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Time and Landscape Performance

1patinaExamples of change to landscape details over time. Image: S. Colwill
Have you ever visited a park or public space that you saw pictured in a glossy publication, just to discover that it didn’t quite live up to the photos? Simon Colwill at the Technical University of Berlin is working to increase the knowledge of the myriad factors that contribute to the aging, patination, and decay of built landscapes over time. Colwill’s work recognizes that while aging can create positive changes in a landscape, the machinations of time can also chip away at the effectiveness and usefulness of an otherwise well-designed landscape and be detrimental to its performance.
colwill_benchChange to a wooden bench in full shade under a canopy tree over 7 years. Above, left: year of completion. Above, right: 1 year after completion. Bottom, left: 7 years after completion. Bottom, right: detail of 7 years after completion. Image: S. Colwill
Colwill captured an astounding 80,000 photos in public spaces in Berlin between 2008 and 2017 of projects dating from 1990 to 2015, documenting changes in landscape details such as steps, paths, seating, and walls. This meticulous, year-by-year method of collecting data has targeted the primary agents of landscape transformation over time which are:
  • Site and contextual factors such as the degree of exposure, topography and aspect, soil mechanics, and influences from surrounding elements such as traffic, buildings and especially vegetation.
  • Design and detailing factors that come from designers’ handling of the materials, including geometry and form, suitability of materials and construction methods, and ease of maintenance and repair.
  • Material-specific factors that require in-depth knowledge of each material such as quality, durability, and surface protection.
  • Implementation factors such as workmanship, site supervision, construction technique, and conformance with construction standards.
  • Effects of environmental processes and weathering such as climatic agents, temperature, humidity, wind, atmospheric contaminants, surface soiling, biological agents, and spontaneous vegetation growth.
  • Impacts of user actions such as overuse, misuse, and underuse.
  • Maintenance and repair factors including the frequency, quality, and intensity of repair—lack of maintenance or incorrect maintenance is one of the primary contributors to accelerated deterioration.
  • Force majeure such as flooding, fires, storms, riots, and natural disasters.
Through the use of the extensive photographic database and case studies, Colwill’s research, funded by the DFG/German Research Foundation, will develop methods for monitoring built landscapes over time, identifying key causes of change, developing optimization strategies and methods for forecasting change, and, crucially, disseminating the research findings to practitioners.
3patina1Examples of surface material changes. a. and b.) Deposits of airborne sediments on concrete wall—year 1 vs. year 10. c.) Biological growth on wooden deck—year 17. d.) Biological growth limited to riser due to reduced trampling and maintenance—year 1 vs. year 7. Image: S. Colwill
Of course, extensive knowledge exists within the profession and among landscape architecture firms about the effects of time on materials and built projects, but the profession often lacks both research to back it up and institutional memory of such critical information, as evidenced in the occasional rapid deterioration and/or failure of some newly-built projects. Colwill’s work represents yet another chain in the critical link between research and practice that is essential for projects to perform to their full potential. Practitioners must be able to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and other unique characteristics of each material and be able to forecast material performance over time—and Colwill’s research is attempting to create the tools to enable that.
To strengthen the level of feedback between academia and practice, Colwill has stressed the importance of his students in research. Students that participate benefit from a sort of ‘reality check’ on their perceptions of built landscape which were initially formed by ostensibly perfect projects portrayed in landscape architecture publications – students have a chance to understand that creating lasting landscapes isn’t as effortless as it seems. Ultimately, Colwill’s research seeks to contribute to a feedback loop for the profession, avoiding the repetition of failures and, eventually, ensuring that initial investments in projects are honored with an optimal and useful life in which they live up to their performance objectives. While it would be unrealistic to expect every built project to maintain the glowing quality of promotional photos throughout its life cycle, Colwill’s research demonstrates another step in the direction of true “research and development” in landscape architecture. Colwill’s contribution to understanding how our spaces change over time is advancing understanding of landscape performance and helping to bridge the critical connection between research and practice.

Works cited:

Colwill, Simon. “Time, Design and Construction: Learning from Change to Built Landscapes Over Time.” In Bridging the Gap. Rapperswil, Switzerland: ECLAS Conference Proceedings, 2016.
Colwill, Simon. “Time, Patination and Decay. In Creation/Reaction.” University of Greenwich, London UK: ECLAS Conference Proceedings, 2017. 
Colwill, Simon. “Von Alterungsprozessen lernen”, (German, French) Anthos no. 3 (May 2016):31-33.
Kirkwood, Niall. The Art of Landscape Detail. Fundamentals, Practices, and Case Studies. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 1999.

