How to Set a Budget for Landscape Architecture [and Become a Hero to Investors and Clients]

    by Brandon Reed / October 22, 2017

    How to Set a Budget for Landscape Architecture_and Become a Hero to Investors and Clients.jpg

    Creating a realistic budget for a landscape architectural project is one of the most difficult challenges architects face when they decide to implement landscape elements and sequences to a new mixed-use building. It is also an issue that frequently comes up in our meetings with prospective clients - how much is it going to cost?

    There is no easy way to answer the question, or any absolute formula or cost per square foot to apply that can give a perfect idea of cost. Yet, landscape architectural design is a big-ticket item, similar to buying a car; you would not go to the dealership without knowing if you wanted a Honda Civic or a Porsche.

    Two general rules of thumb

    Architects can use one of the two rules of thumb described below to develop a fairly accurate budget for a landscape architectural project.


    The Percentage Method
    Experts recommend allowing anywhere between 15 to 35% of the cost of your property for the general landscape architectural design of a project. The appearance of the property outside tells customers a lot about the attention to detail inside, so this isn’t the place to skimp. It is worth noting here that this percentage includes hardscape elements such as paving materials, site walls, water features, seating areas, fire pits, BBQ areas, to name some but not limited to just these elements. Too often architects and developers just think of plantings and irrigation, but they need to understand the full picture of all the other elements that contribute to the costs. An experience landscape architect will guide you through these items as well when setting budgets.


    The Square Footage Method
    The second method is to determine the total square footage of the site (from a plot plan, an on-site survey). Then apply a dollar amount per square foot, depending on the complexity of the project, to determine the budget range for landscape architectural design. This includes all the site and landscape elements mentioned above.


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    Factors that impact landscape architecture costs

    Answering the questions posed in the following items will give you a broad idea of the many factors that might impact the costs of any landscape architectural design.


    • Site work: How much grading, clean-up, tear out work is involved? How hard is it to access the site and do the work? 

    • Infrastructure: How much work is needed on the underlying systems- drainage, electrical, irrigation, lighting? Are there spaces that need to be created with large retaining walls that require drainage and a lot of site work? 

    • Hardscape: Usually the most expensive aspect of the project. What are the sizes and finishes of patios (concrete, brick, stone?), walkways and flatwork? Are there shade canopies and /or structures, fences, or gates required? Are site and landscape lighting, water features, or fire pits desired? What is the scale and level of detail of these items?

    • Softscape: How much planting, soil prep and mulching needs to be done? Are plants going to be installed small and allowed to grow, or brought in already mature?


    How to start your landscape architecture budget

    Planning of the site and landscape design can be an enjoyable part of the pre-planning phase. Bringing your vision to reality starts with research to find the actual costs of what you want included based on the size of the site.

    Follow these tips to create a budget that is realistic, organized, detailed, and easy to track.

    1. Set your priorities. Before hiring someone to design your project’s outdoor spaces you need to make two lists: a) what you want, and b) what can be done on the site. These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but the exercise is important for setting priorities. It would be foolish to spend big bucks on an outdoor water fountain before resolving potentially disastrous issues such as drainage problems or other cost inhibitors.


    1. Hire a professional landscape architect. One of the best ways to avoid costly mistakes is to hire an experienced and licensed professional landscape architect to design a master plan, which not only helps you visualize the possibilities, but also maps out the steps to achieve them —and get it right the first time. A master plan also helps understand where the money goes, which isn't always where you can see it.


    1. Invest in "maximum value" features. Start by understanding who your user demographic will be. Consider which features will get the most use or provide the most enjoyment to those targeted users. For example, it might be an outdoor patio that serves as an extension of the indoor space for a good portion of the year. Or it could be a fully functional outdoor BBQ/lounge area with seating, shade canopies and heat lamps to be enjoyed after work or end of day.


    1. Consider the return on investment. When prioritizing your needs and wants, ask yourself these questions: What will be the long-term maintenance costs? Does it make financial sense to do everything at once or in phases over several years?


    In closing

    Every architectural design project is unique, with a particular set of landscape design needs. At Loft 6/4 we are specialists in innovative and highly creative landscape architectural design in the state of Utah and surrounding western states. We know exactly what it takes to engage customers through beautifully planned, executed and maintained outdoor site and landscape experiences.

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    Tags: Landscape Architecture

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    Brandon Reed

    Brandon Reed

    I help top level architects and developers create landscapes that elevate the human experience.

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