Drones 101-1000

by Andrew P. Sargeant, ASLA, Mike Fox, ASLA, Aubrey Pontious, Associate ASLA, and Russell Thomman, ASLA

Aerial photo of downtown Austin
Congress Avenue, Downtown Austin / image: RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture

Drones 101-1000 was the first Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) webinar of 2021. The PPN identified drone use in landscape architecture as a topic for which many of our members would like information and resources. The ending of the title, “101-1000,” implies covering everything from the basics to advanced topics with regard to drone use in the field of landscape architecture. The PPN may have more “101-1000” webinars on other topics in the future (our second webinar of the year, a BIM Roundtable with EDSA and SmithGroup, took place earlier this week and will be available as a recording soon), as well as a follow-up to this drone webinar.

Mike Fox, ASLA, and Aubrey Pontious, Associate ASLA, of WPL opened the conversation. Mike started by discussing why he was initially hesitant about incorporating drones within WPL’s practice. He was worried about cost, frequency of use, and other practical concerns. He talked about the unique opportunity to employ Aubrey as both a landscape designer and a potential drone pilot and detailed the negotiations that led to Aubrey becoming a stable resource within the company for drone use, including licensing and equipment.

Aubrey, prior to joining WPL, had some previous hobbyist experience with drones which allowed him to make the case for the firm to help subsidize his exploration and training for drone use in the office. Aubrey outlined some of the use cases within WPL’s practice, including marketing imagery, site surveying, and construction administration. Many of these use cases could be incorporated into any size or type of practice for relatively low cost.

Russell Thomman, ASLA, director of Digital Innovation at RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture, continued the conversation and covered more advanced drone use and techniques. Russell explained how his use of drones within the office has now developed into a wide variety of services. He made it clear that these services were not immediately economically viable or readily wanted from clients but after continued exploration they have now seeded themselves within the practice.

Russell detailed some of third-party software along with the actual hardware necessary for 3D site visits, construction administration, and 3D rendering. In combination with his Mavic 2, Russell uses a handheld 360 camera to offer a comprehensive inventory of site conditions. Russell also talked about using GIS in combination with data aggregated from the drone to “tell stories,” via ESRI web mapping tools. Russell’s ability to go beyond the conventional representation of the landscapes is a product of continued exploration and a combination of new and existing technologies.

Our Drones 101-1000 webinar—check out the full recording below—is part of the PPN’s goal to support and encourage landscape architect’s efforts in research and development of design technology in the field.

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Nature-Based Solutions Design for Justice

by Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP

Nature-based solutions are strategies that integrate ecosystem functions to serve societal needs and ecosystems benefits. / image: Chingwen Cheng

Nature-based solutions (NBS) is a concept developed to promote nature as a means for providing solutions for societal challenges. The concept has been widely adopted for environmental science and policies addressing issues such as water security, food security, disaster risk management, human health, economic and social development, and climate change (IUCN, 2016). NBS are strategies that integrate ecosystem functions to serve societal needs and ecosystem benefits. Examples include green infrastructure, landscape planning and design, biodiversity conservation, ecosystems restoration, and environmental design to address climate change adaptation, urban resilience, and sustainable development. The field of landscape architecture has been the champion for and major contributor to planning, designing, and implementing NBS at various scales and applications in serving diverse societal needs both in the public and private sectors.

While NBS operate under ecological principles, the social systems that NBS are being operated within and the potential negative impacts that NBS perpetuate in communities (e.g., green gentrification) have brought justice concerns. NBS including green infrastructures have been integrated into spatial climate justice planning through identifying social-ecological-technological systems vulnerability to climate change (Cheng, 2016; 2019). As policies and resources are becoming available in support of implementing NBS in communities for addressing climate change challenges (e.g., the EU’s European Green Deal, the US’s Green New Deal), we must proceed with caution and be willing to investigate project impacts to ensure equity is addressed while systemic injustice are rectified in the politics of planning (Goh, 2020).

Just NBS include opportunities to transform systemic injustice associated with race and class, a meaningful participatory process for transformative co-production, and using value articulation to prioritize resources, measure successes, and create culture shifts to address issues of environmental justice (Cousins, 2021).

Nature-based Solutions for Urban Resilience in the Anthropocene (NATURA) is a network of scholars and practitioners in Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America, and Latin America that aim to understand the interconnected feedback between social, ecological, and technological systems on NBS outcomes. The NATURA Design for Justice Survey is a project undertaken by the NATURA Design for Justice Thematic Working Group to investigate and bridge the gap between theory and practices in design justice through research, design, implementation, and management of NBS projects. This particular survey is designed for ASLA members and design practitioners associated with NBS. The findings will be used to understand the state of practice of incorporating environmental justice in the profession in support of ASLA Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network’s mission.

The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. Your participation is greatly appreciated.

