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Vectorworks to Estimate Landscape Performance

By Doug Robb, MLA Candidate, University of Toronto

As landscape architects, we are faced with the challenge of situating our designs within a broader ecological and climatological context. A design proposal must invariably contend with the active forces of its environment, however these forces (such as rainfall, flooding, heat gain, wildlife migration, etc.) can be incredibly difficult to model through conventional CAD and BIM software. The strategy of simulation modelling is often employed, whereby multiple design iterations are compared and contrasted based on a standard rubric. Yet this form of exploratory design can be time-consuming, and is often problematised by the dual expectations placed on landscape architects to quickly represent their creative vision whilst simultaneously ensuring its performative functionality.

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is continually looking for new tools and methods to evaluate landscape performance. LAF asked me to investigate how Vectorworks Landmark software could be used to estimate the performance of a given design. 

For landscape architects, the greatest strength of Vectorworks Landmark lies in its ability to handle a wide variety of filetypes, and to modify these external files through the built-in Site Planning tool sets. These tool sets are analogous to pre-defined CAD blocks which cater specifically to the require- ments of landscape design, from an extensive library of plant material and irrigation heads to site modifiers and grading tools. When used in tandem, these features allow a designer quickly to import a survey shapefile, modify the topography through massing models, hardscape, or planting, then begin to calculate site metrics such as runoff, cut and fill, and shading.


vectorworks-reportFor example, the Hardscape Tool Set can be used to assign different materials and classes to different components of a drawing. The software can then calculate site statistics, such as ratio of hardscape to softscape, site permeability, and potential runoff by “Creating a Report” and selecting from the preloaded lists of site metrics. Using this straightforward process, peak runoff rate can be calculated using the Rational Method. Vectorworks’ built-in libraries of blocks and calculation tools make quantitative landscape analysis easy and relatively straightforward. 

Currently, Vectorworks Landmark is a powerful tool for landscape architects to assess the impact of their designs upon the environment. In the words of Carl Steinitz, this design-led approach to project evaluation is useful for conducting site analysis and generating project metrics, however it is a somewhat limited strategy for generating future design possibilities. It would be tremendously useful if the rigorous analytical functions of Vectorworks Landmark were better able to foster a decision-based approach to landscape design. For instance, a number of possible design outcomes could be generated by limiting certain variables such as site permeability or shade cover. This feature is partially available through the intelligent Massing Model tool set, which allows for data-driven design by appending building data and code requirements to flexible massing models, however an equivalent for landscape performance is not readily available. This process would not only provide landscape architects with a wider range of design alternatives, but also encourage a more participatory design process with non-specialised stakeholders, such as environmentalists or community groups. 

While Vectorworks Landmark may not have the full capabilities offered by more specialized programs such as ArcGIS or Photoshop, its “jack-of-all-trades” approach to file management and site design makes it a powerful tool for the simulation modelling of multiple proposals within a single program. I believe this fast and flexible workflow is an invaluable tool for landscape architects who wish to efficiently test the environmental repercussions of their designs. In this sense, Vectorworks Landmark allows for the rapid prototyping of landscape futures as part of both a creative process, and an analytical device.

Landscape Performance Research: Monitoring Green Infrastructure in New York City

By Mary Nunn, RLA & Nandan Shetty, NYC Parks Green Infrastructure Unit

New York City is the densest city in America and as a result, largely impervious. The impacts of this are numerous, including combined sewer overflows, flooding, and damage of infrastructure and property. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, the 100-year flood will occur as frequently as every 15 to 35 years in New York by the 2080s. Traditional wastewater infrastructure, such as overflow systems and treatment plants, comes at a high cost both financially and environmentally. In contrast, a green approach to addressing these problems — including green roofs, parkland bioretention systems, stormwater greenstreets, and right-of-way bioswales — supplies a myriad of social, economic, and environmental benefits in addition to managing runoff.