Equity and Inclusion in Practice: Mithun

mithunphotobyjuanhernandez-ibarramedia530pxPhoto by Juan Hernandez, Ibarra Media; Image courtesy of Mithun

In issuing the New Landscape Declaration, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has made a commitment to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession and to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, activism, and advocacy within our ranks. To promote these values, LAF is publishing a series of articles to showcase the ways in which design firms are demonstrating leadership on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, from providing targeted support for students and emerging professionals to seeking outside guidance and evaluation of internal policies. This article continues the series by sharing Mithun’s experience with the International Living Future Institute’s JUST program and the firm’s motivation to pursue a JUST Label.

Mithun is an integrated design firm that merges architecture, interiors, landscapes, urban design, and planning. Working across the U.S., the firm is made up of a diverse community of 200 employees in offices in Seattle, Washington and San Francisco, California. Mithun recently completed an introspective, community-minded evaluation process that culminated with the assignment of a JUST Label. A program of the International Living Future Institute, JUST is a voluntary disclosure tool for organizations to report on social justice and equity within their operations, using a range of organization- and employee-related indicators.

In addition to serving as a transparency tool, the JUST Label offers a standardized method of comparing one firm’s performance to another’s. Mithun chose JUST over other options like the B Corporation designation because the JUST Label is already in use within the design community, and other designations did not align as well with Mithun’s service model. Created and managed by the organization behind the Living Building Challenge, JUST has grown out of the green building industry and has been used by many architecture firms, as well as a few landscape architecture firms including PWL Partnership and Biohabitats.

Mithun’s longtime commitment to equity is what brought the firm to the JUST program as a way to demonstrate its values at the organizational level. Since its founding over 60 years ago, Mithun has placed great importance on being an active member of the communities its offices exist within. Many senior-level employees serve in leadership roles with community organizations, and all employees are encouraged to contribute to the community through volunteer opportunities and community design projects.

The firm further saw the JUST registration process as a thoughtful tool to consider issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the workplace. The label looks at gender and racial diversity, pay scale equity, gender pay equity, and family friendly policies.  Surveying worker happiness is required, and stewardship metrics that span charitable giving to community volunteering and responsible investing are evaluated.  For Mithun, pursuing a JUST Label meant formalizing policies around many issues previously addressed on an ad hoc basis, such as the creation of a company policy providing employees with up to 16 hours of paid time off annually to volunteer in the community.

The process also led Mithun to reconsider its human networks. There has been a shift in recruitment as the firm considers what networks it reaches out to and who may have been excluded from recruitment methods of the past. Mithun has intentionally become involved in new networks and has been able to find talented student  interns by connecting with communities of color that are underrepresented in design practice. Further, Mithun has found that rising designers are especially interested in working for firms that demonstrate commitment to transparency and inclusion, and the JUST Label allows Mithun to do exactly that.

mithunhometeamnorthrichmondcabgroupshotsmphotobysamholman530pxAs part of the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge, Mithun collaborated with the North Richmond Community Advisory Board - a diverse group of local residents, elected officials, public agencies, and community organizations - to turn investments in sea level rise adaptations and aging infrastructure into opportunities for all. Photo by Sam Holman

Mithun has also shifted the scope and organization of its work to more holistically involve and empower the communities it partners with, as most clearly demonstrated by the firm’s entry to the San Francisco Bay Area’s Resilient by Design challenge. Mithun co-created a solution with the affected community, approaching resilience through a racial equity framework with a broad awareness of how the design process can be grounded through deeper community engagement with community liaisons, offering stipends to community leaders and growing local jobs through the structure of the design solutions. 

From engaging in the JUST program, Mithun has seen many positive outcomes and expects to see further benefits as conversations continue. Overall, the firm’s work is now done with greater intention regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels. And the JUST process isn’t a one-time exercise. The JUST Label is valid for two years, and organizations can update or renew at any time. In 2019, Mithun plans to reengage in the process to update its JUST Label and reaffirm its commitment to transparency and the well-being of its employees. 

Visit to see Mithun’s JUST Label and the details behind the indicators, along with the information for the over 70 other firms and organizations that have participated in the program. If your firm is interested in learning more about Mithun’s experience with the JUST program and evaluation process, please email Rory Doehring, LAF Communications Associate, who will put you in contact with a member of Mithun’s JUST committee.

Shining a Spotlight on Landscape Performance in the Great Plains

By Hannah LoPresto and Brandon Zambrano, BLA Candidates, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

csi2018-unl-hanafan-530pxUndergraduate researcher Brandon Zambrano observes Tom Hanafan’s vegetation and bioretention capabilities during a May site visit.

