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Using Drones as a Landscape Performance Assessment Tool

By Rachael Shields, MLA Candidate, University of Georgia

Our University of Georgia (UGA) team is participating in the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and includes professors Alfie Vick, Brian Orland, and Jon Calabria and me. We are studying Historic Fourth Ward Park in Atlanta and the University of Georgia’s Science Learning Center. The landscape architect for both projects was HDR’s Atlanta office.

Drones are currently a hot commodity in the world of package delivery or air strikes, but they are just beginning to take off in the design field (pun intended). Drones became part of our CSI research process when the need arose for high quality post-construction aerial images because online map imagery sources were not up-to-date. Collecting aerial imagery and video are increasingly common uses for drone technology in the design and planning professions. During the process of acquiring imagery, our team realized there were many fascinating advantages in using a drone — beyond the conventional uses.

uga-drone-530wThe drone our UGA research team used, prior to flight

The drone we used allowed us to collect data we never would have been able to otherwise. For this portion of the project we brought in Roger Lowe, a professor in the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, who is a specialist in spatial information technology and has a remote pilot certificate, also known as a “drone license.” In order to fly over UGA’s Science Learning Center, we first had to get flight clearance. Before flying, Roger made sure to check the weather and to become aware of any hazards that might affect the flight like powerlines, trees, and structures. He also knew to keep the craft at a maximum of two hundred feet above ground level. While imagery with a lot of people using the landscape would be great, drone flights over people are not permitted.

After flying, the imagery data were transferred to Agisoft PhotoScan, software that processes the images and produces data that can be opened in ArcGIS. For our research purposes, we captured a terrain file to show the topography of the site. PhotoScan also produced an orthomosaic, a seamless aerial formed from a group of orthoimages. Third, through the use of laser light reflected from terrain, structures, and vegetation, the drone is able to capture lidar data in the form of x,y,z measurements. This produces a point cloud that allows 3D analysis.

uga-sciencelearningcenter-dem-530wDrone-captured digital elevation model of the Science Learning Center

 

uga-sciencelearningcenter-aerial-530wDrone-captured aerial image of the Science Learning Center

The exciting potential we began to notice with this kind of technology is longitudinal monitoring. Future classes at UGA could track changes in the Science Learning Center’s landscape over time. For example, imagery can track the change in the area of shade cover, the effectiveness of the stormwater management methods on site, or even map changes due to erosion. Additional analyses with ArcMap, Grass GIS, and HydroCAD would provide cutting-edge landscape performance evaluation tools not seen in traditional methods.

In conclusion, drones have the capacity to provide a whole new landscape performance toolset. Drone technology is new to us, and we hope to include some of the unique aspects of drone data analysis as we continue to document our projects as Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs. So far, we have learned that drones have great possibilities, the extent of which, we are still trying to understand.

Research Assistant Rachael Shields and Research Fellows Jon Calabria, Brian Orland, and Alfred Vick are participating in LAF’s 2018 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, which supports academic research teams to study the environmental, social, and economic performance of exemplary landscape projects. 

LAF Symposium and Awards Dinner Recap

On May 17, 2018 in Washington, DC, LAF hosted two events to showcase and celebrate leading-edge thinking and achievements in landscape architecture and sustainability. Thank you to all who attended! Photos from the events are posted to LAF’s Flickr page.

LAF Innovation + Leadership Symposium

The sold-out symposium showed how six landscape architects are tackling a range of pressing issues, including homelessness, resilient water management in India, and reconceiving public space in the American south. The symposium is the culmination of the year-long LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership, a unique program and $25,000 award that supports working professionals as they develop and test new ideas.

symposium-alpa-530wAlpa Nawre presents her work on design interventions to address water and other issues in rural India.symposium-scottdouglas-530wScott Douglas asks, “How have 60 years of innovation and technology not affected highway corridors?”

 The powerful presentations left audience members energized and emboldened:

“The symposium reminded me of the real breadth of issues we can work on as a profession. It’s easy to get overly focused on your own projects and forget the far-reaching impacts we can have.”

“I was impressed by the scope and importance of all that landscape architects do.”

“As an architect, I was reassured that our professions are in line and pursuing the same problems, but also encouraged to see a new, vibrant, human-centric take through the eyes of landscape architects.”

Recordings of the presentations will be posted in early June. In the meantime,  look for great event summaries from ASLA’s The Field and Land8:

symposium-fellows2-530wSymposium presenters and LAF Fellows Harriett Jameson, Nicole Plunkett, Claire Latané, Scott Douglas, Alpa Nawre, and Brice Maryman

 

 2018 LAF Awards Dinner

The Awards Dinner honored the 2018 recipients of the LAF Medal and Founders’ Award, our highest honors for individuals and organizations that have made a significant and sustained contribution to the LAF mission of supporting the preservation, improvement and enhancement of the environment.

