An Evidence-based Approach to Therapeutic Landscapes

Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces
by Clare Cooper Marcus, Honorary ASLA, and Naomi Sachs, ASLA, is more than an update of the milestone 1999 book, Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, by Marcus and Marni Barnes, ASLA. Compared to the earlier book, this book is more richly illustrated with color photographs, exemplary case studies, and practical design guidelines. This book also provides all the latest research on the benefits of exposure to nature.


Healthcare is currently undergoing tremendous change. Healthcare environments are increasingly offering gardens, with demonstrable benefits to patients, families, and staff.

Healthcare gardens have proliferated. Many healthcare grounds have evolved into functional spaces that provide intentionally restorative or therapeutic benefits. But not all gardens deliver as advertised. Some healthcare gardens featured in leading design magazines appear attractive in photographs, yet are missing elements and characteristics that optimize the health, safety, and welfare of the people that use them. Some gardens may actually be doing some harm, which is unacceptable in a medical setting.

Using the processes and guidelines presented in this book will improve garden design, enhance health care delivery, and boost economic return to healthcare facilities.

The book begins with a history of hospital outdoor space, provides a useful chapter covering research and theory, and follows with chapters on therapeutic gardens for specific medical populations such as: cancer patients, veterans, children, people with dementia, hospice care, and mental health facilities. These chapters present case studies of model gardens, supplemented with discerning analysis derived from post-occupancy evaluations of the design strengths and weaknesses. These evidence-based insights into which garden design approaches work or not in improving healthcare quality help make the case for including gardens in new construction or renovations to healthcare facilities.

The core of the book is Chapter 6: General Design Guidelines for Healthcare Facilities. Sachs and Marcus provide a checklist of both required and recommended guidelines for specific design elements, programming and site planning, along with general over-arching design considerations. Required guidelines are strongly supported by research or good practice, while recommended guidelines may have less evidence to support them or are less important when there are site constraints or programming conflicts. These guidelines will be enormously useful to ensure that a new garden provides maximum return on investment.

In another critical chapter, Teresia Hazen, Legacy Health Systems, outlines the participatory process used to create several successful gardens at Legacy Health in Portland, Oregon, a process that brings medical professionals, patients, family members, volunteers, and foundation directors together with designers to focus on the goals of a given therapeutic space. In the forward, professor Roger Ulrich notes that “an important theme running throughout the book, and expressly detailed in a chapter by Teresia Hazen, is that a participatory design process is vital to creating a successful therapeutic garden.”

In addition, there are useful chapters on planting design and maintenance, horticultural therapy, sustainability, and how to create the business case for healing gardens, including funding strategies, which can all aid advocates of therapeutic gardens.

While almost any garden provides a connection with natural elements, a garden design created on evidence-based principles — led by an informed designer and properly implemented — can facilitate stress reduction and improve health outcomes. Research has shown that exposure to natural environments enhances the ability to cope with and recover from stress, illness, and injury, and provides a host of social, psychological, and physiological benefits to humans.

This book beautifully illustrates how to implement the latest research to increase the quality and success of projects that provide access to nature.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mark Epstein, ASLA, principal at Hafs Epstein Landscape Architecture in Seattle. Epstein was the long-time chair of the Healthcare and Therapeutic Garden Design Professional Practice Network at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). He is on the board of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network. 

Image credits: (1) Clare Cooper Marcus, (2) AECOM, (3) Clare Cooper Marcus, (4) Legacy Health / Wiley

Resilience Is About Taking Ownership

In the aftermath of the major hurricane that just hit the Philippines, a panel at the 2013 Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia focused on a theme of major importance for all sustainable design professions: resilience. A panel comprised of Mayor Bob Dixson, Greensburg, Kansas; Maj. Gen. Warren Edwards, USA (Ret.), Community and Regional Resilience Institute; and Jon Powers, White House Council on Environmental Quality, explored how to get more communities to prepare for disaster and recover more quickly.

“We were all homeless after a matter of minutes,” said Mayor Dixson, remembering the supercell tornado that demolished his town, Greensburg, Kansas, in 2007. In these instances, “the most true and resilient thing we have in life is our relationships with each other.” He prompted the crowd to think about their city or town. No matter how small, “you are never in the middle of nowhere; you are in the middle of everywhere.” Harnessing the power of a strong community is then an integral part of rebuilding a city wrecked with disaster.

