Bringing Landscapes to life: The TPLA way

Built by Webb & Brown-Neaves. Photo by D-MAX Photography

Tristan Peirce Landscape Architecture, with sole operator Tristan Peirce is quite possibly a name you have heard of if you live in the Western Suburbs of Perth.  TPLA, a boutique residential landscape architecture firm has been operating for just over 2 years now, but Tristan’s journey started in school, studying art, and later completed his Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Western Australia in 2002.  Tristan’s first job with Blackwell & Associates Landscape Architects was as a commercial landscape architect and later moved to a design and construction company with Tim Davies Landscaping where he managed the design team as Principle Landscape Architect.  After 11 years Tristan decided to make the jump to go solo and he’s not looked back.

In the first 12 months out on my own, I did do a bit of commercial work, but my main goal was to deal primarily with single residential projects, and today I complete between 35 – 40 projects a year, which is amazing.   In the early days I didn’t give much thought to running my own busines, but as the years flew by I felt I’d perhaps become a bit stale so had to seriously think about where I wanted to be in 10 years’ time.  Perhaps in hindsight I was always thinking of doing it on my own but didn’t know it.

Built by Webb & Brown-Neaves. Photo by D-MAX Photography

When meeting with a client for the first time, do they generally know what they want, or do they rely on your input?

I think clients kind of know how they want to use the spaces before they meet with me, but it’s my job to help them get the most out of the spaces they have.  We go through a process where they tell me how they ideally want to live in a space and then I help them out with my professional skill set to deliver their vision.  It’s all about listening to what they want and me applying my experience to deliver a product.

I start with meeting both parties to gather as much information as I can to develop a project brief. 

Once the client and I are on the same page, I launch into a two-stage process.  The first part is to model my design in 3D with SketchUp. When complete, I visit with my 3D flythrough to show the clients my interpretation of their vision and refine it after their input. 

The second part of my process is where I revert to 2D drawings to cover minor changes.  These drawings are given to the contractors, with the right amount of detail so they can price the job correctly.

I stay in touch throughout the process with the relationship being very collaborative – or as collaborative as clients want it to be.  I can also see it through to construction, ensuring the design agreed upon is delivered.

Why do you work in SketchUp?

I’ve always had a lot of ideas in my head and although I’m OK at hand sketching, when SketchUp came out, it was so intuitive and such a great way to deliver ideas in my head to client, it was a no-brainer so I got on board and started to learn it.  It’s a fantastic tool.

It’s easy, intuitive, and if you don’t know how to do something you can usually find it on Google or YouTube.  There’s lots of plugins if you ever encounter issues, you can typically search and there is normally somebody who’s created a plugin that solves that problem to help you out.  I love it and use it every day.  I would be lost without it, and I don’t know what I would be using instead.

I use SketchUp during the initial design process as this helps the clients see what I’m thinking, and through a render (using the Podium plugin), or video (via Enscape), they can also see what the finished product will look like at completion.

Anything in SketchUp you would like help with using or finding?

SketchUp layout – I am very familiar with the look of AutoCAD and have dabbled in Sketchup Layout. I found it intuitive, however I couldn’t quite replicate the same outcome in hardline drawings and detail I’m used to in a documentation set. It’s likely my lack of knowledge around using Layout and one I need to put a bit more time into developing my skills.

We have some exciting news –  Layout is actually awesome and we will be releasing some training soon! So, if you’re like TPLA and you want to use Layout but need some help – let us know!

What other plugins do you use?

I use podium – it’s a really great plugin.  It enables me to add photo realistic lighting, materials and reflections etc. to my drawings, bringing them to life for me and the client.

Path copy, which is good if you want to copy items for example plants in a border, or a tile pattern on a wall.

Twin Motion, I’ve used a bit – I’ve probably recently changed to Enscape, which is more of a real-time thing – so I can have a SketchUp model open on one screen and the live render on the other screen.

What are some of your current projects and has COVID-19 presented any challenges with these?

There are a few projects on the go at the moment, all at different stages.  Each one from design to the finished project can take up to six months, some longer.  From a design perspective there’s always a challenge dealing with Council planning, compliance, getting plans through council, engineering, so lots of little challenges there which could bump the project out further.

Working in the residential sector I tend to do a lot of out-of-ground pools.  WA regulations surrounding pool isolation trenches, like out of ground pools to avoid fencing, is a little bit different to the Eastern side so it enables me to design these with different shapes.  A recent one which is nearly completed is an egg shape, out of the ground.  It has a pool fence but most of the pool fence is actually the pool shell, so a little bit unorthodox. 

I would say Covid-19 definitely had an impact to start with.  There was a bit of a slow down with everyone trying to work out exactly what was going to unfold.  With Perth, as we’ve started to get on top of the infections rate, and people are working from home more, my assumption is that people have started to have a look around their homes and as they aren’t going anywhere soon, they are starting to invest in the property. With the government stimulus available it’s given a solid foundation to the building industry to maintain confidence.

What’s your favourite project?

I don’t really have a favourite, they are all unique and mean a lot to me. At the end of the day if the customer is happy, I’ve done my job.  One of the projects I spent a significant amount of time on was Cottesloe 01. It was fully designed in Sketchup and included onsite plant selection and placement with the landscape contractor (Axis Landscapes) and the client. When complete, the 3D SketchUp modelling was very close to the built outcome. It’s rewarding to be able to show a design and deliver the outcome physically – it’s the whole package that the clients are after.

Do you use a specific team of contractors on each project?

I tend to use a few different people whom I’ve known for a long time.  But it comes down to their capacity at the time, skills-set for the project and personality fit for the client.  It’s easier to work with people you are familiar with, and they get to know your designs and expectations too.

Sometimes the client may ask us to use people they know, and fortunately the experiences with these have been great, and more often than not I would generally know them anyway because it’s a pretty small world in Perth.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered on a project and how do you manage these?

To be honest I’ve not had any major challenges since going out on my own.  There’s always minor challenges on projects, but it’s probably a case of not letting them become huge by dealing with them quickly. 

How can customers see your work?

Word of mouth brings me the largest source of work.  I do have an Instagram account and a pretty comprehensive website, showcasing a lot of projects completed.  The social media channels are there to support the Word of mouth referrals.

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