Utility, Utility, Utility
My first years as a professional landscape designer came during a local boom in industrial growth. I took part in the design of over thirty manufacturing facility landscapes. My first irrigation system design was for a site of more than fifty acres. It can be intimidating, and mistakes can be on a huge scale, too! I learned through experience what was effective and what didn’t work, because I was fortunate enough to see my designs implemented and mature.
Go big or go home? Not necessarily. Designing a large industrial site is different from planning the landscape for a commercial property or college campus. It’s all about utility. The final design must meet several goals.
Design for public relations. An industrial site is typically established through political moves and local economic investment. It must convey stability without extravagance. Large masses of evergreen plant material is needed to hold the design together. Groves of trees and trees that outline drives should be placed in a manner that directs the visitor to the main entrance and reception area. Excessive use of seasonal flowers sends a message of wastefulness. Concentrate annual color within large entrance planters, and keep the rest of the open space plantings as woody ornamentals. Frugal elegance should be the theme.
Design for both day and night, using lighting as part of the concept. Continuing with the public relations message, plan dramatic displays for hours when the landscape is not visible. Industrial sites will have large, long warehouse-like walls encasing the manufacturing facility. Be sure to avoid blocking windows, place trees with attractive silhouettes in repetitive fashion along these blank canvas spaces, and up-light or spotlight the trees to reflect the shadows against the building. Provide spot lights for the entrance signs and manufacturer’s name on the building facade. The effect is well worth the small cost of the lighting scheme.
Design for visibility. Keep view zones open to highlight signs and entrances. Allow open views for security vehicles to patrol throughout the site. It is extremely important to protect sensitive and expensive resources from malicious activity on manufacturing sites. Screen with vegetation only those areas that have been secured with additional fencing.
Design clean, defined, utilitarian lines to evoke control. Precision on the ground plane and at the edging between shrub beds and turf make a statement about the precision of the work taking place inside the facility.
Design for nature. When grading unearths huge boulders, use them in the landscape. Use the existing stormwater drainage basin runoff patterns to help determine the best flow for everything on the site—water, vehicles, and people. Think through circulation and accommodate large tractor-trailer trucks and fire vehicle turn-around requirements. If you have the opportunity for input, try to encourage the company to preserve and protect the natural systems of the site to save costs. The traditional methods of clear-cutting and flattening entire sites has proven to be very costly in the long term. Consider turning stormwater retention areas into decorative lakes and a source for recycling irrigation water. Try to work with the natural flow and features and highlight the company’s sensitivity in press releases.
Design for massive scale. Industrial sites are big, and the only way to landscape them properly is to match that size with broad brush strokes of artistic vegetation. Paint a big picture to create an adequate footprint for the building structures, and don’t forget, turf acts as your “white space” and provides an important design element in the whole concept. Use large sculptures to provide focal points. Be unafraid about creating lines and form, but thoughtful about placement. Never incorporate any features into an industrial landscape unless they perform an essential function in the design. A simple “S” curve that reads from the road might take 2,000 Yaupon Holly shrubs! Edit your design to the minimal planting needed and space the shrubs to allow healthy, mature growth.
The worst thing you can do is to ring the building facades with shrubs. This cake-decorating effect reduces the impact of the architecture and lacks sophistication. Professional designers can do better. It is perfectly acceptable, along the building perimeters, to use a wide strip of gravel where the walls meet bare ground, with no plant material at all.
Design for outdoor lunches and celebrations. Most industrial sites employ lots of people, sometimes for three separate shifts of work. Workers need a place to escape the noise and activity and breathe some fresh air. Include a shaded refuge with seating and tables, and maybe even a stage for special events. Put in plenty of outdoor electrical fixtures to make the space useable.
Design for additions. As the site is being constructed, be sure to include large, schedule 40 or schedule 80 sleeves under walks and drives. They need to be flexible and strong enough to handle large truck traffic. Map them on a plan so they can be found later. Sleeving is an inexpensive way to avoid hassles later when outdoor irrigation and electrical systems are installed.
Design for quality. An irrigation system is the best way to keep the landscape quality and health high. Use a manifold system of irrigation valves and keep the controller in a nearby, indoor mechanical room. It is quite acceptable to have exposed infrastructure features like backflow preventers and fire-suppression equipment visible on the grounds.
Design for corporate bragging rights. Industrial sites act as the cover for the product being manufactured. Design the landscape to impress visitors. The best way to do that is to keep things in good order. Allow for ease of maintenance in the design. Consolidate planting beds and provide mowing strips and room for large tractors to navigate and mow the site. Edge beds with deep trenches rather than flimsy edging strips. Separate the site into high, medium, and low water requirement zones, and only irrigation the high-need areas. Provide large beds where mowing and pruning aren’t needed very often. You can keep them neat looking with freshly-mulched edges and facer plantings. Impeccable maintenance is essential. Include an ongoing budget for quality maintenance. The plant material needs to be pruned professionally. An in-house or professional landscape maintenance company needs to be trained in good horticultural practices and weed control. Litter pickup and vegetative debris need to happen regularly. Write a complete set of maintenance specifications to go with your plans and train the industrial contact person to enforce them.
Big is not always best for industrial landscapes. High quality and utilitarian simplicity are the dual goals you should seek, instead. Make them strong, make them bold, and make them last.