At another session at the 2013 Greenbuild, Alex Wilson, Resilient Design Institute, highlighted a hands-on approach to resiliency. Wilson explained that in places recently affected by Hurricane Sandy, homeowners and business owners are implementing resiliency upgrades—on their own dime—to keep themselves, their tenants, and their businesses safe.

On this effort, Dixson argued that we shouldn’t wait for a disaster to deal with these safety issues. “Be an owner,” he said, “not a renter.”

Edwards expanded the issues to the scale of a major city like San Francisco and Philadelphia, asking, “How do we induce our urban communities to take on that hard work of becoming prepared before the disaster happens?”

Edwards answered his own question, explaining how policy makers need to understand that resiliency not only increases security and safety, but is also good business. Putting dollar signs and hard facts behind the benefits of resilience is the only way to make sure these policy makers become “owners” of their towns.

Communities can only get so prepared on their own though. Designers also need to take the lead and become owners, too. Earlier this month, The Dirt posted Three Perspectives on Designing Resilient Cities, showing three takes on urban resilience that show how “urban design can act as an agent of change.”

Design must be accessible though. When asked about resilience versus sustainability, and whether the two go hand-in-hand, Warren said that once “you get down on the ground and you talk to the communities, they’re not interested in definitions.” They care about the big picture—“What will this mean for my town?”—and they want to receive tools that can help. The issue in many communities is access to information.

President Obama has asked governors, mayors, and tribal leaders to look at all of their resiliency resources to create a national toolkit to help advance resilience, according to Powers. This toolkit would be available to all communities. The goal will be to help communities invest in resilience and save lives.

While at Greenbuild, Mayor Dixson received the Mayor Richard Daley legacy award for global leadership in creating sustainable cities.

Watch the full video of this panel discussion:

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Philippines / Erik De Castro/REUTERS

Mazria: We Must Design Out Carbon Emissions

Seven years ago, architect Ed Mazria started Architecture 2030, which issued the bold 2030 Challenge, asking the global architecture and building community to become carbon neutral by 2030.

“By 2030,” Mazria explained at the 2013 Greenbuild in Philadelphia, “the world will build (and tear down and rebuild) about 900 billion square feet of buildings in cities worldwide.” For perspective, that’s about 3.5 times the amount of area currently taken up by buildings in the U.S.

If all of those buildings are re-built with better standards and benchmarks — if we “design out” carbon emissions — Mazria said green builders can essentially reverse the effects of climate change. To do that, it’s generally believed that we must peak by 2020. Carbon pollution cannot keep increasing past that point, or else catastrophic impacts will soon come.

Why Is “Getting to Carbon Neutral” So Important?

According to leading scientists, our atmosphere can only safely hold 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. At the moment, the world is well over that amount. Burning fossil fuels has become an imminent problem, and if steps aren’t taken soon—in developed and developing countries—we will find ourselves on the path to a severe climate emergency that cannot be reversed.

The other issue is obvious at this point: the world is running out of conventional oil and gas. If the world stays on its current path, the oil and gas reserves will be drained in a matter of decades.

Though the world’s emissions still climb, the United States can boast its lowest emissions since 1994. This is achieved thanks to many, new cleaner technologies. This brings developing countries to light. Countries that will see the biggest growth in the next 50 years such as India or China must put similar goals into place.

How Do Green Builders Get to Carbon Neutral?

“We need a shared vision to mitigate climate risk,” Mazria said. He called for all of the green building professions to stand together to eliminate greenhouse gases (GHG)s and other pollutants and greatly reduce fossil fuel energy consumption.

Landscape architects, planners, architects, and other related professions can get to carbon neutral quite easily if they introduce low-carbon processes from the beginning.

As much as 70-80 percent of emissions can be designed out of a space, and the rest can be counteracted with renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower. To help these professions “design out” the emissions, Architecture 2030 presented their new web tool during the presentation: the 2030 Palette.

The 2030 Palette    

“The energy consumption patterns of the built environment are set during the early stages of the design project,” the video explains. “So, architects, planners and designers need the best information to guide their decisions at this stage, and that’s where the 2030 Palette comes in.”

