by Bo Yang, Utah State University - Guest Blogger
In a recent article entitled, “The Measured Response,”1 Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) featured Design Workshop’s comprehensive design approach, DW Legacy Design®. The article, which appeared in the March 2012 issue, opens with a large image of Design Workshop’s Denver studio. Allyson Mendenhall, who leads the DW Legacy Design® Program for the firm, is laughing while working with a team on developing metrics for a project. This image is an open invitation to read this convincing and interesting article, which focuses on Design Workshop’s broad performance-based design approach and its influence on landscape architecture education and research. And the influence is expected to be sweeping and far reaching.
As a Research Fellow with the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and a collaborator with Design Workshop, I am familiar with the firm’s rigorous metrics – its arsenal for evidence-based design. Two out of the four projects briefed in this LAM article – Daybreak and South Grand Boulevard – are cases for which I conducted research for LAF’s Landscape Performance Series (LPS).2 A core tenet of the LPS research initiative is to create new knowledge for the profession and to measure landscape benefit through the collaboration of high-profile landscape architecture firms with academic institutions.
At the 2012 Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) conference, six sessions were focused on the LAF’s Landscape Performance Series. A strong message conveyed at these sessions is that the profession cannot rely on other disciplines to generate knowledge – also a critique on the long-standing tendency to consider ideas generated in other disciplines to be of a higher status.3 Along this line of discussion, a noteworthy panel entitled “Moving Forward: Integrating Landscape Performance in Academia and Practice” spread the word that the LAF and the CELA Board are working toward landscape performance as an essential component in landscape architecture curriculum. Kurt Culbertson, Principal at DW and one of the panelists, elaborated on the philosophy and process of DW Legacy Design® and the dialogue and activities related to performance metrics that take place as part of the firm’s design process.4
The LAM article shows in a nutshell the dynamic discussions on performance metrics that occur daily in DW offices. The amount of energy and hours spent on these metrics would be daunting to many other firms. “Perhaps only Design Workshop can do this,” Mark Hoversten, Dean of the College of Art and Architecture at University of Idaho, remarked after Kurt’s presentation.5
When asked why Design Workshop is keen on landscape performance, Kurt responded, “Out of curiosity” (in lieu of pure profitability). Kurt continued to state that people at the firm are enthusiastic about how well they do [on projects] and that they learn from their experiences and increase the collective knowledge of the profession. In other words, DW Legacy Design® metrics is a powerful tool to establish benchmark status for project performance and to argue for sound design solutions. Indeed, the case projects that Design Workshop provided for the LAF research initiatives are elaborately selected, balancing scale, scope and chronologic considerations. Furthermore, a unique perspective is that they are theme-based (i.e., 2011 study based on master-planned communities and 2012 study on streetscape and social sustainability). This research strategy suggests its effectiveness as it will enhance the ability to generalize research findings and pave the way for future publication and results dissemination.
This year we are privileged to build on last summer’s Utah State University/Design Workshop collaboration and will examine three of DW’s streetscape projects: South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis, Park Avenue in North Lake Tahoe, and Cherry Creek North and Fillmore Plaza in Denver. Due to the success of the 2011 LAF studies, I was able to secure additional funding for my water quality study in the Daybreak community in Utah. Like myself, my research assistant Amanda Goodwin had a most positive learning experience with DW, through examination of DW Legacy Design® metrics and their exemplary projects. For both Amanda and me, this journey has enriched our understanding and appreciation of landscapes.
Similar excitement is witnessed in studio classes. In the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LAEP) at Utah State University, students welcome performance measurements as a way to justify their design proposals and boost their confidence in front of the client and their peers. In an eight-week design competition undertaken during the spring 2012 semester, students from an LAEP senior class collaborated with graphic design and interior design students to propose alternative solutions to improve the walkable and shopping environments, amenities and identity along a section of Main Street in Logan, Utah.
Proof of performance measurements was required. At first, students struggled with the tasks of defining metrics to measure and finding ways to measure; they felt more comfortable after the examination of a similar Great Street project – DW’s South Grand Boulevard – and seeing some of Design Workshop’s performance measurement processes and tools. Students emulated this project, measuring before and after conditions with respect to environmental metrics, such as stormwater, energy, vegetation and open space.6 Not surprisingly, the final project was well received by the client, Logan City Downtown Alliance.
Last but not least, graduate students at LAEP are actively engaged with cohorts from the University of Arizona7 on a national research agenda for landscape architecture, triggered by another Landscape Architecture Magazine article by Kurt Culbertson, “Research Priorities.”8
When Frederick Law Olmsted stated that landscape architecture is a combination of art and science, he may not have foreseen that the profession would evolve into what it is today – two schools of thoughts that are polarized. One school follows McHarg’s scientific approach in ecological design and planning on sustainability. The other emphasizes art and design and designers’ intuition. At Design Workshop, one will not see this arguable dichotomy. DW Legacy Design® allows designers the flexibility to “fun-play” with design and inspires spontaneity; meanwhile, it interweaves defensible metrics that ensure that a project is successful and does not slip “off-the-grid.” By so doing, Design Workshop places itself in the forefront of professional practice and serves as a model for landscape architecture education.
1. The Measured Response (Landscape Architecture Magazine, March 2012).
2. Landscape Architecture Foundation, Landscape Performance Series.
3. A panel discussion in the 2012 CELA conference. Comment made by Dr. David Pitt, Co-editor of Landscape Journal.
4. CELA Session 4, Moving Forward: Integrating Landscape Performance in Academia and Practice.
5. Dean Hoversten is a former employee and later client of Design Workshop.
6. LAEP 4130 Emerging Areas in Landscape Architecture. Instructor: Dr. Carlos Licon and Prof. Phil Waite. Project credit: Liz Cosper, Corey Harlos, Marleny Santana, Griffin McCabe, and Ali Davis.
7. Lee Streitz, MLA candidate at the University of Arizona, champions the creation of a national research agenda for landscape architecture. Lee is the first student director established by CELA in 2011.
8. Research Priorities (Landscape Architecture Magazine, November 2011).