Participating in LAF’s 2018 Case Study Investigation program has been an incredibly informative experience for our research team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We have just completed our second year as undergraduates in the landscape architecture program and are excited to continue learning about landscape performance as Research Assistants under the guidance of Research Fellow Assistant Professor Catherine De Almeida. We are eager to shine a spotlight on the landscape performance of two Great Plains projects: P Street Corridor by Design Workshop, a revitalized downtown streetscape in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park by Sasaki, a waterfront redevelopment in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Working on the post-occupancy study of both parks has been extremely beneficial in understanding how reclaiming underutilized sites can create high-performing landscapes.

Over the course of our study, we’ve discovered many commonalities between the P Street Corridor and Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. With both sites located in the Great Plains, participating in the Case Study Investigation program has given us the opportunity to provide recognition and visibility to innovative constructed projects in a region that typically goes unrecognized. Both are public projects in urban settings with primary goals of transforming formerly unpleasant, underused spaces to grant increased public access. Along with public access, stormwater management strategies are essential aspects of both projects. P Street focuses on runoff capture and reduced irrigation cost for roadside bioswales. Tom Hanafan focuses on opportunities to preserve and restore riparian forest in a floodplain to withstand an immense, 500-year storm event. 

Although we’ve observed many commonalities between these two projects, each has numerous unique aspects of its own. With P Street located adjacent to the university, our research team was already familiar with the site, having visited and passed through on countless occasions. However, much of what we learned about the P Street project was beyond what we had experienced on site. P Street’s redesign was undertaken by a remote design firm and then passed to a local Lincoln firm for construction administration. This gave us the opportunity to understand the working relationship between a remote design firm and a local firm, revealing the trade-offs that come with this approach. The P Street project was also unique in the amount of recorded baseline data. Our team was pleasantly surprised to learn how extensive the design firm’s baseline data collection was, covering aspects such as user perception, impervious surfaces, and property values. While developing the master plan, the design firm implemented a community engagement process that provided excellent baseline data for our research team to develop our assessment of the project’s social benefits. Our team has been able to replicate the design firm’s pre-project survey (with a few additions of our own) to collect post-occupancy data in order to make a direct comparison of user perception before and after the corridor redesign.

blog-postpstreethannah1-226px-gwxAn inventory of P Street’s site elements, such as limestone benches, signposts and bioswales, is recorded by undergraduate researcher Hannah LoPresto.

Unlike P Street’s renovated streetscape, our study of Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park is focused on the reclamation of the Missouri River floodplain for native ecological riparian communities and human access to the river. Some key elements that illustrate this are the revitalization of the riparian forest with native trees along the northern and southern areas surrounding the park’s open space, and a native meadow mix planted along the Army Corps of Engineers’ levee-turned-amphitheater. In conversations with our firm liaison, we were surprised to learn about the pre-existing conditions of the site and how the landscape had been previously deteriorated due to ATV use and invasive species that affected the riparian forest’s growth. Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park converted a landscape of misuse to a friendly, highly accessible public park. Our team was also surprised to find out that the 2011 Missouri Flood happened during construction of the park. Even though this caused a significant delay, the firm managed to gather data from the occurrence and interpret it into qualitative diagrams in order to show the client how Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park proposed grading changes that would withstand a 500-year storm event. The design team turned something negative like the 2011 Missouri Flood, analyzed it, and interpreted it positively into the design of the site. We plan to further quantify the quality of the park in our user surveys.

As our research team nears the final stretch of the Case Study Investigation program, we look forward to collecting, documenting, and analyzing our data for these two Great Plains projects. We are especially excited to experiment with a few specific techniques such as on-site percolation tests, surveying users on-site, and mapping economic change in the surrounding areas. Learning from these data collection techniques and communicating with our firm partners and municipal clients has given us an incredible opportunity to grow as landscape architecture students and experience the growing necessity of using landscape performance to quantify the sustainable benefits of landscape architecture.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Research Assistants Hannah LoPresto and Brandon Zambrano and Research Fellow Catherine De Almeida are participating in LAF’s 2018 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, which supports academic research teams to study the environmental, economic, and social performance of exemplary landscape projects.

Equity and Inclusion in Practice: Sasaki

sasaki-530px-939On June 12, 2018, Sasaki partnered with LAF to hold a panel titled “Design for Equity and Inclusion” at the Sasaki Foundation's new incubator space in Watertown, Massachusetts

In issuing the New Landscape Declaration, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has made a commitment to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession and to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, activism, and advocacy within our ranks. To promote these values, LAF is publishing a series of articles to showcase the ways in which design firms are demonstrating leadership in diversity, equity, and inclusion, from providing targeted support for students and emerging professionals to seeking outside guidance and certification of internal policies. This article kicks off the series and highlights the efforts undertaken by Sasaki to promote a design culture that is welcoming for all.