Once you sign up for an account, you are taken to your homepage. Design strategies, called “swatches”, are immediately listed near the top of the page, arranged by contexts or locations. For example, Heat Island Mitigationis listed in the “city/town” area.

Another example, Solar Shading, gives explicit instructions on how far to extend overhangs to produce the best results at different latitudes. If your building falls between 44°L to 56°L, the overhang designed should extend to exactly one half the height of the opening.

Swatches that might be of use to landscape architects include Parks, Urban Bikeways, New Growth Areas, Shared Streets, and many more.

More information and palettes are being added monthly. As the program takes flight, Mazria hopes this will become a one-stop-shop for all of the related design professions to join together to eliminate emissions and bring the built environment to carbon neutral by 2030.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: (1) Ed Mazria / Recyecology, (2) Climate Change Statistics / Architecture 2030, (3) Solar Shading at Edward Gonzales Elementary School / 2030 Palette

Using Algae to Control Industrial Emissions

In a session at the 2013 Greenbuild in Philadelphia, Taimur Burki, Global Green Building Program Manager for Intel Corporation, and Joshua Wray, Graduate Research Assistant (PhD) at Arizona State University, discussed the possibility of using algae as an industrial emissions control strategy.

The session picked apart the results of an experiment between ASU and Intel to analyze algae’s impact on the industrial sector. Wray, a self-professed algae farmer, has been involved in many bioremediation projects in the past that involved capturing nutrients from waste streams, but, in this case, the algae was intended to draw carbon and nitrogen from flue gases.

After identifying the many alternate uses of algae—biofuels, pharmaceuticals, even cookies—researchers found that some strains are very adaptable. Picking and choosing the best strains for this was incredibly important. Essentially, only specific strands of algae will feed on carbon dioxide and help reduce emissions.

The desert is used as a perfect test site for many reasons. These dry places offer a lot of sun (which is key to photosynthesis), heat, access to wastewater and non-arable land. Not to mention, many world-renowned algae scientists live there.

ASU worked with Intel to erect flat panel bioreactors on the roof of one of their fabrication buildings to capture boiler emissions and convert them into biofuel. These reactors were filled with algae grown from ponds or other bioreactors.

Researchers studied the bioreactors to see if they could grow algae, whether the CO2 was filtered out and if this process could be used to create clean-burning fuel. There is still much research to be done and many follow-up experiments on the docket, but they had great success in growing algae and filtering carbon and nitrogen oxides out of the flue gas.

[See what the bioreactors look like; learn more from Intel’s Brad Biddle in this video].

Though the desert light and heat are desirable to the algae farmers, this process happening all over the country. In a similar partnership, Duke Energy and University of Kentucky will soon start using algae to convert flue gas emissions into biofuel.

It doesn’t just stop in America. In a recent article in The Times of India, the country’s largest generation utility has launched a project to use algae to minimize CO2 from their power projects.

It’s still a process that researchers are learning about every day, but its potential is outstanding. A key to sustainable building is to reduce carbon emissions, and if something as small and plentiful as microalgae can help bring plants to near-zero emissions, it means exciting possibilities for the future.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: (1) Microalgae / Spirulina Info, (2) Flue Gas / Think Progress

Clinton: Compromise Crucial to a Sustainable Future

Entering the arena at Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, home to the Temple University Owls, 2013 Greenbuild attendees could see that this wasn’t going to be just a normal keynote. As U.S. Green Building Council President Rick Fedrizzi jogged onto the stage, stage lighting scanned the crowd and loud music filled the dome. Perhaps it was just the culmination of a long day of empowering sessions, or maybe the packed, 10,000-person arena, but the air was charged with anticipation. This night, said Fedrizzi, “Greenbuild had not just one, but two rock stars on display.”

The first rock star was, of course, Jon Bon Jovi, but the other was the Greenbuild 2013 keynote speaker, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton, decked out all in green for the occasion, spoke of her longstanding relationship with Greenbuild and congratulated USGBC on their 20th anniversary. She praised USGBC and all attendees for their ability to start a movement that is changing the world. Clinton explained how it started with a simple idea: promote sustainability—do well and do good. “It was an idea that was so profoundly true, that I and others when we first heard about it, said ‘of course, that is exactly what we need to be doing.’”

“This is a great conference,” she continued, “because it brings together those of you who are in the cutting-edge from across industries, the country, and even the world.”