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In the Flow: Loose Parts Play

Playing in nature
image: Nari Chung

In 1971, architect and artist Simon Nicholson introduced the concept of loose parts in his article “The Theory of Loose Parts: How NOT to Cheat Children.” In the article, Mr. Nicholson described loose parts as materials, natural or manmade, that can be used in different ways for children to manipulate, experiment with, create and invent with, and generally do whatever they want with them. Further described, there are no set directions that accompany loose parts play, so they are limited only by safety and any existing environmental constraints and the far reaches of childrens’ imagination (Neill, 2013).

Loose parts are well suited for solitary and social play. The bottom line is, while further research is needed, what we do know is that loose parts play appears to enhance active and unstructured play (Houser, et al., 2016). Take a look at some of the images that our Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team compiled of children engaging in loose play in the woods, on the playground, at the shore, and some of the projects they have left behind for others to enjoy. Please feel free to share some of your favorite images with us, in the comments below or by email.

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Resilient Plant Design: Changing Old Habits for a New “Plant Communities” Approach

by Ryan Ives, RLA, and Michael Ledbetter, RLA, ASLA

Roof meadow of Parkline project
Spring in the Parkline “roof meadow” six months after the plugs were planted. / image: Ryan Ives

This post provides two perspectives from two landscape architects—Ryan Ives and Michael Ledbetter, who are adapting their planting design, implementation, and post-construction plant management strategies to the new norms: climate change, reduced biodiversity, shrinking budgets, and clients’ expectations for new methodologies. We hope to see more posts like this from them and others who are trying out new sustainable design techniques and strategies.

Ryan Ives, RLA
Living and working out of Durham, NC

Stepping into your Post-Wild World

My own journey into a post-wild world began in 2016, when I saw Claudia West speak at the New Directions in the American Landscape conference at Connecticut College. I was blown away by West’s presentation of the then recently published Planting in a Post-Wild World, co-authored with Thomas Rainer, ASLA. West and Rainer synthesized decades of sophisticated European and American planting methods with contemporary views and experience (West comes from the post-Cold War East German landscape perspective and Rainer from the wilderness lost legacy of the U.S.). Their arguments seem particularly well-suited to our current moment of climate change and urbanization. The book they produced is a guide that gives the rest of us a methodology and conceptual framework to build upon. If you spend any time on landscape architecture Instagram, you will see that I am not the only person who has been inspired by this book.

Even after reading the book twice, it took me several years to get to the point where I was ready to jump in and start applying West and Rainer’s methodology to projects. Prior to becoming a landscape architect, I worked in landscape maintenance and I was anxious about taking risks with planting design. No one wants to develop an inspiring planting concept that includes claims of low maintenance after establishment (I mean management!), only to see it fail. There is also the issue that many clients, whether because of negative past experiences or word of mouth, believe that plantings will be expensive and difficult to maintain. Essentially, there are a lot of incentives to avoid taking risks, particularly if you are not entirely sure which risks you should take. The concepts expressed in Planting in a Post-Wild World felt like the missing piece that I needed to give me the freedom and guidance to create meaningful, beneficial, and manageable plant designs.

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Envisioning the Future of Community Design for World Landscape Architecture Month

Park visitors
2019 ASLA Professional Honor Award in General Design. Barangaroo Reserve. Sydney, Australia. PWP Landscape Architecture / image: PWP Landscape Architecture

Today marks the start of World Landscape Architecture Month! Given the 2021 WLAM theme of healthy, beautiful, and resilient places for all communities, ASLA’s Community Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team put together a set of thought-provoking, community-focused questions for the PPN’s leaders to address to celebrate the launch of WLAM. Below, we share answers from the Community Design PPN team on a range of topics, from reimagining brownfield sites to what the future of community design may look like post-COVID:

  • Stacey Weaks, ASLA, PPN Co-Chair – Denver, Colorado
  • Scott Redding, ASLA, PPN Co-Chair – Sacramento, California
  • Oliver Penny, ASLA, PPN Officer – Fort Worth, Texas
  • Bob Smith, ASLA, PPN Officer and past Chair – Watkinsville, Georgia

Stacey Weaks, ASLA
Principal, Norris Design
Denver, Colorado

How do you deal with brownfield sites and other types of sites that require remediation for new development? How do you make these reimagined sites an addition to the community fabric and an enhancement of the community environment?

Redevelopment remediation projects require a significant commitment from the lead developer and the teaming partners, including public and private entities. Norris Design has been collaborating on Miller’s Landing in Castle Rock, Colorado, a centrally located property in the Downtown Castle Rock area which historically served as the town’s former landfill. The property recently completed an extensive remediation process. Our team, in collaboration with the Town of Castle Rock and an extensive team of subconsultants, has been guiding the planning, design, and entitlement process to redevelop the 80-acre property, which required complete remediation prior to any redevelopment.

The vision for Miller’s Landing establishes a mixed-use district that diversifies the community fabric to serve the growing Castle Rock area and expand the economic opportunities in the area. A key aspect of the master plan is the establishment of a central Main Street with connections to a restored greenway, linking a critical segment of the trail network between downtown and the regional park and resulting in a healthier environment that would not be possible without the extensive remediation process.

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