November 5, 2015
By Barry Justus, Baldo Gucciardi, and Michael Flint
During the winter of 2013, Poolscape Inc., was referred by International Landscaping Inc., to a soon-to-be-built large residential estate project in Ontario’s Muskoka region. The project was a new build, a luxurious cottage with impressive sightlines and an elegant modern design overlooking Lake Rosseau. The client’s vision for the landscape was to capture the natural feel of the surroundings, but also blend this with a sense of luxury and sophistication the new residence provided.
That said, special consideration had to be given to the following:
As with many projects, there was an initial landscape plan to contend with and bid on. However, after meeting with the client and explaining the deficiencies in the original plan, the greenlight was given to go ahead and start from scratch. After an intense period of design work, the new concept plan was presented to the client, along with a pricing proposal. As a result, Poolscape and International Landscaping were chosen to build this large-scale project.
For projects with vast grade changes that are very difficult to show in a standard two-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) drawing, 3-D presentations are a much more effective selling tool.
Most clients, and quite a few designers, have difficulty visualizing a concept in 2-D. Clients become immersed in the design process when they can visualize the finished result—even in a basic 3-D design.
On this project, 3-D renderings were used to guide the engineering firm(s) through the proposed installation method. For instance, the pool, spa, and cantilevered shallow-lounging area were fully suspended and built directly over top of the mechanical room and lounge area.
The property’s varying elevations were also used as a design advantage, whereby incorporating a dual-side vanishing edge pool, which would allow the client to see the water ‘vanish’ from the cottage perspective, as well as from the traditional pool deck vantage point.
At the opposite end of the property, a unique sports court, suspended above a sports utility garage, was also incorporated into the design. Once again, 3-D design was imperative to this part of the project, as the client did not want the sports court to dominate the view when passing through the gated entrance to the cottage.
The landscape plan was completed at the same time as the structural and engineering plans. The sheer scope of the project combined with the steep-sloped property and the overriding environmental concerns made this an exceptionally challenging undertaking. The level of detail in the design work was staggering. Every light, drain, electrical conduit, and stone pattern needed to be plotted, installed, and checked. Sample mock-ups were created at the landscaping firm’s indoor showroom for the customer to choose pool and deck tiles, lights, pillar caps, stonework patterns, as well as make a myriad of other decisions.
Standard 2-D CAD drawings were used for permit acquisition and detailed working and construction drawings for the project.
Designing and building a project in the most cost-effective manner to achieve a desired result starts with site preparation.
When Poolscape first visited the site it was during the dead of the Muskoka winter and snow was piled 3 m (10 ft) high along the winding gravel road that approached the cottage. Standing at the top of the snow covered property’s edge, looking down a steep 27-m (90-ft) drop to the frozen lake below, a mixture of fear and awe sunk in as it was realized a fail-proof plan would be required to build the pool on the edge of the cliff and make sure it stayed there.
With a plan in place, a local subcontractor with expertise in blasting and moving large quantities of bedrock moved onto the site with various specialized equipment. A local surveyor was also regularly on site to assist in laying out the project on the sloping grade. The blasting area had to be precisely defined to minimize the cost of removing excessive amounts of rock and to ensure there was sufficient space to build the project after the drilling rigs left the site. It was also inspected by a soil engineer to ensure there were sufficient ground conditions where the project was being built.
To do this, a plan was developed that would see a shelf blasted out of the cliff to create a ‘bench’ where the pool, spa, and decks would be built. The grade was dropped 5.5 m (18 ft), gradually sloping off to zero as the cliff descended towards the lake.
Another local expert was hired to blast the granite and relocate it to the far end of the site. Blasting this close to a multi-million dollar cottage was complex, thus it required numerous smaller explosions to loosen the granite bedrock into manageable pieces.
