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The Scale of Performance: Investigating a Range of Landscape Projects and Benefits

By John Whalen, MLA Candidate and Jinki Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Participating in this summer’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program has been an exciting opportunity to learn more about landscape performance by developing and applying various methodologies to analyze the performance of our sites. Our team is working at three locations that vary substantially in size and project type, thus creating very interesting and distinct research questions regarding social, environmental and economic benefits.

Hitchcock Design Group’s Boneyard Creek Restoration: Scott Park and the Second Street Detention Basin

Located in Champaign, Illinois, the Boneyard Creek is an important waterway running through a densely populated residential area and near major commercial arterials. The Second Street Detention Basin was designed as part of a larger revitalization plan to solve frequent flooding problems and create open space along the creek edge that would form attractive green areas for residents and support local business. Recognizing the project’s potential to act as an engine for economic development, our research team looked at recent development and redevelopment in the immediate neighborhood. Identifying key players, including the City of Champaign and local real estate and apartment firms, was key in measuring the anticipated growth of the area.

de la fleur’s One Drop at a Time

csi-uic1A private residence with rain gardens, bioswales, rain barrels, a green roof, and lots of prairie grasses, all in the middle of a traditional suburban neighborhood, is sure to raise a few eyebrows. But the residents of One Drop at a Time are proud of their home, which effectively utilizes green infrastructure to capture rainwater and treat stormwater runoff before it enters the municipal sewer system. What do the neighbors think? For this site surrounded by very traditional yards, the educational benefits were a compelling performance aspect to assess. Our research team developed a survey to inquire about local attitudes regarding the aesthetics of the property, knowledge of its functionality, and whether living near such a project has inspired any changes in nearby yard maintenance.

Living Habitats’ Chicago Botanic Garden Lake Shoreline Enhancement Projects

The largest of the three projects in terms of sheer physical size is set on a series of islands within the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 60 acres of lakes. Utilizing innovative bioengineering techniques, three-quarters of the shorelines have been reconstructed and restored as native habitats that aim to fight erosion, remediate water, and provide habitat for local wildlife. The new shorelines appear radically different than the previous turf shorelines that were eroding into the lakes. Because of this drastic change in physical appearance, our research team pursued the opportunity to measure the educational benefits of the new design. We developed a survey to measure garden visitors’ preferences related to the aesthetics of the new and old shorelines. The survey also asks visitors to rate the ecological function of each shoreline style to determine if the project is changing attitudes and knowledge about sustainable and native plantings.

csi-uic2Overall, working on these three very different project sites has been a special and very educational opportunity for our team. In particular, the collaboration between our educational institution and the field professionals who are designing and implementing these fascinating projects has been a wonderful experience and has provided encouraging insight into the world of landscape performance.

Research Fellow Jinki Kim and student Research Assistant John Whalen are participating in LAF’s 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working with the designers and clients to document the performance of three distinct landscape projects in Illinois.

Over, Under, and Through: A Texas Three-Step of Landscape Performance

By Sameepa Kashyap Modi, MLA Candidate, Dylan Stewart, MLA Candidate, and Taner R. Ozdil, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Arlington

Home to two of the top five largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. (Dallas and Houston), Texas is witness to many unique and innovative landscape architecture projects that respond to the growing needs of an urbanizing population. With the University of Texas at Arlington’s location in the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Region, we are well-situated to analyze and document the environmental, economic, and social performance of three such projects with help from our professional partners.

Office of James Burnett’s Klyde Warren Park

By decking over a 5.2-acre stretch of freeway, Klyde Warren Park in Dallas transforms one of the most inhumane settings into a thriving, open public space that connects the Uptown and Arts Districts to downtown. The park offers an engaging mix of spaces for recreation and relaxation. A critical performance measure is the social benefit that the park provides. To gauge users’ perceptions of the park, our research team developed and administered a survey with categories like physical health, quality of life, and educational opportunities. From our onsite observations, it is clear that the mere availability of this space among the Dallas high-rises creates not only real estate value but also a sense of relief and joy for residents and visitors alike.

SWA’s Buffalo Bayou Promenade

This 23-acre greyfield redevelopment project in Houston transforms a neglected and disconnected stretch of the Buffalo Bayou waterway, which passes beneath various freeway and street bridges. The new 1.2-mile linear park features extensive green infrastructure to increase flood storage capacity and a comprehensive trail network that provides an accessible and scenic outlet for recreation. The reclamation of the waterfront has also prompted property owners adjacent to Buffalo Bayou to embrace this natural resource.

PWP’s UT Dallas Campus Identity and Landscape Framework Plan

Growth at the University of Texas at Dallas campus was beginning to feel stunted by the acres and acres of hardscape and a student population defined as ‘vehicle-oriented.’ The Campus Identity and Landscape Framework Plan envisions a landscape that students will want to be part of, outside of the classroom. Phase 1 of the plan created a 33-acre spine with sculptural magnolia trees, cooling aesthetic reflecting pools, and a native rain garden that stretches from the main entrance to the expansive mall that defines the heart of the campus. Preliminary research results indicate that the reflective heat is greatly reduced via the rigorous landscape plan, creating a much more pleasant campus environment. By investing in high-quality landscapes, the university hopes to not only improve the campus experience, but also to increase enrollment, which will help in its quest to be recognized as a Tier 1 university.

