Are We Living up to Our Design Promises?

centralwharf
ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Honor Award. Central Wharf Plaza by Reed Hilderbrand / Charles Mayer Photography

Do sustainable landscapes live up to the lofty goals promised by landscape architects? How can we know? I am investigating this with University of Oregon professor Chris Enright in the department of landscape architecture and professor Yizhao Yang in the department of planning. I want to understand the role of post-occupancy evaluation (POE) in the field of landscape architecture. Though environmental, social, and economic performance goals are often identified during planning and design stages of landscape projects, most lack effective post-construction monitoring and observation to determine if — and how well — project’s design goals are being met.

Evidence-based design has gained more attention since the International Federation of Landscape (IFLA), the ASLA, and Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) identified the topic as a research priority. The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program—born out of a need to encourage and support design firms in assessing the performance of sustainable landscape projects—is now in its fourth year. And now many leading firms are increasingly investing in in-house research on performance. Yet little is known about perceptions of POE within the profession as a whole.

So I invite landscape architects and others interested in landscape performance to participate in my study by taking a brief survey. I will report back the findings of this survey on The Dirt.

As a second part of my research, I will examine Facilitated Volunteer Geographic Information (F-VGI) as a tool for POE by comparing it with traditional approaches like direct observation and intercept surveys. I want to see how well-suited F-VGI is for post-occupancy landscape performance analysis. This technology increases the capacity for analysis by crowd sourcing data collection to users. The process is also relatively low cost, offers the opportunity for longitudinal study, and could be more objective than traditional methods, since there is less chance for bias from volunteers.

Using a project by landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, Central Wharf Plaza in Boston, I am developing a framework for using F-VGI to evaluate landscape performance. I chose this project because it already established social, economic, and environmental performance goals and baseline data. It’s a high-traffic, urban site with a public audience. Central Wharf Plaza has a simple but clearly defined program, and it’s small enough in size for a person to objectively evaluate the whole site.

This guest post is by Andrew Louw, a graduate student at the University of Oregon.

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