Developing a forest setting on a ‘quarry’ is no easy feat, but International Landscaping’s crew were up to the challenge. Close to 800,000 kg (800 tons) of salvaged blast rock was used to create retaining walls on the steep slopes. These pockets allowed for the installation of hundreds of mature trees and thousands of shrubs and perennials.
Blasting the shelf in the granite bedrock provided many design and construction benefits, including:
Much of the site preparation centred on minimizing impact to the local environment. When working in any natural environment there is always an emphasis on lessening the impact of the activity taking place. For example, silt barriers were spread throughout the property to prevent any runoff of contaminated silted water from reaching the lake below. A great deal of time and expense was spent on protecting the existing native trees on the property as well.
Further, upon the completion of the major built components within the landscape, an emphasis was placed on restoring any area that had even been remotely impacted. The focus was to restore the once forest-covered landscape to a natural setting. Working with local arborists and forestry professionals, a plan was developed to ensure native species were used in the restorative areas. Ensuring the diversity of the ecosystem is maintained is integral to promoting the healthy growth of the forest over the years to come. Liberal applications of deep root fertilizer, paired with a newly installed irrigation system, ensure the plant material is kept healthy and develops into the surrounding mature forest.
Simple considerations such as garbage disposal were also challenging due to the remote location. For example, food waste had to be removed from the site on a daily basis so it did not attract raccoons or bears. If the animals became habituated with the site for food, bears, for example, would remain long after the project was completed.
Finally, as the cottage was also being built while the pool and landscaping were being prepped for construction, it had to be protected during blasting, concrete pumping, and throughout the overall exterior construction process.
A complete set of engineered structural and hydraulic plans were used for the placement of three tractor trailer loads of rebar and all 900 m3 (1177 cu yd) of cast-in-place concrete used throughout the project.
Much of the pool construction was simplified by creating the shelf in the granite bedrock. The base was still pinned to the exposed granite that was left intact, while some of the smaller blast rock was left insitu as a base for the pool foundation. An extensive drainage system was installed to carry groundwater, which is continually seeping from the granite face to the tree bed gardens created below.
Cast-in-place construction was used to pour all of the pool, spa, shallow lounging area, surge tanks, bunkers, and cantilevered decks. All of the concrete was pumped using a standard boom pump with the exception of the cantilevered decks on the lakeside of the cottage. A line pump was used for these areas.
Pumping a large volume of concrete in such a remote area presented a number of challenges. For instance, during half-load season, trucks could only be loaded with 3 m (9.8 ft) of concrete (normally trucks are loaded with 9 m [29.5 ft]). To overcome this obstacle, the ready-mix company brought full loads to the end of the gravel road and then used a shuttle truck to move the 3-m (9.8-ft) loads to the build site. Normally, concrete must be placed within 60 minutes of batching; however, a number of additives were mixed into the concrete at the plant, and on-site, to meet the engineered concrete requirements over a longer time frame.
Gravel was stock piled on-site while the ground was still frozen. Once half-load season ended in mid-May, more gravel was brought in for backfilling and grading.
The pool portion of the project was built in layers, similar to the construction of a high-rise building. Soil and mechanical engineers verified the progress at all of the important stages of construction. With the pool base being 5.5 m (18 ft) below grade, the local survey crew assisted with locating structures, as running string and plumb lines were not accurate enough.
The structural cantilevered decks that surrounded the pool and cottage were relatively easy to construct. The only difficulty was working with harnesses and keeping a constant watch for any safety concerns while working on the edge of the cliff.
Concrete slabs were poured and large granite flagstone tiles were laid around the pool and wrapped around the cottage to create patios and walkways. Developing multi-level patios suited the site’s topography and aided in the creation of different entertainment spaces. In a secluded section, located beneath the main patio and set before the backdrop of the forest, a lower-level patio provides a relaxing lounge area with a custom firepit. Together with the soothing sounds of the nearby negative-edge pool, the perfect place for the quintessential Muskoka summer evening was created.
