A Robust, Sustainable Reference

The Sustainable Sites Handbook: A Complete Guide to the Principles, Strategies, and Best Practices for Sustainable Landscapes by Meg Calkins, ASLA, elucidates strategic design approaches, measures for site performance, and provides an intelligent framework to discuss sustainability and understand technical issues. The handbook is extremely clear and well-structured, synthesizing a wealth of specific information into a useable form. The book embodies the very significant achievement of the Sustainable Sites initiative (SITES), in its broad-based collaborative approach to the subject.

The book begins by discussing the conceptual underpinnings of sustainable design and then moves through a comprehensive project development framework; from planning and site selection, through water, vegetation, soils and materials, to a discussion of human health and well-being and the issues of management and stewardship.

The broad disciplinary base of the SITES program, with its numerous expert contributors and reviewers, has allowed a surprisingly detailed and nuanced approach to the subject areas covered. The value of the book is as a guide to practitioners who are finding their way through the SITES system but also as a general reference to issues of sustainable site development more generally.

Perhaps even more than its professional use, I believe the book will be an invaluable resource for educators and students as a guide to sustainable design practice. Its comprehensiveness and synthetic approach to issues of site development and management provide a framework that can be broadly applied. The book brings together sound technical and procedural information placed within a well-reasoned intellectual context.

The book’s layout is clear and legible but the book design and production exhibit the limitations of quality in both materials and images so ubiquitous in contemporary textbooks. Given the density of the material, significantly more attention to a more dynamic graphic design and layout would have made a profound difference to the reader experience. The photographic images, which are vital in the elaboration of the text, suffer from being uniformly low contrast black and white images as a result of paper quality, and a more varied and lively design approach to typography, illustrations, and color would enhance both the ability to absorb the information and relay how much fun it is. Given the quality of the content and its broad market appeal, this would have been an opportunity for the publisher to invest in what should be a classic text and reference work, and one can only hope that will happen for subsequent editions.

Given the scope of this book, Meg Calkins has done a superb job in providing intellectual direction and expert content and guiding her excellent collaborators in the creation of what is destined to become a key reference work for the profession.

Read the book.

This guest review is by Elizabeth Mossop, FASLA, Professor, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University

Image credit: Wiley & Sons

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