The Art and Science of Urban Landscapes

Klyde Warren Park; Dallas; designed by the Office of James Burnett; opened in 2012. An LAF Case Study Investigation (CSI) performance study image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2013
Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, designed by the Office of James Burnett, opened in 2012 — an LAF Case Study Investigation (CSI) performance study
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2013

The Art and Science of Urban Landscapes—One Performance Study at a Time

As urban areas continue to densify—cities now house more than 50% of the population in the United States—open green space has become a much desired but scarce commodity. The meaning attached to urban landscapes is now much more than its mere aesthetic value. It is the combination of economic, environmental, social and aesthetic implications of landscape projects that creates synergy around landscape architecture as part of urban form and function.

The global ‘environmental awakening,’ especially in the early 2000s, and growing awareness of sustainable and green design practices across design and planning fields made us more cognizant of issues such as rapid urbanization, uneven natural and human resource allocation, extraneous consumption behaviors, climate change and rapid ecological and environmental degradation. Such developments reminded both academia and practitioners that there are two sides (“the art” and “the science”) to understanding, designing, constructing and managing landscapes, and landscape architecture professionals have the opportunity to be in the forefront of this discussion with well-established, knowledge-based practices, especially in complex urban settings.

Investigating landscape performance and learning from past lessons has become a necessary dimension of landscape architecture, not only to reduce the gap between academia and practitioners, but also to promote the impact of the field as part of urban design. It is critical to subscribe to the phrase “the art and science” more than ever to elevate our roles and to better understand and shape the built environment.

Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, designed by Morris Lapidus, opened in 1959 and renovated in 1999. The one-block addition to the mall is one of LAF’s CSI Performance Studies--the study is planned to be published in late 2014 image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2013
Lincoln Road Mall, Miami Beach, designed by Morris Lapidus, opened in 1959 and renovated in 1999 — the one-block addition to the mall is one of LAF’s CSI Performance Studies, to be published in late 2014
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2013

Although landscape performance is a relatively new phenomenon for many, the project evaluation is not so new to the broader design and planning fields. Some of the theoretical underpinnings of these studies go back to behavioral studies in architectural literature from the late 1960s (Hall, 1966; Sommer, 1966). Project evaluation and performance have appeared in selective studies in design literature in the 1970s, and allied design fields increasingly began to subscribe to the idea in the 1980s under the Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) framework. POE is defined simply as the assessment of the performance of physical design elements in a given, in-use facility (Preiser et al., 1988). The project evaluation studies are primarily conducted to assess the utility and ‘success’ of a given design project to inform future practices.

Freeway Park in Seattle, designed by Lawrance Halprin & Associates under the design direction of Angela Danadjieva, and opened in 1976 image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2012
Freeway Park, Seattle, designed by Lawrance Halprin & Associates under the design direction of Angela Danadjieva, opened in 1976
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2012

Project evaluation and performance studies, influenced by the POE framework, began to appear in landscape architecture literature later than in architectural literature. Although landscape architecture recognized research as a means to address the knowledge gap between academia and practice (see LAF’s founders’ mission from 1966), studying projects and their performance as a necessary dimension of communicating landscape architecture’s value received more recognition in the 1990s (Whyte, 1980, 1990; Bookout et.al., 1994; Woodfin & Ozdil, 1998). Specifically, seminal works such as People Places and A Case Study Method for Landscape Architecture elevated the value of the systematic documentation and evaluation of landscape projects (Marcus & Francis, 1998; Francis, 1999).

Pershing Square; Los Angeles; redesigned and renovated by architect Ricardo Legorreta and landscape architect Laurie Olin; opened in 1994  image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2011
Pershing Square, Los Angeles, redesigned and renovated by architect Ricardo Legorreta and landscape architect Laurie Olin, opened in 1994
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2011