Carol Franklin received the 2018 LAF Medal and provided a retrospective of Andropogon’s work, including their experimental and pioneering ideas about ecological design. Among the memorable moments was this remark about the extradinary effort involved in turning ecological restoration into art: “It’s like spending two hours in front of the mirror so that you can look natural.”

dinner-carolfranklin-530wCarol Franklin, a founding principal of Andropogon, accepts the 2018 LAF Medal

Diane Regas, President and CEO, accepted the 2018 LAF Founders’ Award on behalf of The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and provided an overview of the organzation’s work, particularly its new 10-Minute Walk movement to put a quality park within a 10-minute walk of everyone in U.S. In describing their schoolyard-to-parks projects, Diane said, “We like to think that we are helping to inspire and train at least a few landscape architects of the future.”

dinner-tpl-530wThe Trust for Public Land's Diane Regas accepts the 2018 LAF Founders' Award from Awards Committee Chair Dennis Carmichael

These leadership events and the LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership were made possible by the many generous contributions to the LAF: 50 & Forward Campaign.

Announcing Our 2018 National Olmsted Scholars

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is delighted to announce that Elizabeth Camuti, a master’s student at the University of Virginia, and Karina Ramos, an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, were selected as LAF’s 2018 National Olmsted Scholars.

camuti-liz-photo-500x700Liz Camuti, University of Virginia

Liz receives the $25,000 graduate prize and plans to leverage the award to continue her ongoing research about new forms of socio-ecological infrastructure for isolated populations threatened by climate change and extreme weather, specifically the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her work advances a design methodology that couples advanced digital technologies with local knowledge. Liz will use the award to support travel, tools, and surveillance technologies to better understand how infrastructural improvements implemented in the wake of recent storms might interface with new forms of human occupation. Liz graduates with a Master of Landscape Architecture in May.

Karina receives the $15,000 undergraduate prize and will use the award to design a physical plan for Puente Piedra, an emerging town 55 km away from Lima, Peru. Inspired by David Gouverneur’s “informal armatures” approach, which provides a framework for the processes of informal urbanization, Karina will first conduct case study research in her hometown of Los Olivos, an adjacent district that evolved through the planned growth and development of an existing informal settlement. She plans to present her findings and recommendations to Peru’s federal housing and urban development agency. Karina graduates this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture.

ramos-karina-photo-500x700Karina Ramos, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Also honored are six National Olmsted Scholar Finalists. The graduate finalists, who each receive a $5,000 award, are:

  • Rachel Ison, University of Southern California
  • Nicholas Jabs, University of Pennsylvania
  • Steven Nuñez, University of Texas at Arlington

The undergraduate finalists, who each receive a $3,000 award, are:

  • Toni Candanedo, Arizona State University
  • Bryce Donner, University of Florida
  • Karen Lomas-Gutierrez, University of California, Davis

Two independent juries of leaders in the landscape architecture profession selected the winners and finalists from a group of 50 graduate and 35 undergraduate students nominated by their faculty for their exceptional leadership potential. These top students earned the designation of 2018 University Olmsted Scholars and join the growing community of 634 past and present Olmsted Scholars.

The 2018 jurors for the graduate award were: Adam Greenspan, LAF President and Principal at PWP; Shawn T. Kelly, ASLA President-Elect and Principal of Kelly Design Group, LLC; Kimberlee Douglas, Associate Professor and Director of the Landscape Architecture Program at Philadelphia University; Susan Szenasy, Director of Design Innovation, Metropolis Magazine; Brian Jencek, Principal at HOK; Skip Graffam, Partner and Director of Research at OLIN Partnership; and David de la Cruz, 2017 National Olmsted Scholar (Graduate) and Project Manager at Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.

Jurors for the undergraduate award were: Stephanie Rolley, LAF President-Elect and Professor and Department Head at Kansas State University; Vaughn Rinner, ASLA Immediate Past President; Paul Voos, Department Chair at Morgan State University; Zach Mortice, Architectural Journalist and Web Editor at Landscape Architecture Magazine; Jim Laiche, Water Conservation Business Manager at The Toro Company; Tao Zhang, Principal at Sasaki; Ron Kagawa, Landscape Architect at Kimley-Horn, and Lauren Delbridge, 2017 National Olmsted Scholar (Undergraduate) and Landscape Designer at LandDesign.

Now in its eleventh year, the LAF Olmsted Scholars Program is the premier national leadership award program for landscape architecture students. The program honors students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, and service to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.The LAF Olmsted Scholars Program is made possible with support from Lead Sponsor: The Toro Company; Annual Sponsors: HOK, IRONSMITH, Kimley-Horn, LandDesign, OLIN, Sasaki, Thomas C. and Gerry D. Donnelly, Steven G. King, FASLA, and Bill Main, Hon. ASLA; Promotion Partner: American Society of Landscape Architects.

Thanks to the generous support of LAF’s 50 & Forward Campaign donors, starting in 2018, the Olmsted Scholar finalist awards increased from $1,000 to $5,000 for graduate students and $3,000 for undergraduates.