room for the new structure, and a blank slate is ready for the playground construction. This has been a huge effort for the BWA Landscape Architecture team, and we can’t wait to see their vision come to life.

What is the Visioning Process?

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We sat down with Michelle Widner, IIDA, NCIDQ, to learn more about the visioning sessions that she leads with some of our clients.

Michelle, what is the purpose of a visioning workshop at the start of the design process?
MW: We want to walk into a project with an open mind so we have the ability to understand a client’s needs, concerns and issues before the design begins. A visioning session is a way to connect with a client and “dig deep” to get know who they are and what they want to accomplish. Sometimes we have a client who has a very clear vision of who they are and what they are doing – in this case the exercise is more for our benefit to absorb that information. Other times, a client may be struggling how to articulate their company’s vision, and this encourages them to come together and define their ideas and get on the same page. Also, more often than not, clients identify needs and goals they didn’t know they had as a direct result of this process.  In addition, by having a group express their thoughts and ideas, it helps get buy-in and build camaraderie.  Most importantly (for us!), it gives us the opportunity to bond and build trust with our clients.
What kind of client would benefit from a visioning/branding session?
MW: Any client or project type can benefit from the process. It can be as simple as an informal meeting discussing the client’s goals and aspirations. The term “visioning session” can sound intimidating. But all it is, in a nutshell, is discovering the client’s needs (known and unknown) and building trust. For interiors, it is especially helpful for clients who desire a unique aesthetic and/or program needs or want branded environments.
How does this process support/combine with the other services the interior design team provides? How will it influence design?
MW: First and foremost, design is problem-solving. The sooner we identify the issues important to the client, the less time we waste in the design process revising and re-revising drawings. If we address all the problems and concerns prior to putting pen to paper, the more time (and money!) we save the client.  By discovering what the project is and what they want to achieve, we can understand the client at their deepest level and be proactive in our designs.

Pictured: Washington State Employee’s Credit Union revitalized its Sprague branch in 2019, revealing a member-focused space that reflects their current brand. We love the bright and inviting result. Bernardo Wills Architects provided architecture and interior design services for this project.