July 10, 2012
It is the goal of every landscape architect to create sustainable landscapes that perfectly mesh the built and natural environment.
Saying a design — and the landscape project that results from it — is sustainable and tangibly proving that is the case, however, are two different things. New research conducted by a faculty and student team from Temple University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture seeks to quantify the benefits of “high-performing” landscape projects in the region, developing empirical data about a given site’s level of “landscape performance.”
“Measuring landscape performance examines the way the elements in a landscape function. For example, in a rain garden, we can obtain measurements of the amount of stormwater that garden is holding on site, reducing erosion of our streams and rivers and flooding downstream). We can determine how successful it is or examine why it might not be working as it should,” said Dr. Mary Myers, Associate Professor in Temple’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture in the School of Environmental Design, who conducted research this summer on three locations with Master of Landscape Architecture (MLArch) student Allison Arnold supported by a grant from the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF). “We are proving whether a site is a sustainable landscape; what are the positive things they are doing and what could they be doing better. It is meant to be an objective analysis.”
Dr. Myers and Arnold were one of just 10 Case Study Investigation Research teams in the nation selected to conduct comprehensive analysis of sites throughout the United States as part of LAF’s Landscape Performance Series, an online interactive set of resources designed to “show the value of sustainable landscape solutions and provide tools for designers, agencies and advocates to quantify benefits and make the case for sustainable landscapes.”
According to Dr. Myers, this is the second year that Temple was selected — after a rigorous peer review process — to participate in the Landscape Performance Series. During the summer of 2011, she and Research Assistant Master of Landscape Architecture student Andrew Hayes examined three locations designed by the landscape architecture firm Andropogon Associates, Ltd. — the Salvation Army Kroc Community Center ; Thomas Jefferson University’s Lubert Plaza; and Cusano Environmental Education Center at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. All three projects are located in Philadelphia. The case study results may be found at http://lafoundation.org/research/landscape-performance-series/case-studies, where this year’s research will also be posted.
For this year’s research, according to Arnold, she and Dr. Myers have studied the Black Rock Sanctuary in Phoenixville, designed by the KMS Design Group; Pennswood Village, a retirement community in Newtown, Bucks County, designed by Wells Appel Land Strategies; and the Old Stone Mill at the New York Botanical Garden, designed by Darrel Morrison.
“Our goal is to determine the social, ecological, economic and environmental benefits of each site and to place some real numbers behind it. All three of the locations have strong ecological designs, which resonated with the focus of our master’s program,” Arnold said. “For me as a student, it is these real world studies and experiences that made me choose the Temple MLArch program. Our program focuses on the health of the environment above all else.”
Two of the locations — Black Rock Sanctuary and Pennswood Village — have been in place for a long time, Arnold said, while the Old Stone Mill is a relatively new site designed at the edge of the Bronx River to control erosion and invasive species.
“Each study is very distinctive and we’ll be measuring different aspects of landscape performance,” she said. “Black Rock Sanctuary, for example, is a bird sanctuary with bird species counts over time. It also benefits the community through a number of educational programs. Pennswood includes several acres of constructed wetlands — we hope to conduct a survey inquiring whether the presence and use of the wetland affects the quality of life of residents and staff.”
Dr. Myers said the Landscape Performance Series provides the general public, municipalities, and clients with clearly defined information on the important impact sustainable landscapes can make within a community or region.
“We’re giving quantifiable reasons as to why we design sustainably, why it is beneficial. Ultimately I’m interested in looking across the studies at the commonalities and causalities of our work,” she said. “We’re creating a baseline for what works and what doesn’t. It’s an extremely important effort for the profession.”
According to Dr. Myers, the research will undergo peer review and will be available to the public at the LAF Website in December 2012.
For more information about Dr. Myers and Allison Arnold’s research, contact the Temple University Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, located at the Temple University Ambler Campus, at 267-468-8181.