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Setting the Place for the Future Workforce

By Cameron Rodman, MLA Candidate, University of Tennessee

For generations, designers, sociologists, economists, and geographers have sought to understand the importance and peculiarities of social spaces. Well-known studies have attempted to quantify and qualify the use of space, including William H. Whyte’s seminal The social life of small urban spaces. Previous findings and assumptions are now being challenged by the transition from a workplace saturated with Baby Boomers and replaced with Millennials and Gen X’ers. It is estimated that Baby Boomers will be replaced by Millennials by the year 2020 (Sullivan & Horwitz-Bennett, 2014).

With this in mind, designers are required to pay particularly close attention to the ways in which they design social spaces. The design of urban plazas, public and private parks, the workplace, and shared spaces all require a sociological paradigm reset. Marked differences exist in the way younger generations interact, are motivated to work, increase their productivity, and socialize.

This summer, our Case Study Investigation (CSI) research team is studying 1315 Peachtree Street, the Atlanta office of design firm Perkins + Will. The project includes two outdoor spaces — the ground-level terrace and fifth level terrace — which function as completely different social spaces and are used in a variety of ways.

csi-utenn011315 Peachtree's fifth floor terrace facilitates social interaction. (Image: Eduard Hueber)

The ground floor plaza is the primary entrance for all three of the building’s tenants: Perkins + Will, the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA), and the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. Since the building’s re-opening in 2011, the plaza has hosted numerous public and civic events, many of them organized by MODA. Other Midtown events, such as runs and festivals, often spill over into the plaza.

The fifth level terrace is a completely different animal. It has become a “third place,” a concept defined by Ray Oldenburg as an informal meeting place that facilitates and fosters broader, more creative interaction. It is a space where employees can interact and at the same time exist in privacy. The terrace contains many attributes that are believed to contribute to successful shared social spaces, including moveable furniture, variety of layout, views to landscape, and cleanliness (Sullivan & Horwitz-Bennett, 2014 & LaBarre, 2011).

Our CSI teams hopes to gain further insight about the fifth-level terrace and its impact on tenants. For now we can say that this open, well-lit setting allows for collaboration, time away from the desk to work, cross-fertilization of ideas, privacy, and social engagement — all of which are important for ensuring employee satisfaction, increased productivity, and value.

For further reading:

Research Fellow Brad Collett and student Research Assistants Cameron Rodman, Angelike Angelopoulos, Jessica Taylor Neary, and Luis Diego Venegas Brenes are participating in LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to document the performance of three exemplary landscape projects in Atlanta and Chattanooga.

The Challenges of Landscape Design in Coastal South Florida

By Ebru Ozer, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture, College of Architecture + The Arts, Florida International University

Coastal South Florida is a harsh environment for plants and hardscape materials utilized in landscape design. The daily assault of salty air and intense sun can impair many landscape materials in a short period of time. Floods, tropical storms, hurricanes, and storm surges seasonally striking the region also threaten the longevity of designed landscapes and their overall performance. Landscape architects practicing in the region must choose their planting and materials palette wisely and also utilize proper techniques to ensure durability and the long-term survival of their designs.

csi-fiu01The FIU team takes tree measurements on Miami Beach's Lincoln Road Mall.

This harsh coastal environment is common to all three projects we have been studying through LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) this summer: 1100 Block Streetscape of Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach, and Pompano Beach Streetscape and Sand Dune Enhancement in Pompano Beach. Studying these projects gave us the opportunity to learn about the challenging design aspects of our local environment and also gain insight into techniques utilized by of our local landscape architecture firms. It has been a great educational experience for all of us and has increased our admiration for the designs.

Relying on native coastal vegetation was a clear and correct decision in all three projects. The use of native vegetation has lowered the costs of maintenance and irrigation on all of the projects that we examined. These landscapes are able to withstand the severe coastal conditions and will be more likely to bounce back after storms and hurricanes. Additionally, the reliance on natives has provided opportunities for wildlife to thrive in the city. We are looking to quantify this benefit through our analysis.