Increasing awareness concerning sustainability and the green movement and greater access to data in the early 2000s encouraged more comprehensive studies, which took into account environmental, social, economic, physiological and aesthetic factors. The beginning of the 21st century brought a new outlook on project performance and evaluation in landscape architecture. In addition to the continuing refinement of design evaluation and performance research among scholars (such as Crompton, 2001; Francis, 2003; Ozdil, 2008; Lovel and Johnson, 2009) and the primarily entrepreneurial efforts by organizations (ULI Case Studies, 2014; USGBC-LEED, 2014), the self-review, documentation and publication of completed landscape projects become a practice of landscape design firms (see Olin Partners, 2008; SWA, 2010; Sasaki, 2012). In more recent years, for the first time in the history of landscape architecture, systematic documentation, evaluation, rating and/or value inquiry become an institutionalized effort by organized collaborations between practice and academia (such as LAF’s CSI, 2014; SSI, 2014; TCLF, 2014; EPA, 2014).

Millennium Park; Chicago; by Terry Guen Design Associates, Inc., Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd., Ed Uhlir, FAIA, Christy Webber Landscapes; opened in 2004. An LAF CSI performance study image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2008
Millennium Park, Chicago, by Terry Guen Design Associates, Inc., Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd., Ed Uhlir, FAIA, and Christy Webber Landscapes, opened in 2004 — an LAF CSI performance study
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2008

While some of these efforts focus on systematic documentation of post-project performance (economic, environmental and/or social conditions), such as Landscape Architecture Foundation’s (LAF) Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, others, like the Sustainable Site Initiative’s (SSI) Pilot Program, focus on pre-development site conditions and environmental factors. Others, such as The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) What’s Out There database, identify and briefly document landscapes’ cultural and historic significance (see also USGBC’s and EPA’s efforts to document case studies).

By the end of this year, it is expected that LAF’s CSI program will reach over 100 case studies; SSI’s Pilot Program now includes 34 projects and TCLF’s What’s Out There program includes over 1,700 landscape project briefs. It seems that documenting and evaluating various qualities of landscape architecture one project at a time is increasingly becoming more of a daily exercise for both practitioners and researchers in recent years. These developments are encouraging, and one should not be prematurely overwhelmed by the recent focus on landscape performance, metrics, ratings, numbers, etc. The “art” of landscape practice is still the heart of what landscape architects do, but both academics and practitioners are still behind the curve on supporting the scientific side of the practice with evidence and knowledge.

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle by Weiss/Manfredi Architects, along with Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, Magnusson Klemencic Associates and other consultants, opened in 2007  image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2012
Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle by Weiss/Manfredi Architects, along with Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, Magnusson Klemencic Associates and other consultants, opened in 2007
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2012

The demands of the public and the cities we serve are increasing in complexity, and there is a greater call for landscape architects to influence urban ecology, environment and form. Many urban landscape project footprints are relatively small when compared with their counterparts in the urban periphery, so illustrating their impact, value and performance becomes essential in order to demonstrate why urban landscapes matter. For these sites to be able to compete with profitable real estate ventures in urban areas, their competitive advantages in creating livable urban environments must be demonstrated with evidence. Performance research becomes a necessary dimension of urban landscape projects to provide more robust and generalizable knowledge and to communicate landscape architecture’s impact among allied professionals, the greater scientific community and, most importantly, with the residents of urban areas.

The High Line, New York, by James Corner Field Operations (Project Lead), Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Planting Designer Piet Oudolf. The first section opened in 2009, the second section in 2011, and the third in 2014.  image: Xitong Li, 2013
The High Line, New York, by James Corner Field Operations (Project Lead), Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Planting Designer Piet Oudolf. The first section opened in 2009, the second section in 2011, and the third in 2014.
image: Xitong Li, 2013

Demonstrating the value and benefits of landscape architectural projects with empirical data is still a challenge to document and communicate, especially for projects in urban contexts. The core of the argument lies not only in ‘what urban landscapes have’ but also in ‘what it does’ with its presence and the activity it creates in adjacent properties and the surrounding urban context. If we do not systematically document and communicate economic, social, environmental and aesthetic benefits of signature and impactful projects shaping urban form—like Dallas’s Klyde Warren Park, Chicago’s Millennium Park, Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, or New York’s High Line–how can we prepare our cities as people places for the next century? Not to mention raising awareness about the impact of urban landscapes on urban ecology, environment and form.