Within minutes, she delved into serious issues, such as energy security and economic growth. She explained how hard construction was hit during the recession. Government budget cuts have been holding back the growth from which the country could benefit. “Public investment in infrastructure has fallen to the lowest levels since World War II . . . so fewer schools are being built and renovated.”

Green construction and retrofitting, according to Clinton, provide answers to these problems. It will continue to create millions of jobs as well as spur growth and innovation, all as we lower our domestic energy consumption.

Retrofitting buildings is a key part of the Clinton Climate Initiative. According to Clinton, “[the foundation] works with the private and public sector in partnership to reduce carbon emissions, improve energy efficiency and spur more investments in green construction including some innovative financing tools.”

Her favorite example of this is the retrofit of the Empire State Building. “Think about that iconic building,” she prompts, with “2.8-million square feet of office space.”

It was an extensive task, Clinton explained, “improving windows, insulating radiators, updating lighting and temperature control systems.” As many as 275 jobs were created in those two years, and in the end, the building received LEED Gold Certification. “The retrofit reduced its annual energy consumption by 38 percent, worth roughly $4.4-million a year.”

Inevitably, the rumors of Clinton’s run for presidency in 2016 came up after someone in the crowd shouted “Hillary 2016!” The crowd seemed receptive to the idea—not surprising, as she had spent the last hour praising green building. “There are some hecklers, I would never,” Clinton paused to smirk, “say anything bad about.”

She spoke of politics briefly, but only about the need for unity on green building and climate change. She called for compromise:

“Everybody is concerned. It seems as though our partisan debates have been taken over by a small minority that doesn’t believe in compromise. We could never have formed our nation if every time there was a disagreement at Constitution Hall, people said ‘Well we’re leaving.’”

As Clinton, Fedrizzi and Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia, re-enforced in their speeches, America needs to take the lessons forged in Philadelphia so many years ago to further promote green building.

“What a democracy does is bring people together with very different experiences—and lots of times values and philosophies—but with the common understanding that no one has the truth. We are not a theocracy. We are not a dictatorship . . . we bring people together and we debate it out. We have to get back to doing that.”

Watch the full keynote.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Hillary Clinton / USGBC Vimeo

Landscape Architects and Their Clients Tackle SITES

We often hear from landscape architects about the cutting-edge sustainable design practices they are bringing to their latest Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®)-certified works, but we rarely hear from their clients. In a session at the ASLA 2013 Annual Meeting in Boston organized by Liz Guthrie, ASLA, professional practice manager at ASLA, landscape architects and their clients together discussed their motivation to become certified Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) projects, the challenges involved in working with this new 200-point rating system, and the lessons learned.

Why a Sustainable Landscape?

For Richard Piacentini, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the goal was to apply “systems-thinking” to their new Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which received the first four-star rating from SITES (see image above). “We wanted to know how we could truly integrate the building and landscape.”

He said too many buildings are “completely isolated nature.” This is a real problem because humans now spend about 80 percent of their lives in buildings of some kind. With the new center designed by landscape architecture firm Andropogon Associates, “nature is now not that far away.”

In the Bronx, Hunts Point Landing, a two-star SITES-certified landscape developed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, shows how a “dead-end” in an isolated and unhealthy neighborhood can be turned into a park, said Kate Van Tassel, NYCEDC. The park is meant to ameliorate some of the health problems in the community, which has some of the highest rates of asthma and obesity in New York City.

The new Hunts Point Landing took shape on the site of an old coal gasification plant. Van Tassel said this little bit of “green space amid industry is very important.” To boost neighborhood health, NYDEC wanted a sustainable park. Old local materials were re-used within the park. Stones from a nearby bridge taken down were turned into blocks to sit on. The waterfront park helped “transform the shoreline into a recreation area.”

In the case of Taylor Residence in Chester, Pennsylvania, Margot Taylor, ASLA, is both the client and landscape architect. Taylor wanted to create a public demonstration project for sustainable landscape best practices on her own property. Her property includes wood systems and meadows. Ecological systems were re-established, with a focus made on soil and plant health. The landscape, which used to be a farm, now “directs, holds, absorbs, and cleans water.” She now has hundreds of people, including lots of school groups, touring the landscape each year.