In New York City we are currently constructing hundreds of green infrastructure sites in the city’s most polluted “sewersheds”. The road to implementation remains perhaps one of the most challenging in the country, given the city’s degree of urbanization, physical and political complexity, and aging infrastructure. Given this, we have developed a university partnership model that aligns us with academics who are similarly motivated and interested in understanding these considerable challenges. Together, we undertand that green infrastructure is a new technology with many variables and unknowns. Our joint research challenge is to monitor performance, so that stormwater capture is quantified, cost effectiveness is known, and construction details and designs are constantly improved.

nashville-stormwater-greenstreetOur academic partners at Drexel University have used live tracking to monitor the performance of several constructed sites. At the stormwater greenstreet located on Nashville Boulevard between 116th Avenue and 209th Street in Queens (Nashville), 100% of stormwater runoff entered local catch basins and ultimately the combined sewer system prior to installation in 2011.

Over our 2012 monitoring season (April - November), we found that 21 out of 24 storm events were 100% retained within the site. During only three storm events, ponding inside the greenstreet caused brief overflows to the local catch basin. On an annual basis, the site’s performance suggests 74% - 86% retention of all rainfall over its catchment area, dependent upon annual precipitation variations. Furthermore, our data suggests that the Nashville site can retain 100% of the flow directed to it during all storms with less than 1.6 inches of rainfall.

In addition, Nashville was closely monitored during both Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, and it captured much more stormwater runoff than anticipated. Although the site was sized for a 5:1 ratio of catchment area to planting area, during Superstorm Sandy, inflow from the street was approximately 31 times direct precipitation on the site. Given the location of the site at a low point of the neighborhood, the increased ratio most likely occurred due to clogged drainage upslope. In total, approximately 40,000 gallons of water deposited by Superstorm Sandy either infiltrated into the site or evaporated.

We know that green infrastructure works, but there is much more to be gained by fostering a constant university partnership, especially given the scale of investment in these systems. A “design - build - research” feedback loop is requisite to monitor and learn how we can continue to improve performance-based green space.

Mary Nunn, RLA is a Landscape Architect with the NYC Parks Green Infrastructure Unit. At Parks, she has worked on a variety of projects citywide with an emphasis on sustainable design and stormwater management. Currently, she is responsible for the project management and design of green infrastructure systems in the Bronx River and Hutchinson River sewersheds.

Nandan Shetty is a PhD candidate at Columbia University, and has been working at NYC Parks Green Infrastructure Unit since 2008.  Nandan received a MS from Columbia University in Civil Engineering in 2013 and a BE from Dartmouth College in Environmental Engineering in 2008.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Measuring LID Performance in Utah

By Pamela Blackmore, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

Landscape architects in the Intermountain West face unique challenges when trying to implement low-impact development (LID) strategies. LID applications are rare in these semi-arid environments, and studies analyzing LID effectiveness in these environments are even fewer.

I have been part of an interdisciplinary research team at Utah State University, currently analyzing the effectiveness of LID in Daybreak, an award winning, master-planned community and the largest green infrastructure project in Utah. It is recognized as one of 500 U.S. new urban sites and has been featured as a Case Study Brief in the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)’s Landscape Performance Series.

The landscape architecture firm Design Workshop, was responsible for the design of open spaces, including the 65-acre, man-made Oquirrh Lake, stormwater canals, and 25 acres of constructed wetlands, bioswales, and infiltration basins. This integrated stormwater management system was designed to infiltrate runoff up to the 100-year storm event, reducing infrastructure costs by an estimated $70 million.

daybreak02Water quality monitoring in a vegetated swale

Our study objective is to analyze the effectiveness of LID strategies on stormwater quality in Utah’s unique environment and climate. Two sub-watersheds within Daybreak were compared, each with different stormwater management strategies. One watershed focuses on LID designs, such as using a bioswale to detain and filter runoff. The other watershed largely follows traditional stormwater management methods. As the lead research assistant of this study, I am helping analyze key contaminants that are associated with urban development, including heavy metals, total suspended solids (TSS), nitrogen, and phosphorus.

