Designing the Sustainable Site

Designing the Sustainable Site: Integrated Design Strategies for Small-Scale Sites and Residential Landscapes by Heather Venhaus, who worked on the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®) guidelines and benchmarks at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, provides a broad overview of sustainable landscapes from concept to implementation.

Venhaus cites the common definition of sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). She further describes sustainability as a recognition of the interdependency of the environment, human health, and the economy. Venhaus argues that sustainable landscapes need to be regenerative, not only easing environmental damage but actively reversing it. In order for a design to be regenerative, we cannot simply add sustainable elements to the end of a conventional design. Instead, ecological systems must be integrated into every step of the design process. For this reason, Venhaus has written a book that is aimed not only at landscape architects but also planners, architects, contractors, and home gardeners.

Designing the Sustainable Site is a broad introduction to a variety of concepts and tools, most of which will be quite familiar to landscape architects. The book discusses, among other things, how to assemble multi-disciplinary design teams, write construction documents, conduct site analysis, and formulate maintenance plans. The remaining bulk of the book is devoted to “Sustainable Solutions,” which mostly reads as an overview of current sustainable design technologies. These chapters cover techniques for addressing air pollution, water pollution, flooding, water conservation, invasive species, and loss of biodiversity.

Experienced landscape architects are not necessarily Venhaus’s target audience. Instead, Designing the Sustainable Site could be an introductory textbook for students of planning, architecture, or landscape architecture. In many ways, this book looks and reads like a textbook: it’s full of diagrams that are clear, legible, but uninspiring. More successful than the diagrams are the extensive, photographically-documented case studies of residential sustainable design. These case studies begin to communicate the aesthetic potential of sustainable design, lending the book a bit of graphic interest.

By stressing the importance of integrative design – working sustainability into all aspects of a project – Venhaus makes it clear that sustainability falls across multiple disciplines. While the concepts presented in this book may be obvious to landscape architects, unfortunately they may be news to other design professionals and much of the public. By specifically addressing residential landscapes and small-scale sites, Venhaus moves sustainability out of the exclusive domain of landscape architects and into the hands of anyone involved in the design and building process, including all those prospective clients.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Benjamin Wellington, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Louisiana State University, and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credit: Wiley & Sons

2 thoughts on “Designing the Sustainable Site

  1. Peter 06/26/2012 / 10:04 am

    Nicely done. It is interesting that while the term sustainability has been used to almost nauseating extent, it is still news to a lot of the public and it’s nonetheless a topic still worth our time as landscape architects.

  2. Peter 06/26/2012 / 10:08 am

    Although the term sustainability has been overused, it is worthwhile to point out that it is still a valuable concept and there is a place for it when it comes to educating the general public. Nice article.

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