While these three large landscape projects are very distinct, all three are noteworthy for their sensitivity to create a sense of place and their search for economic viability in their own context. Our research team hopes that the knowledge and lessons we discover through the rigorous examination of these landmark projects will inform future landscapes in other urbanizing areas.


Research Fellow Taner R. Ozdil and student Research Assistants Dylan Stewart and Sameepa Kashyap Modi are participating in LAF’s 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to document the performance of three exemplary landscape projects in Texas.

Exploring Environmental and Social Performance: BAC's CSI Research

By Jaryd McGonagle, MLA Candidate, Aidan Acker, Adjunct Faculty, and Maria Bellalta, Department Head, School of Landscape Architecture, Boston Architectural College

The Case Study Investigation (CSI) program has given members of our research team an excellent opportunity to collaborate with local firms in an effort to strategize techniques for assessing the performance of built projects. The resulting metrics and methodological process set a certain standard of performance for current and future works to follow. In looking at each work as a unique entity, a defined series of parameters continually shaped our research scope based on the programmatic goals that were expressed by each firm at the beginning. As the CSI research team, we are challenged to determine which factors are most significant to the success of the project as a model for future sustainable development.

Martha Schwartz/Ground Inc.’s Parc Nouvelle: Exploring Green Roof Microclimates

csi-bac1Jaryd measures green roof surface temperatures with an infrared thermometer.

As the largest green roof  in New England, Parc Nouvelle in Natick, MA provides unique upscale living adjacent to extensive retail activity. For our team, this project exploration has been extremely interesting and challenging, particularly at the micro-climatic level. Green roof science and construction is an evolving and rapidly growing sector of the green industry, and involves detailed attention to ensure harmony between natural ecology and built structure. Our study has focused on various parameters to qualify contributing environmental factors such as surface temperatures, wind speed, refracted and absorbed sunlight, and soil moisture levels. From a social standpoint, we had some meaningful conversations with concierge and condominium staff, who confirm that the rooftop has been a great benefit to the small, fairly tight knit residential community.

Stoss’ Erie Street Plaza: Assessing Social Benefits Through Photos

For this 0.25-acre waterfront plaza in Milwaukee, WI, the biggest challenge so far has been deriving a methodology for measuring social benefits remotely. Given that we are not able to physically experience the site, a picture study has been employed to determine how the space is being used, how frequently, and for which specific activities. By utilizing a photo library of more than 200 pictures, it was determined that in a given year, there was a specific month that fostered the most visitors participating in the widest range of activities including: biking, dining, strolling, viewing and sitting. The context of the plaza was also a key point to study in its relationship to the downtown waterfront trail, providing a critical link between mixed use development and recreation within the urban core. The Milwaukee Department of Planning has been very helpful to us in quantitatively understanding how the surrounding neighborhood has evolved as a tax increment financing (TIF) district.

Richard Burck Associates’ Watch Factory: Performance Reinvented

csi-bac2Jaryd tests water samples collected before and after runoff passes through rain gardens.

The Watch Factory project in Waltham, MA serves as a truly exemplary example of how landscape can be adapted to function as a performative and elegant system. As a former mid-century manufacturing complex, the building and existing landscape presented a unique challenge for the developer and architects to reinvent the property into a desirable and beautiful live-work environment. Throughout the CSI experience, Richard Burck and his staff have been wonderful to work with and provided us a wealth of information related to the project. Our team has been able to visit the site four times to witness weekday activity, study the water quality, and chat with staff and leasing personnel. Our work has involved the testing and evaluation of water quality samples discharged into the Charles River, along with studying the marine habitat of prominent fish within the river system.

Research Fellows Maria Bellalta and Aidan Acker and student Research Assistant Jaryd McGonagle are participating in LAF’s 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the environmental, economic, and social benefits of three diverse landscape projects.

LPS on the Road: EDRA and Upstate New York

Over the past month, LAF has presented the Landscape Performance Series to landscape architects, design researchers and other built environment professionals across the northeast, including conference visits in Providence and Rochester.

edra44In Providence, LAF participated in the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) 44th Annual Conference, presenting on the Case Study Investigation (CSI) program as part of a panel with researchers from the University of Maryland and firm liaisons from EDSA, Reed Hilderbrand, and Sasaki. The presentation focused on the experience of these CSI participants, who worked together during the summer of 2012 to study and document the performance of three diverse projects:

The panel discussed opportunities and challenges in evaluating landscape performance. The designers from each firm spoke about their approach to researching their project’s performance, their reaction to receiving the performance data, and how their work has changed since.

