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Onsite at the Frontier Project with CSI's K-State Research Team

By Jessica Canfield, Professor and Elise Fagan, MLA Candidate, Kansas State University

Case Study Investigation (CSI) Research Fellow Jessica Canfield and Research Assistant Elise Fagan recently spent a week onsite at the Frontier Project in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Located east of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire area of Southern California, the Frontier Project is a non-profit demonstration facility, which showcases a variety of Green technologies and sustainable design practices, including a LEED Platinum building, water-efficient gardens, a green roof, and a rainwater harvesting system.


csi-ksu2Collecting irrigation data onsite

While on site, Jessica and Elise met with project Landscape Architect Claire Latané from EPTDESIGN, who gave them a guided tour of the Frontier Project’s landscape, explaining in detail all of its sustainable features. Claire also discussed the project’s history, and provided an in-depth overview of the design and implementation process, while illuminating some valuable lessons learned. In collaboration with Shelley Cirrito, the Public Affairs Representative of the Cucamonga Valley Water District, they were able to collect data on the irrigation system, as well as the number of visitors and educational programs offered by the Frontier Project since its opening in 2009.

csi-ksu1Elise and Claire sift through project records at EPT Design in Pasadena, CA.

The researchers also spent a day at the EPTDESIGN office in Pasadena. Claire arranged for team K-State to give a presentation to the in-house studio staff (and remotely to Irvine staff) about LAF’s Landscape Performance Series. Jessica highlighted the Case Study Briefs and CSI program, and discussed her methodology for identifying and quantifying landscape performance benefits (developed from her participation in CSI-2011).  Many great questions and discussion points came about afterwards in a collaborative dialogue, focusing on how landscape performance could and/or should be incorporated into the design process.

While in LA, the K-State team met up with Barry Lehrman, the CSI Research Fellow from Cal Poly Pomona, who took them on a guided tour of the Pomona campus and the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies, as well as to various sites around downtown Los Angeles. It was a great opportunity to exchange stories about landscape performance, and to share insights about the Case Study Investigation processes.

The visit to California not only gave the K-State team great clarity about the design and implementation of the Frontier Project, but it offered them opportunity for an engaging dialogue between practitioners and other academics about the future of landscape performance.

Professor Jessica Canfield and student Research Assistant Elise Fagan are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the landscape performance benefits at three project sites.

Teaching Stewardship in Childhood Education

By Mark Storie, BLA, Byoung-Suk Kweon, PhD, PLA, and Christopher D. Ellis, PhD, PLA, ASLA

csi-umd1Our Case Study Investigation (CSI) research team at the University of Maryland is currently investigating landscape performance benefits of K-12 school environments. One site that we are studying is the Willow School in Gladstone, New Jersey. Teachers at the school actively look for ways to use the landscape in their class for teaching.

School hallways are probably one of the best places to view the evidence of environmental education. During our school visit, we had the opportunity to meet with second grade teacher Peter Parker who gave us a brief tour of his classroom and explained how his class uses the campus landscape and sustainable features in subjects like history, science, and English. Looking at the student work that was featured throughout the classroom and hallway, we could see just how involved his students are in actively studying the landscape.

Every year the second grade science class conducts field observations of the school’s constructed wetland pond. csi-umd2These findings are compiled and displayed in the hallway just outside of the classroom, showing students the increase in numbers and varieties of wetland fauna over the last 9 years which helps to shed light on the health of the wetland ecosystem.

In the English class, Mr. Parker’s students learn the functions of the school’s wastewater system while writing short descriptions of how the system works. Diagrams accompany the written descriptions to help students visualize how the system functions through each step in the process.


In the history class, students uncover the history of the land by excavating 1-foot grids, much as an archaeologist would do when uncovering a historical site. Over the last 9 years, Mr. Parker’s students have compiled an impressive collection of artifacts, some dating back to pre-colonial times. Students are able to view these artifacts and make conclusions about how the land had been used previously. According to Parker, when students gain a historical perspective of the school’s site, they begin to ask deeper questions about how our culture’s relationship with the land has changed over time.

csi-umd4All students at the Willow School have opportunities to engage with the landscape. Each grade level takes part in the school’s community vegetable and fruit gardens which provide the school’s cafeteria with fresh local produce. Recycling programs in the school provide roughly 280 pounds per year of nutrient rich compost that is incorporated into the community garden.

Evidence of active engagement can also be seen in the hallway. Outside of every classroom students place their outdoor boots which are often times covered in mud on rainy days. Looking down the hallway at all the boots from the many classrooms, one can see just how many students are actively engaged in the landscape.


Professors Byoung-Suk Kweon and Christopher D. Ellis and student Research Assistant Mark Storie are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. Their case studies will quantify the benefits that school landscapes have on school children, teachers, staff, their surrounding communities, and the enivornment. 

Piecing Together the Performance of Streetscapes

By Yue Zhang, MLA Candidate and Pamela Blackmore, BLA Candidate, Utah State University

csi-usu1USU's CSI Research Team: Pamela Blackmore, Yue Zhang, and Professor Bo Yang

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once proclaimed, “I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.” We likewise have developed an appreciation for great streets in our research which has focused on four top-notch streetscapes. They are not merely the linear corridors that connect destinations. A well-designed street improves recreational opportunities, promotes the surrounding economy, provides art and social spaces, saves energy for the city, improves public safety, and helps solve stubborn environmental problems. It is intriguing to see the impact a street has on surrounding communities.

csi-usu2South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri (Image: Design Workshop)

With the power that streets have, many parties must be involved in the design. The evaluation of a streetscape also becomes an intertwined, multi- disciplinary effort. This process becomes one massive jigsaw puzzle, with everyone bringing a piece. However, unlike a traditional puzzle, the pieces do not come prepackaged. Collaboration becomes essential as we hunt for pertinent data. The Case Study Investigation (CSI) program is not merely student-faculty research; instead, it is a team effort of the design firm, client, users and visitors, government agencies, the research team, and LAF (and the list goes on…). As you can imagine, having discussions with everyone that contributed to an incredible design is exhilarating! Many people bring valuable pieces to the puzzle table.

