Friday, October 22, 2010

Landscape Performance Series

Interesting link to the Landscape Architecture Foundation's new resource - the Landscape Performance Series - which is sort of an adjust to the Sustainable Sites Initiative which is "...designed to fill a critical gap in the marketplace and make the concept of “Landscape Performance” and its contribution to sustainability as well known as “Building Performance” is today. The LPS is not a rating system, but rather a hub that brings together information and innovations from research, professional practice and student work in the form of case study briefs, benefits toolkit, factoid library, and scholarly works.

As someone who is adamant that our profession attain a much higher level of rigor in determining the efficacy of designs, this is a great new addition.  The projects are interesting, cover a wide range of landscape typologies, and offer data that is not available in typical media 'puff-pieces' or even more technical papers.  A typical case study includes a number of interesting features.  For instance, a look at the great Seattle project, the Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel, provides an overview, sustainable features, challenges/solutions, cost comparisons, lessons learned, and project team.

:: image via LAF

While the data is more expansive, we still have a long way to get really good information that can not just validate projects but can also drive future design solutions.  Information on cost, performance, and technical data is still anecdotal - not saying it doesn't exist, but that it either hasn't been studied, or hasn't been released.  The issue with data and research is always not the results, but the methodology and transferability to future projects.  Every landscape architect should study the Case Study Method for an approach to post-occupancy evaluation, particularly Mark Francis' article in Landscape Journal, that should become the foundation of every project - not just those with innovative features or with funding to provide necessary data.  

:: image via LAF

From a design perspective, we need greater access to available research.  I've had an interesting (and wonderful) opportunity to have access to the research library resources of a major university, and it has been amazing to see all of the data out there that has not trickled down to the design community in a meaningful way - even when you are actively searching for this information.  Take for instance the state of research in Green Roof technology, which in common access is limited to minimal, local, or specialized data on soils, plants, and benefits.  

:: image via

A very quick survey of some recent literature yielded international data on building heat flux, growing media for stormwater retention, water quality and building insulation, energy performance, plant establishment, habitat function, cost/benefit through life-cycle assessment, economic value, innovative structural techniques and systems, and heat island mitigation.  In addition, there are technical studies that offer innovative modelling techniques that provide macro-scale, not just site specific data, about the benefits of sustainable strategies, including green roofing.

:: image via Inhabitat

Aside from anecdotal, feel good stories about ephemeral or vague benefits, these offer tangible examples of research that can lead to better design and implementation.  While all of these research studies are not immediately transferable, many are, and it highlights the need for designers, even those not doing research, to be more involved in the creation of research agendas that will actually lead to better solutions.  It's not an either/or scenario - but one where we much work together if we are to make our landscapes more viable, but also give ourselves the tools to measure and evaluate them.  I commend the LAF for their work - and encourage others in the landscape architecture community to support and expand this work.


  1. Another useful post. Thanks.
    It would be nice to read your opinions sometime about the landscape/ecosystem-related items of: - ASLA Sustainable Sites Certification
    - LEED ND
    - Living Building Challenge 2.0

  2. I've alluded to these in the past - if you search the blog you can find a few posts from the archives. Particularly the shortcomings of LEED to address site issue, the potential of Sustainable Sites if it is widely adopted and doesn't go the narrow focused way of LEED. Not as much on Living Building Challenge (which I like as a model, but is really not attainable for all but a few projects, at least now) or LEED ND (oh that's right, the NU crowd has some say in that, didn't they) - but perhaps a good chance to compare and contrast?

  3. Thanks, I've since checked out your previous posts on ratings systems and read some good stuff. A compare & contrast post by you would be great given the importance of ratings systems, but you probably have enough on your to-do list as it is.
    One notable of the Living Building Challenge is all projects must be sited on greyfields or brownfields -- not sure how well SSI and LEED ND compare on that. Given the cutting-edge sustainability of LBC, I would have expected it to require or encourage the creation of urban wildlife habitats (ex. for pollinators), instead of only focusing on the use of indigenous vegetation. I also didn't see that any one of these three ratings systems addresses the (suburban?) issue of having to install a totally ugly stormwater detention/retention facility on each and every site or subdivision. I suppose a new kind of rating system would be needed for that, like a Sustainable Municipal Development Plan Rating, to encourage neighborhood stormwater facilities over individual site facilities.


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