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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.

LAF Receives Two Grants for 2013 CSI Program

LAF recently received two grants to support the 2013 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 2013 program features 8 research teams working to evaluate the performance of 24 landscape projects, ranging from the Tassajara Creek Restoration in California to the Ann Arbor Municipal Center in Michigan.

driehausfoundation-207wThe Richard H. Driehaus Foundation has granted $10,000 to support three Chicago-area projects that are being documented through the 2013 CSI program: Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Jackson Park and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Smart Home: Green + Wired.

artworkslogo-f3kFor the second year in a row, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has supported the CSI program with a $25,000 Art Works grant. LAF is one of only 50 nonprofit organizations throughout the country recommended to receive an NEA Art Works grant in the Design category. The NEA received 1,547 eligible applications for this round of Art Works funding. Of those, 817 are recommended for grants totaling $26.3 million to 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.

CELA Conference Session Wrap-Up

Last week at the annual Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) Conference in Austin, Texas, LAF presented new insights on landscape performance gleaned from the Landscape Performance Series (LPS) and the Case Studies Investigation (CSI) program.

cela2013Executive Director Barbara Deutsch and Programs Manager Linda Ashby participated in four sessions, presenting alongside past CSI Research Fellows, student Research Assistants, and other colleagues. LAF’s sessions at CELA included panels on evaluating landscape performance for environmental, social, and economic benefits, as well as a panel on applying science to design for and evaluate performance. These sessions offered participants an introduction to both the LPS and CSI research programs, and a critical look at the research methods employed.

The first session introduced CSI and the concept of quantifying performance benefits. The session offered the opportunity for audience members to discuss the program’s approach, as well as participants’ strategies for quantifying specific social, environmental and economic benefits. Participants introduced their own experiences: for example, Jessica Canfield (Kansas State University) presented her CSI research evaluating the Frontier Project, a demonstration project in California which seeks to encourage visitors to incorporate energy efficient and water-wise practices in their homes. Canfield’s team studied the site’s rainwater infiltration, irrigation water needs and projected carbon emissions and analyzed attendance records and surveys with on-site employees. Canfield and others, including Mark Storie (University of Maryland), also discussed their strategies for obtaining data and the varying levels of data availability at different types of sites.

Many of landscape performance sessions focused on research methods. At the panel on environmental performance, Barry Lehrman (Cal Poly Pomona) described his experience “measuring the (not so) unmeasurable,” introducing the tools used by his CSI research team, including affordable temperature gauges and water quality meters. In response to presentations by Lehrman and his fellow panelists, moderator Kristina Hill, PhD (UC Berkeley) described the recent context for measuring landscape performance, noting that until recently many metrics were discipline-specific, leading to “very little synthesis.” She challenged those attending the session to “be critical in our reflection on these metrics” so researchers could continue to advance their strategies and obtain a holistic understanding of the benefits of landscape design.

cela-panel1Participants in CELA sessions also discussed means of communicating the concept of landscape performance benefits to policy makers, other design professionals, and the general public. Presenting in a panel on economic benefits, Dennis Jerke (Texas A&M) noted that “we have to be good communicators… and explain what the metrics mean and how the value has been generated.” Similarly, Mary Myers, PhD (Temple University) noted that comparing a project’s performance to its initial goals can be a helpful strategy for engaging clients and others in the discussion. To Myers, “the metrics should measure the extent to which goals were met” whether in terms of stormwater mitigation, improved biodiversity, economic development or public access.

LAF looks forward to continuing the dialogue started at CELA Conference and bringing the new insights to the 2013 CSI program and its participants.