Back in the game

Jim Davis took a brief hiatus from his irrigation company, but has returned and is designing plans for one of the largest buildings in the world.

January 16, 2013
Lindsey Getz

As a landscape architect, Jim Davis got into irrigation consulting after recognizing a need for an irrigation-focused consultation service in the Midwest. While irrigation consulting companies have always been common in more mature irrigation markets like Florida, California, and Texas, Davis says there were very few in the Midwest, with the exception of those focusing on golf courses. He launched Landtech Design in 1994 with a sole focus on the commercial market.

There was definitely a gap to be filled,” Davis says. “I started with just myself hoping that within a year or so we’d have the need to hire someone else to assist with the design work so that I could focus on the sales side. But that need came in only six months and the business grew very quickly from there. After a year and a half we had two designers, while I was focusing on sales.”

Taking a break. Davis says part of what sets his company apart is the team’s credentials and experience. “We are all Certified Irrigation Designers (CID) with the Irrigation Association (IA), and two of us are also Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditors (CLIA) through the IA,” Davis says. “We’re also WaterSense Partners with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and have a strong background in landscape architecture as well as horticulture and geology. The whole reason why I started Landtech Design back in 1994 was to be a specialist that Midwestern landscape architects could turn to while they were producing plans and specs for new development projects.

"Most Midwestern landscape architects don’t have a strong background in irrigation – so we wanted to provide the service that they needed but did not possess. Because they often don’t have the irrigation background, they rely heavily on consultants like Landtech Design.”

After nine years of business in Indianapolis, Davis took a position with Toro in St. Louis, and put Landtech on hold for a while. Six-and-a-half years later, the economy took a downturn and Davis decided that re-launching Landtech was the right decision. Staying in St. Louis, Davis reunited with his two designers in Indianapolis, as well as a third designer out West. While Davis runs the business from St. Louis, he says the majority of Landtech Design’s work is out of state.

That’s the interesting thing about design and consulting – It can be done from anywhere in the world. With today’s technology, Davis says he often doesn’t even have to visit the job site. About 95 percent of the work they do is for projects that haven’t been built yet. “Most of our work is long distance consulting,” Davis says.

“Even when it’s here in St. Louis, it’s usually a project that hasn’t been built yet so if you went out to the site there may be some existing buildings still on it. These days we can get a good view of things using Google Earth and other satellite images, which typically eliminates the need of visiting the site. Of course you have to know about soil conditions and climate, but we rely on engineering studies for that information.”

A big deal. Over the years, Landtech Design has done consulting and design work for projects all over the world. One of their most recent jobs is particularly noteworthy. Landtech was hired by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture to be the landscape irrigation design consultant for “Kingdom Tower,” soon to be the world’s tallest building. Based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Kingdom Tower will be a mixed-use building featuring a luxury hotel, office space, serviced apartments, luxury condominiums and the world’s highest observatory.

Davis says he’s truly honored that Landtech Design has been selected for the job. While it’s not their first job in the Middle East— they are consulting on approximately a dozen jobs in the region—the building’s status and recognition is truly one-of-a-kind. And yet, although vertically it is an enormous building, Davis says that land-wise it’s not much bigger than any other project. The project will have approximately 17 or 18 acres of outdoor space. But that’s not to say there aren’t challenges presented.

There’s a lot to understand about the region including the fact that the plant material is quite different than what is common in the United States. Water is also an issue. The building sits in a harbor that is adjacent to the Red Sea and while there is plenty of salt water available, the region is relatively short on good, potable water.

“We will utilize all the rain water we can get,” says Davis. “We will also be using air conditioning condensate as a significant contributor to the irrigation system. How we apply that water will be very efficient and most of what we design will be done with drip irrigation – applying it very efficiently. The use of sprinklers that pop up and throw water in the air would not be efficient in a region that is not only incredibly windy but very hot, causing water to evaporate quickly. Drip irrigation will be critical to this project.”

As condensation is collected, it will be directed into a large cistern near the base of the building. The irrigation system will include technologies such as UV sanitization, a fertilizer injector system, ET/weather-based sensors, and a central control system that will allow the entire operation to be manipulated remotely.

Maximum value. Efficient water use has always been part of the Landtech mission and influences their entire approach to designing systems for all projects. “We create unique and sustainable solutions in an effort to find the best response to each project’s requirements,” Davis says. “We strive to provide our clients with the latest advances in water-smart solutions and construction practices.”

In fact, the emphasis on efficient water use has probably been one of the biggest changes since Davis got into the business in the mid-90s. “With most of our designs it is rare to have a project where the use of water isn’t a concern,” he says. “So we’re doing things a lot differently these days. The evolving technology has also helped. We’re using more state-of-the-art products that can not only reduce water output and make it more efficient but can also offer smarter and more efficient scheduling. Controllers are so important in regulating and self-adjusting today’s irrigation system.”

Davis says that of all the technology that’s come about or products that have evolved, controllers are having the biggest impact. “The technology in them has come so far,” Davis says. “Sprinklers, drip, and valves haven’t really changed all that much but the digital technology now available in controllers has evolved dramatically.”

In addition to smart control technology, Davis says that a move into water harvesting has been another major change. “Water harvesting is now a large part of our business,” he says. “Sometimes we just handle the front end of those projects, which is called ‘scoping’ – or estimating the water needs and cistern capacities for a project.”

Landtech’s ability to keep up with the very latest technology and stay ahead of the curve has helped drive some key projects, including the Kingdom Tower, in their direction. Davis says that going forward the company is committed to designing with highly efficient products, making use of the latest technology in the field.