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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Dynamic Design Communication's Role in Community Participation

by Travis Flohr, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

flohr-pic-1Circleville Farm (State College, PA) juxtaposed by sprawl.

Decreased water, soil and air quality; changes in microclimate; and the loss of prime agricultural farmland are all issues associated with sprawl. Sprawl disrupts social networks and communities, and negatively changes environmental and ecologic patterns. What legacy are these development patterns leaving on the landscape? These complex but interrelated issues require interdisciplinary and collaborative problem solving. While landscape architects identified this important change in planning 30+ years ago and have incorporated these approaches into community design, the planning process has changed little. Plans and designs are still commonly communicated with static images and jargon filled, text-based policies leaving many community members unable to comprehend the broader impacts of their decisions and limited opportunity to provide feedback.

People are willing to choose alternatives to sprawl if given the opportunity and provided with adequate information in a way that is understandable. To understand and facilitate changes in the design and planning of these developments, new tools can be implemented that better communicate issues and present viable alternatives.

Quality writing is the foundation of written, verbal, and visual communication (including but not limited to design graphics, animations, movies, etc), but it is only one tool at our disposal. We are in the midst of a communication shift. We can now use technology to instantly communicate with millions of people. Is this shift for the better, and how might we use it successfully within the profession?

flohr-pic-2Master thesis interactive, three-dimensional test website.

Traditional methods can be augmented by new technology, research, and learning agendas that will help better communicate the connections and relationships between the complex issues involved in community planning and design. GeoDesign is one such agenda that pushes for the early use of analysis in the design process to vette early design concepts for suitability. Early GeoDesign tools were meant for the designer.  As the technology evolves, these tools are starting to be integrated into participatory processes; however, these tools are still in their infancy. By tapping into internet technologies, social media, and GIS, we have the potential to:

  • Capture a wider audience
  • Provide a greater depth of information on designs and planning decisions earlier in the process
  • Use interactive, multimedia enriched content to better facilitate communication of complex ideas
  • Integrate and capture community held ideals and values
  • Influence public decision making that emphasizes environmental, social, and geographic features that minimize undesirable impacts

The development of these tools will be critical in expanding community engagement in an increasingly complex and learning centered society.

Travis Flohr is currently involved in numerous research projects while finishing his Master’s Thesis in Landscape Architecture at The Pennsylvania State University.  This fall he plans on pursuing a PhD at the University of Colorado. Starting February 1, 2011 if you wish you may participate in this ongoing study by visiting www.iecoplanningstudio.com. He can be contacted at tlf159@psu.edu.

Mission Santa Barbara Project Complete for LAF Fellowship Winner

In 2008 Michael Sanchez, a Masters of Landscape Architecture student at the University of Oregon, won the GCA/Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden History and Design. His proposed project — to explore, document and present one of California’s most treasured outdoor spaces, the gardens of Mission Santa Barbara — ultimately became his master’s thesis. The $4,000 fellowship award helped Michael fund travel and supplies for a two-week research trip to the site and its archive.

mission01Michael’s research examines the integration of landscape representation, through a series of ‘over-drawings’,  as a method of exploring and promoting the historic preservation of landscapes. Through mapping, photography, painting and intaglio printmaking, he aims to portray landscapes in a way that engenders future exploration and preservation of these valuable cultural resources.

mission02His recently-completed thesis work, Mission Santa Barbara | Visually Explored, showcases Michael’s rich and diverse artistic skills while exploring aspects of the site’s history, context, and scale. According to his synopsis:

“This project is not a typical historical analysis of the landscape of Mission Santa Barbara, nor a detailed historic rendering of the beautiful architecture and mission06surrounding landscape. Nor is this merely a literary compilation. This project is a unique perspective between all of the professionals that tell stories of the missions — architects, landscape architects, planners, artists, historians, archeologists, anthropologists, Padres, tourists, etc. — and is woven into a product rich in illustrations and backed by interesting facts and sources.”

mission05With his MLA now in hand, Michael’s immediate priorities are sleep, recovery and spending time with his family. Ultimately he would like to teach, and plans to do some adjunct teaching at the University of Oregon next year. He currently works as a landscape architect for a small design firm in Eugene.

Download Mission Santa Barbara | Visually Explored manuscript (pdf, 12.8MB)
Download Mission Santa Barbara graphics (pdf, 5.8MB)

Webinar Provides Overview of LPS Resources

Heard about the Landscape Performance Series, but still not clear on how it can be useful to you?

We’ve developed a 45-min webinar to provide an overview and demonstration of the various resources and tools in the series. The webinar lasts 45-60 minutes and can be presented to groups of 10-100 attendees.

So far we’ve reached hundreds through webinars with offices of JJR, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, AECOM, Design Workshop, and HOK, and the feedback has been extremely positive.

lps-webinarsPresenting to Chicago, Ann Arbor, Madison, and Phoenix via JJR Live!

