Branching Out

The Design Development Phase: A Balanced Approach

The conceptual design phase ended with the creation of a 50-page booklet that defined the rough character and key elements of the garden, including 20 to 30 full-color sketches. This booklet was then further refined during the design development phase and eventually used to create a large, detailed, specifications manual that served as a blueprint of sorts for the construction documentation phase. In the end, we had over 120 drawings (30” wide x 42” high) to refer to as we prepared to turn this bold vision into reality.

Again, communication was the key. To make sure we were meeting all of our collective goals, the team met weekly with Arboretum staff (half-day sessions) to develop the sketches into real proportions. Every aspect of the garden, from design to equipment safety issues to proper placement of storm sewers was reviewed. Particular attention was paid to the selection of materials used in the construction of the gardens. They had to reflect the distinct character of the individual gardens and be placed in proportions that would make children feel at home – and still manage to keep grownups from hitting their heads on things like playground equipment.

It was precise, high wire, balancing act trying to design a circulation that encouraged child exploration and yet allowed for parental supervision.

And, as with most highly visible projects, there are many people to please and many ideas to take into consideration. During this phase, we worked diligently on revisions that struck the right balance between the Arboretum’s educational goals and maintaining the aesthetic appeal of the original design. A big key to this process was carefully documenting every idea graphically and in writing to allow the construction phase to be executed as smoothly as possible.

The Construction Phase

From the earthwork contractor to the irrigation installer to the concrete finisher, we worked to hire only the most talented craftsmen. For instance, our lead carpenter typically just oversees client work, but he took a vested interest in the garden and actually built the log Stem House himself.

To help sort out some of the complexities of construction to donors and the Arboretum Board, we presented detailed progress reports every other month. This also gave board members the opportunity to provide feedback to project managers. As with many projects of this size, the majority of changes came from trying to keep budget costs within the original estimate.

Tom Featherstone, a top construction manager who led the work for the creation of many projects at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, was chosen to spearhead the assignments for twenty-two construction contracts. HDG project managers met weekly with the contractors at the construction site to collaborate on revisions or additions to the plans that could improve the garden. Everyone took a special interest in his or her personal contribution; they realized this was a rare opportunity to contribute to something they will eventually be able to share with their children and grandchildren. The work also seemed to ‘bring out the kid’ in them.

The small scale of the garden was a big adjustment for the contractors. They were careful to check and double-check their work because every aspect of the garden was a little smaller than their typical scope of work.

The Chilton Stone

One of the best additions to the plants and trees in the garden is the unusual stone that was chosen for the dry stack and veneered walls, outcropping stairs and flagstone paving. The Chilton stone, quarried from Wisconsin, with its variety of color and texture, brought an incredible richness to the site. The purple, rust, blue and grey hues complemented the plant material and colored concrete.

A Strategic Approach to Planting Design

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