One of Taylor’s goals in the move to a sustainable residential landscape was to reduce annual maintenance. She wants to get maintenance down to 55 hours a year. She has also “completely gotten mowing out of the system.”

Representing both himself and his client, Hunter Beckham, ASLA, SWT Design, described the design of the Novus International campus in St. Charles, Missouri. He said a “huge number of stakeholders” were involved in creating a sustainable campus, which was designed to yield many benefits for both employees and the environment. There’s a productive, edible landscape: a vegetable garden with bee-friendly plants. There are two bee blocks that provide home to seven different local species. In the first year, the landscape yielded 65 pounds of honey.

This vegetated garden terrace is accessible via a walking loop that circles the entire campus. The loop enables both employees and visitors to take a break from the office and get out in nature. Within the landscape, an old concrete-lined water detention pit was turned into a natural water habitat that manages stormwater and attracts a wide range of wildlife, including snakes.

What Were the Challenges?

For Jose Alminana, FASLA, a principal at Andropogon and one of the guiding forces behind SITES, the benefits far outweighed the challenges. He said achieving 4-stars for the Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes was no small feat, but perhaps made possible by the fact that “we started with no site.” The design team then had “complete control over the materials used,” which helped them improve site performance and earn points under SITES.

Still, “procuring the sand-based soils was a challenge, given the firms involved in fracking are very interested in applying the same soils to sites where they are extracting gas.” Separately, he added that it was “hard to change the plant palette to accommodate the new soil pH.”

For Signe Nielsen, FASLA, SITES seemed to be an exercise in frustration. She said there were three categories of SITES credits that deeply-urban brownfield sites like Hunts Point Landing “couldn’t take advantage of,” so the project could only get two stars.

She said she couldn’t preserve existing soils and vegetation because “they were highly contaminated.” There was “no structure to adaptively reuse,” so points couldn’t be gotten there either. Lastly, there were no “cultural resources to reuse or enhance.”

She added that working with public authorities, in effect, means “limited opportunities for integrated site design teams,” as many local governments don’t incentivize such groups.

More broadly, she thought that achieving many of the credits related to “recycled content materials will be challenging given the landscape industry has very few competitive vendors in this field.”

Urban public projects may have a challenge earning maintenance points as well, as the landscape architecture firms creating these projects often have “no control over future maintenance.” A firm could create a detail maintenance manual for a park, but then that’s it.

Taylor said working with a historic farm was a challenge in itself. The native vegetation had been stripped and topsoil eroded or compacted. The solution was to “rebuild healthy soil and native plant communities appropriate for different micro-climates.” SITES, she said, “didn’t want to give credits for the landscape’s past use as pastureland.”

She certainly ended up getting credits, though, for the 27 tons of barn stone she cut up and re-purposed on site by hand. “I lost about 15 pounds shifting all that stone out of the dirt.” Still, she thinks she needs to find a “smarter way to manage materials that were unearthed.”

What Lessons Were Learned?

Alminana believes that “integrated design is really the key” to achieving a return on investment for your clients and site performance. “SITES really puts an emphasis on this.” He said, unfortunately, this approach is still not “happening among a majority of the profession or in the public sector.”

Directing himself to those who complain they haven’t earned enough points for their projects using SITES, he said “if you are only focused on points, you are missing the point.”

Nielsen believes SITES can have a potent impact, given “metrics are crucial” and SITES really forces landscape architects to collect data and measure themselves against benchmarks. She said putting all that time into collecting metrics was worth the effort because it helps “clients understand the value of our work.” Landscape architects can measure how well they’ve “reduced noise, saved water, and reused materials.” Beckham reiterated how valuable SITES is as a “framework for accountability.”

Taylor learned that it’s important to “integrate a long-term land management perspective from the beginning,” something that SITES promotes.

The landscape architects all hoped that governments — both local and national — will get moving on incorporating SITES guidelines into their request for proposals (RFPs), which can also help push the landscape materials industry to provide more sustainable options. It will be a back-and-forth process to make SITES more mainstream: landscape architects, and their clients, must push for change among providers of landscape materials, but the market must also provide opportunities to enable that change.

Image credits: (1) Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Denmarsh Photography, (2) Hunts Point Landing / Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architecture, (3) Taylor Residence / Mark Gormel, (4) Novus International / SWT Design

SITES Certifies First Four-star Landscape

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) announced three new projects have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable landscapes.

