In my 30 years as a landscape architect I’ve had the pleasure of working with many talented pool builders, and have seen an increase in the number of projects where a pool contractor and landscape architect collaborate. More sophisticated clients and new construction methods, materials and technologies have all contributed to a need for a strong relationship between these two professionals.

Here are some observations on these collaborations, as seen from my perspective.

Collaborating with a landscape architect often can make a job more profitable for the pool builder.

Recently, I presented a lecture at an industry event, discussing how landscape architects and pool builders can work together. I was approached by a few attendees and found that some pool builders believe that a landscape architect can only hinder them, because it puts someone between them and the homeowner.

I believe that the pool builders we’ve worked with have had a positive experience, both organizationally and financially. In general, I have found when a landscape architect or designer is involved on a project, a homeowner is sensitive to the overall aesthetic and is more apt to consider recommendations, even over and above their original budget. Sometimes if the pool contractor suggests an upgrade, the homeowner questions the motive. These additions ultimately make it more profitable for the pool builder.

We may not have final say over who builds the pool.

Sometimes a contractor will call me and say, “We haven’t worked on a project in a year or so. What’s happening?” Selection of the pool contractor is not always up to us. In a dream world, when I get a new client and create a design, I would assess the project and say which pool contractor and landscaper would be the perfect fit for the job. I would make the recommendation and have our client hire them. But quite often the homeowner may have a friend, co-worker or relative who has used a particular pool builder so the client would like to hire them as well. If this makes the client comfortable and I have no reservations about the skill level of the particular builder, we use it as an opportunity to establish a positive relationship with a new contractor.

At least as often, clients come to us to receive competitive bids on projects, as a way of obtaining the best pricing. In certain respects it would be easier for me to always deal with one or two builders, but in often isn’t the best solution in the long run for the homeowner, because the client is looking for us to get them the best value for the dollar.

Plans have to be more set-in-stone than in the past.

In our area of the Northeast, we have some very dramatic natural sites, with rock outcrops, cliffs and rugged terrain. As a result, particularly back in the 1980s and 1990s, free-form pools with dramatic waterfalls and extensive rock work were very popular. While designed and detailed on plan before we broke ground, these designs often were modified in the field during excavation to accommodate existing conditions of the topography and to eliminate extensive blasting or rock work. I think that the pool builders had fun working on these types of projects, where together we could shift and manipulate the design to accommodate the site.

I now find, from the perspectives of permitting, construction and pricing, that plans have to be as detailed, thorough and complete as possible. In addition, many of the pools we design are extremely complex, with specific elements that must be done a certain way to accomplish the right look. Once in a while, we can still make some on-site adjustments, but there’s a bit less flexibility.

Design suggestions should be well-timed.

Different landscape architects work in different ways. We provide a complete, detailed design and set of construction drawings for each pool and spa included in our landscapes.

By the time a pool builder has been asked to supply a bid, we may have already had five, six or even 10 design meetings with the client, and reviewed numerous pool designs before the plans are finalized. Once the homeowners have selected their preferred design, and we’ve detailed it out, prepared construction drawings and bid specifications, obtained permits and town approvals and put it out for bids, we’re too far along in the process to begin re-evaluating and redesigning. And we’ve more than likely reviewed every possibility.

It helps if the pool builder is sensitive to that fact. While we do appreciate their recommendations regarding a particular construction process, method or equipment selection, suggesting some kind of overall redesign during the bidding process is not advised. If a homeowner is going for a very modern aesthetic, and the pool builder then suggests something very traditional or natural, they could really put off the client and even lose the project. I’ve had clients say to a pool builder, “Well, didn’t you look at the plan? We already made that decision.” Then it looks as though they haven’t done their homework.

We know that pool builders have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be beneficial to the landscape architect, especially about the newest construction methods, technology and materials. Our advice would be to keep the lines of communication open to create the most respectful and professional work relationship, which will ultimately result in a successful project.