One of our projects, the 1100 Block Streetscape of Lincoln Road Mall, not only dealt with the local coastal issues, but also had to contend with a heavily urban environment, which can be difficult in its own right. The design included the installation of 30-40 foot native canopy trees (live oaks and bald cypresses) transplanted to the site. Providing shade was a crucial component of the success of this active public plaza. Installing mature trees immediately was important for creating a usable space. The reliance on native species has likely played a major role in the trees’ survival and adaptation to the new environment. Quantifying how users have benefited from the shade provided by the large trees is also a part of our study.

We are looking forward to sharing the final results of our CSI research in the near future.

Research Fellow Ebru Ozer and student Research Assistants Vanessa Alvarado and Greg Gonzalez are participating in LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to document the performance of three exemplary landscape projects in coastal South Florida.

CSI: I Know a Guy (or Gal)...

By Michele Palmer, Lecturer, Department of Landscape Architecture, Cornell University

The true complexity of evaluating the perfomance of landscape architecture projects first became clear to me while attending the presentations about LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program at the 2014 CELA conference in Baltimore, and frankly I was a bit overwhelmed. But like any complex task, it seemed that breaking it down to separate tasks and knowing where to seek help was the key to making all of the work. My research assistant Muj Powell and I are not biologists, social scientists, civil engineers or soil scientists, but there was a good chance that we could find all of those disciplines and many more among my colleagues at Cornell University. As we sought out assistance, many of those conversations led to the statement “I know a guy”… or frequently a gal. 

The process of recruiting began when our team attended the client kick-off meeting for the Nevin Welcome Center case study at the Cornell Plantations. We were fortunate to have the University Landscape Architect, David Cutter, present with great enthusiasm for our project.  He listened to the discussion about the benefits and then suggested we meet with researchers he knew throughout the university who were studying various topics such as soil health, pollinators, the functioning of bio-retention filters, small mammal habitat and more. 

csi-cornell01Lauren McPhillps, graduate student in Biological and Environmental Enginnering, sets up water sampling.

Not all of these contacts proved to be fruitful, but those that have are enriching the experience and strengthening our research. It became clear in meeting these researchers that they were scientists. While we’re not, our broad, outwardly-focused training as landscape architects allows us to have intelligent conversations with a broad range of disciplines. We feel strongly that the collaborations are leading to solid case studies and new methodologies that can hopefully be applied to future case studies.

One such collaboration was conducted with Dr. Nina Bassuk who leads the Urban Horticulture Institute.  She and Professor Peter Trowbridge have been studying the benefits of improving planting soil with compost and mulch. A simple regime of initially improving soil with compost followed by annual mulching has been shown to have multiple benefits including at least doubling active carbon in soil, increasing sequestration potential as well as improving plant growth. Nina has helped us take soil samples which are currently being processed. Since many filter practice installations follow the same regime, we believe that we can extrapolate the potential benefits to other studies.  

Another soil scientist, Todd Walters, and graduate student Lauren McPhillps have been studying water quality basin function and conducting research on greenhouse gas emissions and anions at the Nevin Center and other locations on the campus. They have agreed to share their past research and conduct water quality sampling to see if the filter practices function as expected.

csi-cornell02Research Assistant Muj Powell talks surveys with Justin Kondrat, a horticulture intern at the Plantations.

We’ve had cross pollination among our projects as well. While discussing environmental benefit studies with Liz Walker of EcoVillage Inc., she mentioned Cornell Doctoral candidate Laura Russo, an EcoVillage resident who is studying bees as pollinators. Laura met with us to discuss strategies for conducting insect counts.

At the Plantations, staff have been remarkably helpful and led us to Director of Education, Sonja Skelly who has a background in social science and has been extremely helpful in critiquing our plan for surveying visitors. She had insights on how to get at the information we really want to know and how best to order questions. 

In a university the size of Cornell, it is virtually impossible to grasp the breadth of research being conducted, but these personal, word-of-mouth referrals have led us down paths we would not likely have considered, broadening our studies, increasing the rigor, and enriching the already rewarding experience of conducting the case studies.

Research Fellow Michele Palmer and student Research Assistant Muj Powell are participating in LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. They are working to evaluate and document the performance of three exemplary landscape projects in Upstate New York.

