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Sustainability at Home: CSI Takes Its First Look at Private Single-Family Residences

By Pamela Blackmore, BLA, Christopher Binder, MLA Candidate, and Bo Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University

Over two dozen project types are featured in the Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs, representing landscapes from public parks and streetscapes to plazas and even zoos. Yet, despite such a prolific range, none have documented one of the most widespread and accessible applications of sustainable design for both the general public and the professional landscape architect: the single-family home. This summer, our Case Study Investigation (CSI) research team is helping tackle this new and exciting territory by investigating three privately-owned, single-family landscapes created by the firm, Design Workshop in Aspen, Colorado.

Cascade Garden: Reinventing a Landscape with Minimal Disturbance

Can a landscape architect transform a residential lot into a completely different space without destroying existing plant material, disrupting the soil, or waiting years for new, young trees to establish? The site design for this property accomplishes exactly that by utilizing a number of simple but effective techniques that strive to create a new landscape that retains the economic, environmental, and social benefits of the landscape that had been there for years. Our investigation sought to quantify these benefits through innovative methods that include assessing the value of retained or transplanted trees, determining the advantages of siting the new home on the old home’s footprint, and understanding the habitat and water quality effects of deepening rather than expanding the pond.

Riverside Ranch: Restoring Nature and History

Restoring this brownfield site from an industrial asphalt dump to a functional wetland ecosystem was no easy task. To complete the property with a quad of historical and accurately refurbished buildings dating from the 1800s was even more challenging. While restoration was the driving principle in this design, an equally important goal was to establish trout habitat. To determine how successful the design is in creating a veritable ‘fisherman’s paradise’ we explored the streams, ponds, and riparian zones created on site, delving into questions of water quality and habitat suitability.

Capitol Valley Ranch: Creating Microclimates with Natural Energy

This high-altitude landscape was conceived of as a series of outdoor living areas that take advantage of passive solar heating and sun/shade relationships to transition seamlessly with the interior of the home, a sort of modern take on the classical indoor-outdoor relationship of the quintessential Italian villa. The primary challenge for the research team in quantifying the relative success of this design approach was measuring the various factors (temperature, wind speed, relative humidity) that contribute to human comfort levels. Our approach began with selecting 66 individual points around the property at which to measure each environmental factor, then monitoring each point three times throughout the day in order to understand which areas are most comfortable during peak use times in the morning, afternoon, and evening. After gathering the data, the team assembled the information into a GIS that plotted the relative comfort of each point on a physical map of the property, allowing for a thorough bioclimatic analysis of the landscape.


Veteran Research Fellow Bo Yang, returning Research Assistant Pamela Blackmore and newcomer graduate student Christopher Binder are participating in LAF’s 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and exploring new methods to document the performance of three private residences in Aspen, Colorado.

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.