The newly certified projects are the Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, which is the first SITES pilot project to have received the maximum four stars; Washington Canal Park in Washington, D.C., which received three stars; and Shoemaker Green, a university green space in Philadelphia that received two stars.

The SITES program is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. The SITES program was created to fill a critical need for development guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and intended maintenance. This voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks can be applied to projects on sites with or without buildings.

The new projects join 23 others across the country that have achieved certification since June 2010 as SITES pilot projects. These diverse projects represent landscapes of various sizes, locations, types, and costs.

“We are very pleased to announce three new certified projects – particularly the first four-star rating,” said SITES Program Director Danielle Pieranunzi, who is at the Wildflower Center. “Each project has achieved a great deal by demonstrating innovative applications of sustainable land design and development practices while meeting the SITES 2009 criteria.”

As with the other pilot projects at universities, corporate headquarters and other landscapes that have previously achieved this recognition, the newly certified projects applied the SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 and met the requirements for pilot certification. The guidelines and rating system were created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals.

The three newly certified projects incorporate diverse sustainable features:

Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Four Stars, Andropogon Associates, Pittsburgh, Pa (see image above). The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was designed to be the first project in the world to simultaneously achieve LEED Platinum, SITES four-star certification, and The Living Building Challenge (still pending). Built on a previously paved city maintenance yard and documented brownfield, the nearly three-acre site supports a new 24,350-square-foot education, research, and administrative building; manages all sanitary waste and a ten-year storm event on site using a range of green infrastructure strategies; has successfully reintroduced 150 native plant species; and is designed to be net-zero for energy and water. The CSL is open to the public and its building and landscape performance is being extensively researched and monitored to inform the design and construction of similar projects that restore ecosystem services, generate their own energy, and clean and re-use their own waste water.

Washington Canal Park, Three Stars, OLIN, Washington, D.C. One of the first parks built as part of the District of Columbia’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Canal Park is a model of sustainability, establishing itself as a social gathering place and an economic catalyst. Located on three acres of a former parking lot for district school buses, the three-block long park is sited along the historic former Washington Canal system, and is a centerpiece for approximately 10,000 office workers and about 2,000 new mixed market-rate and affordable housing units. Canal Park’s focal point, a linear rain garden, functions as an integrated stormwater system that is estimated to save the District of Columbia 1.5 million gallons of potable water per year. The park also features electric car charging stations and a neighborhood-scale system for capturing treating, and reusing rainwater. Numerous opportunities are provided for residents and workers to enjoy the park, including an ice rink, a café, pavilions and space for concerts, movies, and farmers’ markets.

Shoemaker Green, Two Stars, Andropogon Associates, Philadelphia, Pa. As part of the University of Pennsylvania’s “Penn Connects” campus master plan, this deteriorating site with underused tennis courts was redesigned as a passive open space of lawns, tree-lined walkways, and sitting areas. The green space is both a destination and a pedestrian route from the core of campus to the historic buildings surrounding it. The site can be adapted for multiple events and activities at a wide range of scales, from secluded areas for eating lunch to staging areas for the Penn Relays and graduation ceremonies. Through the innovative use of various sustainable strategies and technologies, Shoemaker Green has also been optimized to capture and control stormwater from the site and surrounding rooftops, provide viable native plant and animal habitats, minimize transportation of materials to and from the site, and serve as a starting point for the development of a sustainable maintenance strategy for the university at large.

The 2009 SITES rating system for the pilot projects includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits with assigned numbers of points that total 250. The credits address activities such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve ratings of one through four stars by amassing 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of the 250 points.

Based on the experiences of many of the pilot projects, a refined set of guidelines and rating system, SITES v2, is finalized and incorporates added recommendations from technical experts. This enhanced version of the 2009 SITES rating system is ready to be published for distribution and use by the general public.

Image credits: (1) Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Denmarsh Photography, (2) Washington Canal Park / OLIN, Sahar Coston-Hardy, (3) Shoemaker Green / Barrett Doherty

The Art of Rendering

Rendering in SketchUp: From Modeling to Presentation for Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Interior Design
is a comprehensive manual designed to teach SketchUp users how to generate photo-realistic images using integrated rendering programs (IRPs). The author, Daniel Tal, ASLA, is a licensed landscape architect who has been working in the architecture and site design industry for over fifteen years. Tal has tailored the book to suit the needs of a wide range of professionals who want to digitally render models and produce inspired images. They include architects, landscape architects, interior designers, set and stage designers, and product engineers. The book is useful for students of those professions who are new to the rendering techniques that are increasingly becoming a standard in many design programs.