Eric Kramer, of Reed Hilderbrand, explained that prior to CSI, “we talked about how projects performed, but we didn’t use those words… The value of CSI, was in part, to give us the language with which to have these conversations.” Of particular interest to Kramer were the CSI research team’s findings on Central Wharf Plaza’s effect on traffic safety: The number of accidents decreased from six in the years prior to the project, to just one in the years after completion.

Derek Gagne, of EDSA, explained how the experience of trying to gather performance data for Castiglion de Bosco led his team to incorporate performance metrics into projects from day one. The panel also discussed the larger issue of translational research as it relates to landscape architecture.

upstatenyconfLAF's Barbara Deutsch with NYU ASLA's Joy Kuebler in front of the living wall at RIT's new Golisano Institute for Sustainability.

The next week in Rochester, LAF led a half day workshop for the New York Upstate ASLA Chapter’s “No Excuses” conference. The conference focused on green infrastructure, with presentations from LAF and experts from design firms, engineering firms, and industry. NYU ASLA President-Elect Joy Kuebler explained that “our goal for this event was to provide every opportunity to equip as many landscape architects with the basic knowledge and confidence needed to become green infrastructure community leaders at a price point that was affordable – hence the name ‘No Excuses’.”

LAF’s workshop introduced participants to the concept of landscape performance, the resources in the Landscape Performance Series, and the process of evaluating performance to show impact. Each participant brought in a project and used the full-morning session to analyze it and develop a research plan to document its performance.

As Kuebler summarized, the intensive workshop covered “how to use this incredible online resource to not only inform design, but to showcase the work that high performance landscapes do.” The workshop enabled “the group to critically examine their own projects and review their environmental, economic and social performance… This was an amazing opportunity to see how the documentation of our work contributes to the body of knowledge that defends the role of landscape architecture in the built environment.”

If you are interested in engaging your colleagues in dialogue on landscape performance, LAF would be happy to visit or schedule a webinar with your firm, organization, or university. For more information, contact us at

Sustainable Destination: New York City

LAF’s 2012 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes raised over $12,000 to support the Foundation’s reseach and scholarhip programs and featured a one-of-a-kind prize: a trip to New York City with a day of private tours led by Michael Van Valkenburgh and staff. The winner, Ashley Brenden, a Site Designer at SmithGroupJJR in Phoenix, was selected from over 175 entries. Ashley made the trip in March to celebrate getting her MLA from Arizona State University, and she shared the following report about her experience:

sweepstakes-nyc1Tour guides Michael Van Valkenburgh and Laura Solano with Ashley and Scott in front of Teardrop Park's Ice-Water Wall

“We cannot thank LAF and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) enough for the wonderful trip to NYC! My fiance Scott and I spent five days exploring every part of the city we could, meeting new friends, and finding unique old and new landscape architecture gems at every turn.”

“The tour day with team members from MVVA was certainly one we will never forget. We started our day meeting Michael Van Valkenburgh and principal Laura Solano at Teardrop Park. The park embodies the complexity of sustainable design and the need for sustainability to be interlaced in all processes of design, construction, and maintenance practices. Sustainable design elements included stormwater management techniques, water reuse, use of recycled content and local materials, and a site-specific plant palette.”

sweepstakes-nyc2MVVA's Jason Siebenmorgen and Matthew Urbanski lead Ashley and Scott through Brooklym Bridge Park.

“The tour continued with other members of the MVVA team, who walked us through the intricacies of the design of Javits Plaza, Hudson River Park, Union Square Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Scott and I got to see first-hand how these projects contribute to a sustainable social and environmental network. We are so grateful for the time Michael Van Valkenburgh, Laura Solano, Steeve Noone, Matt Urbanski, Jason Siebenmorgen, and Marisa Rodriguez spent with us.”

During their five days in New York, Ashley and Scott stayed at the Element Times Square West, an eco-chic hotel with green features ranging from 100% recycled content floors to shampoo and bodywash dispensers rather than wasteful mini-bottles. They enjoyed some wonderful local restaurants and even took in a Broadway show. Towards the end of the trip, Ashley and Scott went to Long Beach, Long Island to work with All Hands Volunteers on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

all-handsAshley and Scott worked on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts on Long Island with All Hands Volunteers.

“This organization has been a favorite of mine, and the trip offered a perfect opportunity to join in reconstruction efforts. A discussion on sustainability wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the resiliency of our culture and the role that organizations like All Hands play in creating a sustainable system. When, as designers, we create space — be it a park or a home or a community square — we contribute to its sustainability by providing opportunities for people to find meaning and connection in and with these spaces. This meaning often translates to people safeguarding these spaces from destruction and rebuilding after damage.”

“The day of volunteering offered us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the many sustainable social and environmental elements of the MVVA projects we visited. Not only has MVVA designed beautiful public open space, but the firm and the community have demonstrated a deep investment in these spaces. MVVA has shown a commitment to implement current sustainable design methods while simultaneously discussing ways to ensure future resiliency against natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.”

Special thanks to MVVA for generously providing this prize package. LAF’s 2013 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes will kick off soon, using a similar model of designer-led tours. A second clue about the destination city: it is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. — more populous now that at any point in its history — despite being one of the cloudiest.