Once we’ve found the pieces, analyzing them is the most challenging, yet rewarding part. It is this stage where the performance benefits become apparent. The projects are not analyzed against some standard set for all. Instead, a project is deemed successful based on the original objectives the design set out to fulfill.  This analysis is taking evidence-based design to a new dimension, and we are learning new methods to gauge the quality of our own work.  This is the reason we will never approach design the same way again.

The information we’re generating can be used as evidence to justify landscape improvements everywhere. It is exciting to participate in this research, which is preparing landscape architects for the future. There are some holes in our puzzle, due mostly to time and data constraints. We will closely watch future LPS Case Study Briefs in anticipation that participants will find new methods and techniques so that everyone can see the complete picture!

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Pamela and Yue reflect on the CSI research process and what they've learned by participating in CSI.

Professor Bo Yang and student Research Assistants Yue Zhang and Pamela Blackmore are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. They are documenting the performance of four streetscape projects in Colorado, California, Missouri, and Iowa.

Call for Scholarly Works

textblock-scholarlyworksLAF is seeking theses and dissertations related to landscape performance to add to our Landscape Performance Series (LPS) database. If you know of exemplary student work completed by recent graduates from landscape architecture or allied disciplines, please consider submitting it for publication in the LPS Scholarly Works.

The LPS Scholarly Works are a searchable collection of original student research on:

  • benefits of landscape
  • post occupancy evaluations or analyses of monitoring data
  • cost comparisons of traditional versus sustainable approaches
  • applications of existing research to quantify benefits of existing or proposed landscape projects

Please send submissions as pdf attachments (20MB max) to by Aug 15, 2012. All submissions will be reviewed for quality and appropriateness prior to publication. Accepted works will be published by Sept 30, 2012.

Selection into the LPS increases awareness of sustainable projects, demonstrates thought-leadership, and shares innovative research so that others – both inside and outside the profession of landscape architecture – can learn from exemplary works and create change.

Landscape Performance Research: School Environments and Student Performance

By Byoung-Suk Kweon, PhD, PLA and Christopher D. Ellis, PhD, PLA, ASLA

lp-studentperformanceChildren need safe, healthy, and stimulating environments in which to grow and learn. During the school year, children can spend 6 to 8 hours at school where the environment plays a critical role in child development. Much time is spent in the school yard or traveling to and from school. These environments need to be carefully planned and designed to optimize experiences that support education, health, and stewardship. The problem is that many school children are exposed to unhealthy environmental conditions, school yards that lack opportunities for nature experiences, and commuting options that favor vehicle travel over walking or biking.

Research shows that children are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than adults: Their lung function has not been fully developed and their airways are narrower than adults’. They breathe in greater levels of polluted air relative to their weight and spend more time outside when air pollution levels are the highest. Dr. Byoung-Suk Kweon at the University of Maryland and Dr. Paul Mohai at the University of Michigan found that of 3660 schools in Michigan, 62% were located in areas with the highest levels of air pollution from industrial sources. Their study, funded by the Kresge Foundation, found that air pollution concentrations are statistically significant predictors of student performance. This was true even after controlling for factors such as the rural, suburban, or urban location of the school; average expenditure per student; size of the student body; student-teacher ratio; and percentage of students enrolled in the free lunch program. Their work with Dr. Sangyun Lee and graduate student Kerry Ardwork was recently published in the prestigious journal Health Affairs. The team is currently drafting a school siting policy for the state of Michigan that focuses on healthy environmental conditions.

csi-brentelemOutdoor classroom at Brent Elementary School, Washington, DC

Understanding how trees and other urban infrastructure influence school performance is essential for improving childhood well-being. Dr. Christopher D. Ellis and Dr. Kweon at the University of Maryland investigated the effects of trees and other physical environments around Detroit schools on elementary and middle school children’s school performance. They measured the amount of tree canopy around the schools, the distances to highways, housing vacancy rates, proximity to waterbodies, etc. within one kilometer of 897 public schools (grades 3 through 8) in the Detroit Metropolitan area. These measures were evaluated against the average performance scores measured by the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test. They found that urban nature such as trees and open water have positive impacts on children’s school performance while close proximity to highways and high housing vacancy rates have negative impacts. Their analytical procedures controlled for school enrollment and socio-economic status. Funding for this study was provided by the US Department of Agriculture McIntire-Stennis program.

lp-greenroofsignStudent artwork on the green roof at Sidwell Friends School, Washington, DC

This summer, Drs. Kweon and Ellis, along with research assistant Mark Storie, are participating in LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the benefits that school landscapes can have on school children, teachers and staff. Their case studies are documenting ways that stormwater and wastewater systems, nature playgrounds, and schoolyard gardens integrate into school curricula, support outdoor activities, increase outdoor classroom use, and influence test scores and attendance rates.

It is important to show that today’s educational environment is far more than just buildings and books. If the world outside is designed to be safe, healthy and rich with learning opportunities, then school environments can be places in which children flourish and succeed.

Dr. Byoung-Suk Kweon is an Assistant Professor and Dr. Christopher D. Ellis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland.