A designer’s viewpoint for hardscape contractors

A designer’s viewpoint for hardscape contractors

Features - Design/Build

Chad Watkins shares ideas at Hardscape North America.

October 4, 2011
Peter Chakerian
Industry News

You've got a great hardscape idea, an excellent concept and a solid budget with which to execute.

But what happens if the designer and contractor teamed for the project aren't, well, working together?

Chad Watkins, president/principal of Foley, Ala.-based Watkins Acy Strunk (WAS) Design, has an opinion. Quite a few, actually.

And if you're headed to Hardscape North America in October, you're likely to get an earful and eyeful from him and his PowerPoint.

Watkins is one of the planned speakers for the show, which is held in conjunction with the GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky.

His session, "A Designer's Viewpoint for Hardscape Contractors," follows three case studies that utilized segmental retaining wall and concrete unit paving products.

Watkins explores the design and construction process with the goal of "showcasing the designer's perspective on how to execute great projects as a team," says Watkins, a registered landscape architect.

"It's a whole lot easier and more effective to talk about this stuff with my hands," Watkins says with a laugh, calling in from his Foley office. "But I do think the subject matter translates without that for many people.

"There's a narrative and expository presentation to these projects, and the challenges and successes speak to them from different viewpoints. That's a difficult thing to portray, I guess. But that's the goal for my talk.."

Watkins says that his presentation is carrying a "tongue-in-cheek working title of 'Just Make Me Look Good,' and should clock in between 60 and 75 minutes," he says.

"I'm discussing segmental retaining walls and unit pavers in design from a designer's perspective and about how critical it is for designers, contractors and vendors to work together for the success of the project," Watkins adds.

"That's how the business thrives and future opportunities come about."

His goals for the talk? To increase participants' understanding of the design phase of the projects discussed, the understanding of their roles in a project from the designer's perspective and to get a good handle on the "project dynamic."

Watkins says that everything from differing agendas to a total lack of communication – and almost anything that one can think of in between – "really can cause a project to suffer."

He says the talk covers project design phases, material procurement, construction, project synergy ("or lack thereof," he says) and how budgets, timelines and personalities impact each of these phases.

Watkins also says that a keystone to the talk is why team synergy matters.

"Everyone needs to be on the same page," he says. "Or the finished product may look like no one was."

In Watkins' three case study projects, he plans on "covering mostly the good that comes from these relationships, but the bad and ugly are represented as well, in an effort to show designers just how these projects can move along the right and wrong way.

"To adequately achieve design vision, it's important to overcome your challenges – which come up as early as design and product selection," he says.

Watkins plans to illustrate his points through discussions of particular WAS projects and their respective dynamics.

These include:

  • The Barber Marina in nearby Orange Beach, Ala., "which explored many different options" during the design process.
  • A beachfront Hampton Inn, which "adapted material selections due to product dynamics" during the procurement process.
  • And the Heritage Motor Coach/Recreational Vehicle Resort and Marina "that required precision and craftsmanship in construction execution."

"We think it does well to show designers how projects move along," Watkins says. "Usually, we're the first to interact with the owner, and of course, the better it goes on the last project, the more likely we are to be the champion to get the next project.

"People pay us for design, we try to execute every time," Watkins says. "If I can't get a shot on a project, or something goes wrong, isn't installed properly or is discarded or ignored, the consequences can be huge for a business."

Watkins describes himself as "one of those kids who grew up on a working farm" and, in his words, "I really didn't like it very much."

With little appeal in his then-vocation, he started a lawn business as a teenager and got busy – so much so, that his business quickly evolved into landscaping, which then helped pave the way toward being a landscape architect. He saw each step critical to his evolution.

From there, Watkins started drawing. After he finished with schooling, he began practicing landscape architecture, he started his own firm five years ago with business partners Jared Acy and Troy Strunk "and we've been planted on the Gulf Coast ever since," he says.

Watkins Acy Strunk (WAS) Design, is a landscape architecture and land planning firm that offers a wide range of professional design services to the Gulf Coast region.

The services range from "conceptual design through construction documentation and observation," Watkins says.

WAS Design "offers site, amenity, and landscape design, land planning and marketing graphics," says Watkins. Their projects range from commercial and industrial, to community design and residential.

Watkins doesn't forget where he came from: he's still a silent partner in a landscape company, and he says that having design and maintenance in his background "helps a great deal in offering a real, well-rounded perspective on what we try to accomplish on each side of the business."

He also believes that added layer of knowledge, expertise and awareness may have helped the company during the down economy.

"We've stayed in business through the recession, so I would consider our business very successful," he says.

"We've had quite a few competitors that aren't around anymore, quite frankly."


The author is a freelance writer based in Bay Village, Ohio.

Going to the Show?

2011 Hardscape North America and GIE+EXPO will co-locate again in Louisville, Ky. The shows will be held Oct. 27-29 at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
PLANET will also host its annual Green Industry Conference at the Louisville Marriott Downtown and Kentucky Exposition Center from Oct. 26-29 in Louisville.
For more information and to register:
•    2011 Hardscape North America, visit www.hardscapena.com
•    GIE+EXPO, visit www.gie-expo.com.
•    Green Industry Conference, www.landcarenetwork.org/events/GreenIndustryConf/