Sasaki is a global design firm with international staff working at offices in Watertown, Massachusetts and Shanghai, China. By acting with intention, Sasaki has created an atmosphere in which meaningful conversations on the issues of diversity and inclusion can take place and where ideas, not authors, guide projects. These actions are undertaken in pursuit of Sasaki’s vision statement on diversity: Sasaki believes in an inclusive culture that powers human potential. We build our ecosystem on parity, respect, accountability, candor, and trust to reflect our commitment to our people and their contributions. We take this action because diversity is essential to design.
It is not new for Sasaki to emphasize equity in its culture and policies. Over a decade ago, the firm’s leaders recognized a trend in the design industry, and in the wider workforce. Women were frequently passed over for promotions because it was often assumed they would put their careers on hold to raise families. To confront this issue, Sasaki focused on promoting gender equity in its own workforce. The firm brought in a diversity consultant to ensure they were following best practices and, in the years following, continued its focus on equity and inclusion by conducting an annual work/office climate survey, having conversations with staff, and holding focus groups. Sasaki also saw the need to explore what diversity meant in the workplace as the firm was contracted for projects in new locales around the world and attracted more global talent as a result. Further, Sasaki’s projects include public spaces and university campuses where the firm recognized changing demographics in the user base. From all of these influences, Sasaki gained different perspectives on the importance of diversity in design, and a greater understanding of the ways in which team composition plays a vital role in both workplace culture and project design.
Sasaki first looked for a role model within the design professions but found little public discussion of diversity, equity, or inclusion and few resources available. Furnished with data from the American Institute of Architects’ annual survey of architectural firms, Sasaki forged its own path and developed its own research to identify the best strategies for promoting equity and inclusion within its ranks. After reflecting on conversations and insights gathered from staff, Sasaki created a Diversity Committee with four subcommittees, each led by a Principal, including current LAF Board Member Michael Grove. The firm chose this approach because internal discussion demonstrated the need to be intentional in the way these issues were addressed. Each subcommittee is tasked with actionable goals to further discussions of diversity and inclusion surrounding staffing, project design, and the business case for diversity both internally and externally. Sasaki is able to create and disband these ad hoc subcommittees as needed, thus allowing for greater flexibility and ability to target specific needs.
Sasaki wants its work to be a springboard for a bolder, louder, more inclusive voice pushing the design professions to consider diversity and inclusion with intention and to have a stronger voice in activism, especially on issues that impact design. With forthcoming data gleaned from measuring the effects of its initiatives on firm morale, productivity, and output, the firm is strengthening the business case for diversity because, while diversity should be valued in and of itself, demonstrated positive impacts often help to push idea into action. Sasaki sees an exciting path forward to continue promoting diversity and inclusion internally and to engage new voices in public dialogues about moving the profession forward.

LAF Staff Changes

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is delighted to welcome two new team members to its growing staff. Rory Doehring joins LAF as Communications Associate and Devin McCue joins as Development Associate. Both began on June 4.

welcome-pic--530pxDevin McCue (left) and Rory Doehring (right) began at LAF on June 4.

Rory’s background is in history, communication, and the nonprofit sector. They recently returned to the East Coast after studying at the University of Missouri where they researched political communication with a focus on public lands. Rory’s past experience also includes governmental grant writing and undergraduate instruction. They are currently concluding their thesis work for a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Missouri.

Devin brings experience and training in development, business, and history. Prior to joining LAF, his work focused on event planning and sponsor management at the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in New Orleans. Devin has also previously coached competitive gymnastics. He holds a Master of Management from Tulane University.

These new staff positions will allow LAF to broaden its reach, expand strategic partnerships, and better communicate with constituents and donors. The new hires bring the number of LAF permanent staff to eight.

jenn-300wJennifer Low will pursue a Master of Design.

LAF is also bidding a fond farewell to Jennifer Low, Program Manager for Scholarships and Leadership. Jenn is leaving to pursue a Master of Design at the University of Michigan, where she will be part of a hand-picked team of integrative designers working to address “wicked problems” through hands-on, real-world projects. During her two years with LAF, Jenn was integral to the development and launch of the LAF Fellowship for Leadership and Innovation as well as the continued growth of LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program and network. LAF will certainly miss her but is very excited about this new opportunity and looks forward to news of her future endeavors.

For a complete list of current LAF staff, bios, and contact information, visit our staff page.