Sundance Square Plaza, Forth Worth, by Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, opened in 2013. LAF’s CSI performance study to be published in late 2014  image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2014
Sundance Square Plaza, Forth Worth, by Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, opened in 2013. LAF’s CSI performance study to be published in late 2014
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2014

Landscape architecture practice and scholarship is evolving, and evaluation and performance research should be an essential dimension of landscape architecture, informing future designs with lessons from the past. This line of inquiry is important not just because the knowledge created will surely help educate future practitioners, but also because it will advance the scope and the science of landscape architecture in the future as a knowledge-based activity. The aim of such studies should reach beyond the self-fulfilling prophecy among landscape architecture academics and practitioners about who we are. The value of assessing the performance of landscape architecture with empirical methods and systematic research lies in communicating the importance of the profession to other “non-landscape architects” with valid language and reliable and robust data and methods. Ultimately, this focus area will be a critical part of performance research and landscape architecture in the future to communicate the greater impact and value to the public.

One final question that still remains in the greater scheme of things: what is the performance and/or value implications of creating environments to promote a healthy and fulfilling life, sequester carbon dioxide for clean air, produce energy and/or food for human consumption or treat water through landscapes as part of urban form? The answer is yet to be determined. Such difficult questions should serve as the topic for future urban landscape research to further validate “the art and science” of landscape architecture as a scholarly field and professional practice.

References:

Bookout, Lloyd W., Michael D. Beyard, and Steven W. Fader. Value by Design: Landscape Site Planning and Amenities. Washington, DC: The Urban Land Institute, 1994.

Crompton, John L. The Impact of Parks on Property Value: A Review of the Empirical Evidence. Urbana: Sagamore Publishing, 2001.

Environmental Protection Agency. Case Studies & Best Practices. 2014.

Francis, Mark. A Case Study Method for Landscape Architecture. Washington, DC: Landscape Architecture Foundation, 1999.

Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1966.

Hough, Mark Harrison. “Does Beauty Still Matter?” Land8, 2014.

Hung, Ying-Yu, Gerdo Aquino, Charles Waldheim, Julia Czerniak, Adriaan Geuze, Alexander Robinson, and Matthew Skjonsberg. Landscape Infrastructure: Case Studies by SWA. Basel: Birkhauser, 2010.

Landscape Architecture Foundation. Case Study Briefs. 2014.

Landscape Architecture Foundation. Founders Mission. 1966.

Lovell, Sarah Taylor, and Douglas M. Johnston. “Designing Landscapes for Performance Based on Emerging Principles in Landscape Ecology.” Ecology and Society 14(1): 44, 2009.

Marcus, Clare Cooper, and Carolyn Francis. Peoples Place: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space. London: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1998.

Ozdil, Taner R. Economic Value of Urban Design. VDM Verlag Dr. Muller, Munich, 2008.

Olin, Laurie, Dennis C. McGlade, Robert J. Bedell, Lucinda R. Sanders, Susan K. Weiler, and David A. Rubin. Olin: Placemaking. New York: Monacelli Press, 2008.

Preiser, Wolfgang F. E., Harvey Z. Rabinowitz, and Edward T. White. Post Occupancy Evaluation. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Sasaki. Currents: Engaging. 2012.

Sommer, Robert. Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis for Design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Sustainable Sites Initiative. Certified Sites. 2014.

The Cultural Landscape Architecture Foundation. What’s Out There. 2014.

Urban Land Institute. ULI Development Case Studies. 2014.

U.S. Green Building Council. LEED. 2014.

Whyte, William H. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces [Video Recording]. New York: Municipal Art Society, 1990.

Woodfin, T., and Taner R Ozdil. “Design Award Archive as a Teaching and Research Tool.” Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Conference Proceedings, Arlington, Texas. 1998.

by Taner R. Ozdil, Ph.D., ASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture & Associate Director for Research for the Center for Metropolitan Density (CfMD), School of Architecture, The University of Texas at Arlington. He is also a Landscape Architecture Foundation CSI Research Fellow for both 2013 and 2014. Taner can be contacted at tozdil@uta.edu for questions, comments and inquiries.

2 thoughts on “The Art and Science of Urban Landscapes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s