Good Ol’ Sun-Fearing People and the Social Life of Cool Urban Spaces

By Justin Earl, MLA Candidate; Dylan Stewart, MLA; Ryan Brown, MLA Candidate; Taner R. Ozdil, PhD, Associate Professor; and James Richards, Associate Professor, Program in Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Arlington

You could say that the people in Texas welcome the summer with a healthy dose of dread. During the summer here, the sun is not your friend. Urbanites avoid outdoor activity during the hottest parts of the day, and every square foot of shade is a precious commodity.

Aversion to the summer sun and heat is one of the biggest hindrances to Texans buying into the possibility of successful outdoor urban spaces. Naysayers will tell you no one here wants to be outside in the summer unless they have to be. However, in recent years a few landscape architectural projects in Fort Worth and Dallas have taken direct aim at the challenge and have created public landscapes very sensitive to people’s needs for a cooling atmosphere during the hottest months.

This summer, our Case Study Investigation (CSI) research team, in partnership with two design firms (Michael Vergason Landscape Architects and SmithGroupJJR), is working to measure the benefits of two such projects. The team has been happy to find that there are a lot of undeterred folks out at the sites just having fun. While investigating the strong economic and environmental performance of the sites, the team is most keen on exploring  social life by surveying users’ opinions and spending several days mapping and recording on each site to determine what is attracting and retaining the people who utilize these spaces.

Sundance Square Plaza in Fort Worth was designed by Michael Vergason Landscape Architects and is the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization that has been going strong for the past 30 years. 32-foot-high sculptural umbrellas and a bosque of native Cedar Elms provide comfortable shade for sitting and people-watching, while a programmable play fountain and a wave fountain are magnets for energetic children. Al fresco dining for popular cafés on two sides of the plaza as well as a stage for performances draw plenty of visitors to contribute to the ‘sidewalk ballet.’ During our site observation days, we are closely tracking people’s activities on the plaza to understand where visitors seem to congregate and feel comfortable, while taking area temperature readings to determine how the microclimates of the plaza differ from other areas downtown.

csi-utaThe UT Arlington team enjoys the evening shade after a full day of observations at Sundance Square.

AT&T Performing Arts Center: Elaine and Charles Sammons Park, designed by SmithGroupJJR, is the central outdoor open space of the Dallas Arts District. It features the Winspear Opera House’s large protruding shade structure, which provides comfortable dappled shade near a water skin reflecting pool and swaying drifts of native and adapted ornamental grasses and wildflowers. While digital models for shadow studies are in the works, our team is conducting test runs of our observation strategies for the site. So far the most common activity for park users has been taking photographs of the park and the surrounding architecture, with length of stay on the site averaging 14.5 minutes. Of the people who stopped and took advantage of the plentiful seating options in the park, 100% sat in the shaded area.

Our team is working daily to research and document the environmental and economic benefits of the two sites while accumulating responses from our online surveys. We still have many hours of site observation to conduct over the next few weeks and look forward to discovering how both plazas respond to Texas’ summer climate and provide people with enjoyable outdoor environments. 

Research Fellows Taner R. Ozdil and James Richards and student Research Assistants Justin Earl, Dylan Stewart, and Ryan Brown are participating in LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to document the performance of two exemplary landscape projects in hot, sunny Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.

Grantors Continue Their Investment in CSI

LAF has received two grants to support the 2014 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. The 2014 program features 7 research teams working to evaluate the performance of 21 landscape projects, ranging from the Atlanta Belt Line Eastside Trail to the Monticello Visitors Center in Virginia.

driehausfoundation-207wFor the second year in a row, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation has granted $10,000 to support the study of three Chicago-area projects. For 2014, these will be Palmisano Park/Stearns Quarry, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, and the Morton Arboretum’s Meadow Lake Restoration.

artworkslogo-f3kFor three straight years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has supported the CSI program with an Art Works grant, increasing the 2014 award amount to $30,000. The additional funding will go towards the production of two video tutorials on specific methods to evaluate performance. The NEA received 1,515 eligible applications for this round of Art Works funding. Of those, 886 are recommended for grants totaling $25.8 million. LAF is one of only 51 groups and organizations throughout the country recommended to receive an NEA Art Works grant in the Design category.