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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.

Setting the Stage to Evaluate Performance: Chatham's Eden Hall Campus

Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus will be the first sustainable university campus built from the ground up and the home of the university’s new School of Sustainability and the Environment. As part of the 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, researchers at Chatham are working with designers at Mithun to collect baseline data and setup research protocols to evaluate landscape performance over the long-term.

The research is led by Molly Mehling, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Sustainability, working with student Research Assistant Kaitlyn O’Neill and collaborating with faculty from a number of disciplines. The research team will collect background and baseline information, outline the expected landscape performance benefits, and develop protocols that Chatham can use to measure them over time.

csi-chatham1Eden Hall Campus Phase 1 (Mithun)

The Eden Hall Campus encompasses 388 acres in Richland Township, about 20 miles from downtown Pittsburgh and Chatham’s main Shadyside Campus. The Master Plan for the site, which incorporates state-of-the-art sustainable technology rooted in the principles of permaculture, biophilia and integrated watershed planning, was done by Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell (BNIM) and Andropogon Associates and approved in June 2011. Mithun is providing architecture, landscape architecture and interior design for the first phase of the campus (~100 acres), with construction slated to start this summer.

csi-chatham2Rendering of New EcoCenter (Mithun)

The Phase 1 landscape will incorporate SITES best practices and advanced green infrastructure systems such as raingardens, constructed wetlands, composting toilets, geo-exchange systems, food production and aquaculture systems. The design will preserve and protect soils and support habitat for forest, meadow and agricultural areas. Rainwater catchment and treatment will reduce potable water needs for the project, and wastewater will be treated and dispersed on lot, with reuse of appropriate elements as fertilizer and soil enhancement. Phase 1 also includes 18,000 sf of classroom, office, library, café, lab and gathering space. Each building is designed to meet a combination of Living Building Challenge, Passive House, Net Zero and LEED Platinum ratings.

While the CSI program typically focuses on quantifying the benefits of built landscapes, this collaboration is being used to test and develop guidance for those at the stage in the design and construction process in which there is a completed design that has not yet been built. As part of their CSI work, Molly and Kaitlyn will develop a set of guidelines for designers, clients, academics, and other stakeholders who want to set up longer-term research to evaluate a project’s performance. LAF is thrilled to be part of this collaboration and to help set the stage for years of innovative research on the benefits of landscape at this model campus for sustainable learning and living.

LAF Receives NEA Art Works Grant for CSI

artworkslogo-f3kThe National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced today that the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is one 38 national, regional, state, and local nonprofit organizations to receive an NEA Art Works grant in the Design category.

LAF is recommended for a $25,000 grant to support the Summer 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. CSI is a unique research collaboration that matches LAF-funded student-faculty research teams with leading practitioners to document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects. Ten research teams will participate in the Summer 2012, and the NEA grant will fund half of the $5,000 stipend paid to the student Research Assistant on each team.

“We are thrilled that NEA is investing in this research to show the environmental, economic, and social value of exemplary design,” said LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, ASLA.

The NEA received 1,624 eligible applications for this round of Art Works funding. The 788 Art Works grants total $24.81 million and support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts. Visit the NEA website for a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support.

2012 CSI Firms and Projects Announced

Over 20 design firms and 30 projects have been selected for LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. This unique research collaboration matches LAF-funded faculty-student research teams with leading practitioners to document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects as Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs.

Participating firms were selected based on the the quality of projects submitted, potential to produce comprehensive quantified benefits, availability of baseline information, and commitment to the research collaboration. Practitioners provide the background information and narrative for projects, help identify potential performance benefits and information to quantify them, and provide the faculty-student research teams with access to key project personnel, photos, documents, clients, and other stakeholders.

The collaborations are now underway — look for updates throughout the summer and new Case Study Briefs in the fall from these participating firms and projects:

  • aecom-stuyvesantcoveAECOM's Stuyvesant Cove Waterfront Open SpaceAECOM
    Stuyvesant Cove Waterfront Open Space
  • Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning & Design Institute
    Beijing Olympic Forest Park
    Tangshan Nanhu Eco-city Central Park
  • The Berger Partnership
    Magnuson Park Wetlands
  • CDF, Inc.
    Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center
    Charles City Permeable Streetscape
  • Design Workshop
    edsa-cdboscoEDSA's Castigilon del BoscoCherry Creek North & Fillmore Plaza
    South Grand Boulevard Great Streets Initiative
    Park Avenue/ Highway 50
  • Ecological Landscape Design & Restoration
    Stone Mill at the New York Botanical Garden
  • EDSA
    Castiglion del Bosco
  • EPT Design
    Frontier Project
    Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies
  • Jones and Jones
    Cedar Lake Park and Trail
  • KMS Design Group
    Black Rock Sanctuary
  • Mia Lehrer + Associates
    Vista Hermosa Natural Park
  • MIG, Inc.
    rh-centralwarfplazaReed Hilderbrand's Central Wharf PlazaWest San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail
  • Mithun
    Eden Hall Campus at Chatham University
    High Point
    Hubbard Homestead Park
  • Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority
    Tujunga Wash Greenway
  • OLIN
    Celebrezze Federal Building Plaza
  • Frederick Law Olmsted
    Back Bay Fens
  • Reed Hilderbrand
    swa-crosscreekSWA Group's Cross Creek RanchCentral Wharf Plaza
  • Sasaki
    The Avenue
  • SWA Group
    Cross Creek Ranch
  • TBG
    Park Seventeen
  • UW Campus Sustainability Fund
    Biodiversity Green Wall & Water Harvesting System
  • Wells Appel
    Pennswood Village Regional Storm Water Quality and Management System

2012 CSI Research Fellows Announced

Twelve faculty Research Fellows have been selected for LAF’s Summer 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. This unique research collaboration matches LAF-funded faculty and student research teams with design firms to document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects as Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs.

Research Fellows lead the case study preparation, work with firms to identify performance benefits of select projects, and develop methods for data collection. They also receive an honorarium and funding to support a student research assistant. These select faculty members provide expertise in quantifying landscape benefits, and the academic rigor that is needed to support designers, policy-makers, and advocates who are making the case for sustainable landscape solutions.

csi-graphic-v2The following LAF Research Fellows will lead the ten Summer 2012 Case Study Investigation teams:

  • Barry Lehrman, Cal Poly Pomona
  • Molly Mehling, PhD, Chatham University
  • Jessica Canfield, Kansas State University
  • Claudia Goetz Phillips, PhD, Philadelphia University
  • Mary Myers, PhD, Temple University
  • Ming Han Li, PhD, Texas A&M University
    Bruce Dvorak, Texas A&M University
  • Bo Yang, PhD, Utah State University
  • Victoria Chanse, PhD, University of Maryland
  • Chris Ellis, PhD, University of Maryland
    Byoung-Suk Kweon, PhD, University of Maryland
  • Nancy Rottle, University of Washington

The selection process was highly competitive, with the number of proposals indicating the strong level of enthusiasm for the CSI program. CSI provides a unique opportunity for faculty to sharpen research skills, build relationships with top landscape architecture firms, collaborate with peers, and gain national exposure as thought leaders.

Projects and firms selected for participation in the Summer 2012 CSI program will be announced in April.