Several levels of SketchUp users can benefit from the book, but it’s not appropriate for absolute beginners. The book doesn’t offer basic instruction, so users need to know the essentials of modeling in SketchUp before getting started. The book also focuses on three IRPs, third-party plug-ins that are installed and work within SketchUp. They are Shaderlight by ArtVPS, which the book references most often, and SU Podium and Twilight Render, which Tal covers in the accompanying online chapters. These companion chapters are a useful resource. They review settings and tools for the IRPs, which are constantly changing.

The manual consists of ten parts ordered in linear progression. Part one gives an overview of the general concepts, including the order and objectives of each step in the rendering process. The book explains how rendering actually works and provides computer specifications and requirements for optimum performance. Parts two through seven cover the three-part process for rendering. This process includes preparing models for rendering in SketchUp, using IRPs to create graphic images, and enhancing final images in post-production. Part eight demonstrates the entire modeling and rendering process with a step-by-step example that uses the various programs’ tools and settings. The last two parts are the companion chapters for IRPs available online.

The first part of the rendering process covers preparing a model in SketchUp. The manual describes how to create and edit textured surfaces, insert, and adjust details that provide context and scale, and add appropriate lighting. The book also explains how to use the camera tools to compose and adjust different views. In addition to technical advice, Tal shares helpful tips for organizing and expediting this process. He shows users how to build an external texture library and link it to SketchUp. Tal also tells them where to find details like pre-made models of elements like furniture and vegetation.

The second part covers using the IRPs to provide render values to a model. The book demonstrates the various settings of the IRP Material Editor, which accentuates textures so they take on realistic qualities when rendered. These settings affect elements like an object’s surface condition and reflectivity. Here, Tal describes the IRPs’ various light settings, as well as how to insert and adjust the different types of light sources. This portion of the process requires extensive trial and error. The manual offers helpful suggestions for optimizing it, such as how to determine the resolution for draft versus final renders to save time when working through multiple iterations. It also offers a method for saving and organizing draft renderings, and a criteria by which to evaluate them for final output.

For the third part, Tal demonstrates how to use external photo-editing software to enhance the generated images. He mainly refers to Adobe Photoshop for CS 5.5 for the post-production process. He explains how to make light and color adjustments and how to add atmospheric effects such as haze, blurred objects, and light lens flares. The book also demonstrates how to make entourage modifications by  placing realistic vegetation, enhancing water, and including backgrounds, skies, and objects in the images. These tips are merely a starting point for finalizing a rendering. The guide suggests a couple comprehensive post-production guides for further information.

Overall, the book delivers a clear and thorough explanation of the rendering process. Tal covers the technical aspects in detail, guiding users through complete step-by-step examples. He also instructs users to approach rendering as an art form to create hyper-realistic images. The book provides numerous examples of rendered images, most in various stages of completion to highlight the effect of different techniques. It also suggests several outside references to aid in developing graphic image making ability. With its thorough approach, Rendering in SketchUp is an ideal guide for those who want to refine their digital design process.

Explore the book and the sustainable design SketchUp animations Tal created for ASLA.

This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, former ASLA summer intern and recent Master’s of Landscape Architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania.

Image credits: (1) Wiley, (2) Daniel Tal, ASLA

Our Biophilia Can Lead Us to a New Design Ethic

“Great presentation, but a little bit preaching to the choir,” said the woman sitting behind me at Sunday’s general session of the ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston. Indeed, when Dr. Stephen Kellert, the Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, took the stage to give his talk on biophilic design, he mentioned he felt strange presenting to a room full of landscape architects, as they are on the front line of designing humans’ relationship to nature.

Biophilia is the “inherent human need to affiliate with nature.” This need, while instrumental to our health and physical and mental well-being, is a “weak biological tendency that benefits from and is strengthened by learning.” Biophilic design strengthens and enforces our affiliation with nature, which leads to, simply stated, happier and healthier people.