Preliminary results show the effectiveness of the LID strategies in Utah, particularly when comparing first flush samples. It is evident that there are huge reductions in these pollutants as a result of the LID designs.

daybreak03Watershed 1 has traditional stormwater infrastructure, whereas Watershed 2 incorporates LID strategies.

Daybreak’s integrated stormwater system has already provided salient enviromental and economic benefits. Our current study further demonstrates performance of the LID applications, and the data can inform future designs. The research team will present project findings at the 2013 American Water Resources Association conference to international, multidisciplinary audiences. Our communication of successful LID projects such as Daybreak is expected to further promote sustainable design and demonstrate the benefits of high performing landscapes.

Pamela graduated from Utah State University (USU) with a BLA in 2013 with Departmental Honors. She has worked as a LAF Case Study Investigation (CSI) Research Assistant for two summers on eight case studies, participated in Dr. Bo Yang’s Daybreak stormwater quality study, and continues to research and write articles with Dr. Yang. She received USU’s 2013 Honor’s Thesis Award, Faculty Medal and Laval Morris Travel Fellowship. She is currently working as an intern in Design Workshop’s Salt Lake City office.

CSI Research: Using Jan Gehl and the Toyota Prius to Assess Landscape Performance

The 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program officially ended on August 9 with each of the faculty-student research teams presenting their work during a 1.5-hour, information-packed webinar. The researchers described a variety of exemplary projects, the research process, and some of the key environmental, economic, and social benefits that they were able to document.

This year’s teams demonstrated creativity and ingenuity with the methods they used to observe and quantify performance. Two of the teams went in to detail about the methods and processes they pioneered and tested through CSI.

The University of Oregon research team discussed their experience using Jan Gehl’s Public Life Public Space survey to assess the social benefits of three exemplary public spaces: Portland’s Director Park, Randall Children’s Hospital, and Dutch Kills Green in Queens.


The Utah State University research team presented two innovative methods they developed to assess landscape performance on three residential sites in Aspen, Colorado: (1) A visual analysis of landscape buffering and (2) A bioclimatic analysis of Human Comfort Zone.

Want to learn more? Look for the resulting 20+ LPS Case Study Briefs from the 2013 CSI program in Sept/Oct, as we publish several each week.

New Landscape Performance Track at CELA

The Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) has announced that it will offer a new “Landscape Performance” track at its annual conference, starting in 2014. The CELA conference focuses on recent research and scholarship in all aspects of landscape architecture.

cela-logo“The decision to offer this track underscores the explosion in interest and number of proposals that CELA has seen in recent years on this topic,” said CELA President Sean Michael, PhD.

“Landscape performance should be fundamental knowledge in landscape architecture, though it is not highly developed yet,” said CELA Vice President of Research Ming-Han Li, PhD, PE, PLA. “The new track will help ensure that the latest research and thinking on landscape performance is a regular part of the dialogue at the CELA conference.”

Landscape Performance joins ten track categories used to organize the conference sessions and papers: Design Education & Pedagogy, Communication & Visualization, Design Implementation, Urban Design, Landscape Planning & Ecology, Research & Methods, Service Learning & Community Engagement, Sustainability, People-Environment Relationships, and History, Theory & Culture. Members of the academic community and others submit abstracts to each track for peer review which, when accepted, are presented at the annual conference and published in the proceedings.

LAF will co-chair the new Landscape Performance track along with a representative from CELA. The move is the latest step in an ongoing partnership between the two organizations. In 2011, the CELA Vice President of Research began serving on the LAF Research Committee, and last year, CELA and LAF leadership began serving on in an ex officio capacity on the other organization’s Board of Directors.

For more than 90 years, CELA has been concerned with the content and quality of professional education in landscape architecture and with generating high quality research.