Part of the project involved running kilometres of conduit for the various subtrades that would follow the installation of the structural components. Electrical, lighting, automation, irrigation, audio, gas lines, plumbing, drain lines, and all of the pool equipment had to be imbedded in the structural concrete. Detailed plans were drawn up to ensure nothing was missed. Having to core, chip, and install conduit lines after the fact is expensive and time consuming. When in doubt, it is always a good idea to run extra lines and chase pipes.
There were two options for the installation of the sports court at the far end of the property: blast a shelf similar to how the pool was constructed or proceed with pinning the foundation onto the sloping granite bedrock. After considering both options, the decision not to blast the rock was made for two reasons: the rock blasted for the pool was used on-site, so any additional blast rock would need to be trucked off site at a considerable expense; and the sport court was located as close as possible to the lakefront, so the risk involved with blast rocks cascading into the lake was also a real concern.
Therefore, the footings were pinned into the granite base, under the direct supervision of a local soil engineer. Massive footings were poured directly onto the bedrock, before the sports court was built above an eight car sports utility garage. From the base of the footings to the top of the stone pillars, it was 13.7 m (45 ft) above grade. This was significantly higher than a typical 2.4-m (8-ft) pool project. In fact, the client liked the pillars so much the project was extended further west to create an additional column.
The project did not just involve the immediate property surrounding the cottage, as work was also completed at lake level. Working with a local contractor through the winter, steel frames were fabricated while the water was frozen, which made it easier to construct the dock as vehicles could be driven on the lake.
This prep-work in the ‘off season’ allowed for a seamless continuation of work into the springtime. The ipe-wood deck surface was installed and the finishing touches, including flush-mounted lights, and an 8.2-m (27-ft) diameter custom umbrella were installed. The dock features slips for two large vessels and two sea-doo’s, as well as mooring locations for many more. A protected swimming area was also created between the dock and the shoreline to provide a safe place for young bathers.
To permit easy access between the residence and dock, natural Muskoka granite steps were installed. To facilitate the installation of these granite slab steps on such a steep incline, a 100,000-kg (100-ton) crane was used to lessen the impact on the environment. This installation technique ensured approximately 100 slab steps were carefully placed without having to remove any mature trees.
During this project, Poolscape and International Landscaping crews were working approximately three hours away from their respective head offices. Therefore, careful co-ordination and scheduling was required to ensure the project was completed without going over budget. This meant daily conference calls with team members on-site and at office locations, as the client was very hands on, confirming any design changes, and reviewing progress benchmarks.
Careful planning was necessary on such a tight project with so many companies and trades all working together. Timing and co-ordination had to be perfect to ensure there were never too many people in a given area and that everyone was not working on top of each other. Not only did this relate to physical crew members, but also for material storage, as too much material on a site at the wrong time can lead to major delays in productivity. Therefore, navigating the logistics before arriving on site can ensure headaches are kept to a minimum.
Finally, another challenge with working in cottage country during the summer season is the influx of people. In an area where people try to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, it is hard not to draw some complaints when the cottagers arrive; therefore, a happy medium has to be obtained and monitored between the requirement of completing the job on time and within budget and the goal of keeping the neighbourhood happy.
Barry Justus is the owner of Poolscape Inc., and Justus International Consulting. He is an international lecturer and author of more than 40 articles on pool design and construction. Justus is also a fellow of the Society of Watershape Designers (SWD) and a member of Pool & Spa Marketing’s editorial advisory board (EAB). More than 90 per cent of his projects designed and built over the last decade have won a national or international award. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baldo Gucciardi is a founding partner and CEO of International Landscaping Inc., in Hornby, Ont., He has more than 27 years’ experience in the landscape industry and has developed an expertise in design and construction practices. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Michael Flint is a landscape design consultant with International Landscaping Inc. He is a graduate of the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Guelph. Along with fresh perspectives on landscape design, Flint brings experience in municipal processes from a prior position with a local municipality. He played an integral role in design amendments and management on this project. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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