If you read this blog with any regularity, there’s a good chance you’ve come across posts on biophilic design and the importance of nature in people’s everyday lives. You’ve seen posts that outline how nature is fundamentally good for us, providing benefits for our mental and physical well-being.

So why do we continuously preach to the choir? Dr. Kellert put it this way: while 99 percent of human evolution happened in the natural world, the modern “natural habitat of people is the built environment.” Consider these facts: 80 percent of the world’s people live in cities. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors. Children today spend just 40 minutes a week outside versus 52 hours a week in front of some sort of electronic media.

We continue to talk about because it’s not only critically important to our future, but because it’s not yet standard practice and needs to be. “We’re the only species in the world that needs to prove nature is important.” As he pointed out, it’s strange that the “exploitation of nature,” which accounts for 15 percent of the global economy, is accepted without question, while the aesthetics of the natural world is either seen as a luxury of the wealthy or something that’s really very nice, but not at all important.

The truth — a point that cannot be overstated and is also worth repeating — is that if we ignore the human need for contact with nature, one that is deeply rooted in human development, we do so at a risk to our mental and physical well-being. So a deeper understanding of the importance of the aesthetics of nature, and how they can be applied through biophilic design, needs to be explored.

The beauty of a place is actually very important. Beauty invites us in, and, through curiosity, which is the first step to engagement, promotes learning. Learning, in turn, enforces our biophilic needs. Beauty of place promotes a sense of stewardship for a natural setting, which leads to more time spent in nature, which in turn promotes our mental and physical well-being.

Biophilic design of landscapes and buildings mimics the aesthetic coherence and organizational symmetry of nature through emulation and design. It’s also an ancient practice, some of our most revered buildings and landscapes have an essence of natural settings, but it’s one that has fallen away in recent time with sprawl and auto-centric design.

But the negative trends in both human health and unsustainable communities can be reversed. As Dr. Kellert put it, “we designed ourselves into this predicament; we can design ourselves out of it.” At its core, biophilic design is not just a buzz word, it’s simply good design, but one that requires a new design ethic. Until then, he’ll continue to preach.

Read Kellert’s most recent book, Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, ASLA 2013 intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

Image credits: (1) ASLA 2006 Professional General Design Honor Award. Small Is Beautiful. Eli Tahari courtyard. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Elizabeth Felicella (2) ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Honor Award / Arizona State Polytechnic. Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture / Bill Timmerman, (3) ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. A Mother River Recovered: Qian’an Sanlihe Greenway. Qian’an City, Hebei Province, China. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu, FASLA.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 1 – 15)

For more LA in the News, check out
LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at

Minnesota MileThe Architect’s Newspaper, 11/6/13
“A trench drain and porous pavement in parts reduce stormwater runoff, along with an underground retention basin and periodic plantings of oaks, elms, aspens, maples and birch trees. The street meanders along Nicollet Mall, creating varied spaces along each block and corner for programming. What goes in each space will depend on public input, Corner said, but will fit with one of three major themes.”

Using Healthcare Landscape Architecture To Promote Healthier LifestylesHealthcare Design Magazine, 11/8/13
“For more than a decade, the efficacy of adding therapeutic outdoor spaces to healthcare campuses has continued to gain traction among systems. While well-designed landscape elements—such as inviting building entries, healing gardens, walking trails, and vegetable gardens—can lead to better patient health, these elements can provide preventive health benefits, too.”

Palatine Playground Travels to Guatemala  – The Chicago Tribune, 11/8/13
“Cheryl Tynczuk, the landscape architect for the Palatine Park District, said she’s glad the equipment is being used to create a playground for kids who otherwise would not have that play space.”

Southern California’s Great Park Gets a Colossal CutPlanetizen, 11/12/13
“Landscape architect Ken Smith’s bold vision for a Central Park-like open space in Irvine has been hobbled by funding shortfalls. Seeking a way to move forward, the city is considering cutting key elements in favor of a developer-led proposal.”

Oysters Could Save New York From More Sandys: CommentaryBloomberg, 11/12/13
“Orff, 41, is a landscape architect, heading her own New York City firm called SCAPE. Her practice includes the gardens and parks you would expect, but she has made a specialty of how urbanism and nature coexist.”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Nicolett Mall / James Corner Field Operations