“This is a fantastic tool! I can think of a number of ways this would’ve been helpful on past proiects…and with meetings I have in the next few weeks.”

“I can see many opportunities to use the Factoid Library in particular.”

“I’m inspired to try to measure the impact of my projects.”

“Great resource! We really need to get this information out beyond the landscape architecture profession.”

Contact us at lps@lafoundation.org to schedule a webinar for your firm, department, organization, or group. Or if you’d prefer an in-person presentation/demonstration, we may be coming to your region in 2011. Stay tuned for announcements of upcoming trips and events.

Call for LPS Case Study Briefs

The Landscape Performance Series (LPS) Case Study Briefs form a database of built projects with quantified landscape benefits, searchable by benefit, project type, and/or location. Each case study includes a variety of environmental, economic, and/or social benefits along with a methodology document, before/after images, a list of sustainable features, cost comparison and lessons learned. The vision is to grow this resource to include hundreds of projects, representing a wide range of scales, geographic locations and landscape typologies.

lpscasestudycallLPS case studies are submitted by designers or other project stakeholders using an online form, and undergo a review and editing process before being published. LAF is currently seeking submissions to add to our growing database of exemplary built projects. The deadline to submit for the next round of review and publication is Tuesday, February 15. 

Participation increases awareness about your sustainable project(s), demonstrates thought leadership, and shares information so that others — both inside and outside the profession — can learn from your good work. By contributing to the LPS, you will be helping to enrich our collective knowledge about landscape performance, generate demand for the profession, and assist sustainability implementers around the world in understanding and communicating the value of sustainable landscape solutions.

We invite you to submit a Case Study Brief today!

Olmsted Scholar Feature: "Beyond Pompeii" - Designing with Archaeology

by Bryan D. Harrison, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

This semester I had the opportunity to participate in a design workshop with several other US and Italian universities in Castellammare di Stabia, Italy. The eight-day seminar in September was hosted at the Vesuvian Institute and coordinated by the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation. Stabiae was an ancient Roman city buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD along with Pompeii and many other cities around the Bay of Naples. The RAS Foundation is raising public interest in the greater archaeological and cultural district of Vesuvius, beyond the popular tourist destination of Pompeii, to revitalize this economically depressed area with high unemployment. You may remember last year’s ASLA awards and Tom Leader’s Stabiae Archaeological  Park Master Plan; this is the same place.

09-bharrisonitalyseminar01Representing Cornell University at the seminar, members of Kathryn Gleason’s design studio divided into two groups. One worked with architecture students from the University of Maryland on the Castellammare di Stabia Archaeological Park, the second traveled down to Sorrento to develop design proposals for the Villa of Pollio Felix. I was in that second group.

With archaeologist and architect Professor Thomas 09-bharrisonitalyseminar02Howe, the Director of RAS, we took a beautiful drive along the coastal cliffs from Castellammare to Sorrento. The once sumptuous villa of Pollio Felix is now a fantastic ancient ruin. Unlike Pompeii or Stabiae, the zone of destruction of Vesuvius did not extend to the site of this villa, which has fallen slowly into decay over the last 2000 years. There is still a significant portion of the villa platform remaining as well as large terraces which are currently in used for agriculture and olive groves. What makes the place breathtaking is the way the villa juts out into the sea, separated from the mainland by an enclosed cove with a bridge over one side. This cove is used by 09-bharrisonitalyseminar03tourists and locals alike as a swimming hole, giving the site its local name as the Baths of Regina Giovanna — a one-time medieval queen of Naples. You just can’t beat the atmosphere.

Our design challenge lay in increasing accessibility to this secret gem without destroying the character of the place. The difficulties are a steep half-kilometer walk to the site and narrow paths with few railings, but it is magical to be able to wander through the ruins, unguarded, having a tactile experience of history. This has led to some further degradation of the site, but these ruins have been getting extensive use by locals for a very long time, and they have lasted for over 2000 years.

I hadn’t considered the crossover opportunities of archaeology and landscape architecture before this project. The cover of this month’s issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, opportunely timed, has a design incorporating ruins in Sydney. Cornell Landscape Architecture has two professors with degrees in archaeology, and I’m absorbing as much as I can while I’m here. The whole Italian experience and being immersed in Mediterranean culture and archaeological history was fantastic. Our design proposals are being reviewed by the local mayors and communities right now and in the spring we’ll hear back about the next phase of this ongoing program. My recommendation is to get involved in something that interests you; find a non-profit or international organization and dive in. 

Bryan D. Harrison earned his undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Rhode Island and is currently pursuing his MLA at Cornell University with a concentration in Landscape History and Ecology. He can be contacted at: bdh65@cornell.edu.