Can landscape architects take on the challenges of Climate Change?

In their latest report Climate Change and Land, the IPCC has stated that land is a critical resource under growing human pressure through Agriculture, forestry as well as other types of land use that collectively account for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions. According to the IPCC, the critical for food security, but this needs to be balanced with protecting biodiversity and reducing risks of land degradation.

This report adds to the growing noise around climate change as well as the impacts that our cities, lives as human beings and everything we can possibly do in order to facilitate adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development.

Over the past decade, landscape architects have been working on solutions for increased urbanisation; however, they have been often far too focused on activation and been seduced into creating modern-day follies, intensive landscape on structures(bridges/walkways) and brightly coloured hard surfaces, as opposed to working with existing land to create sustainable landscape networks that help cool our cities, utilizing the core principles of landscape architecture of designing with nature, art and science for the benefit of our cities, towns and communities.  We would do well to realise the benefits that can be derived through working with landscapes and create urban forests that treat and store water, create natural cooling, and sequester carbon.

We can make all the pledges and declarations that we want. However, they are all hollow claims if they are not backed by action. As landscape architects, we may be equipped to deal with climate change, but we are only part of the solution. We need to work with our cities, clients, communities and allied disciplines in order to take credible action through education and then create solutions that will adapt our cities for the imminent changes to our climate and planet.

Every time we have the chance to speak to a client, community member, or government official, we have the opportunity to make a difference. Every time we take on a new project, we are equipped with the skills and knowledge to create a landscape that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. A landscape that respects the land and its place in the ecosystem, that looks to conserve ecology, increase/maintain biodiversity, reduce degradation, abate intense natural events to reduce erosion, recycle materials, utilise alternative energy as well as reduce stress on ecosystems. The impact of our work may not always be immediate, but it is sure to deliver immensely beneficial outcomes for decades to come.

I call on all landscape architects and members of design communities to take heed of the increased warnings surrounding climate change and to take on the challenges that we are faced with. I also implore all of them to facilitate mitigation and adaptation so as to limit the adverse impact of climate change.

Send me an email (damian@damianholmes.com) with your thoughts

How to collaborate with Landscape Contractors?

As landscape architects, we work with contractors to achieve our design vision for our projects and how we collaborate can impact greatly on the project outcome. There are various approaches that we can use to achieve the best outcome.

Start Early
When we work with contractors it can start at different stages of the project, it may be at the construction documentation phase, tendering phase, or the construction phase. It is best to set up a relationship (observing tendering and contract laws) with the contractor as soon as possible. Building a relationship and understanding allows contractors and landscape architects to be at ease when construction starts.

Tailoring your approach 
Contractors appointed for your project can be civil or building contractors, road contractors to landscape contractors. Their level of skill, knowledge and experience can differ greatly and once you have an understanding of their type and level of skill you need to tailor your approach and guide them through the design and your requirements such as emphasising the need to secure trees early or what they need to take special attention to in the documentation package.

Setting Expectations and Communication
There are many hold points and decisions that occur during a project, and often there is a need to set expectations on your availability, response time, and reinforce your approach(as per the specification) to design changes and substitutions. You and the client may be very wedded to the vision, key ideas and or details and this needs to be expressed to the contractor.

Read the full article at World Landscape Architecture

Can a new form of landscape architectural practice be achieved?

landscape architectural practice

Recently, I reviewed Overgrown by Julian Raxworthy, in which he calls on landscape architects to create a new form of practice that learns from gardening and “optimizes the exciting properties of plants through changing the way landscape architects work” which he is calling “the viridic”. Raxworthy provides a series of positions “for reformulation of landscape-architectural practice that combines the landscape architect and gardener” including:

  • breaking the split between human and plant
  • recognising that the nature of a plant is to grow and that the result of the design happens after planting over seasons, years, and decades.
  • landscape design should learn from maintenance techniques of gardening and tailor plans to suit.
  • the role of the garden is a learning environment and testing ground.
  • the nature of “the viridic” is iterative.
  • leaving the office and our plans & simulations to learn from gardening and gardeners.

Through reading Overgrown and Cleveland’s Landscape Architecture I began to consider whether a new form of landscape architectural practice can be achieved? Can we move beyond our prejudices to embrace and learn from gardening? Can we design without falling back onto plans and specifications or can they be reformulated into more flexible documents to achieve the design through site design?

There are numerous examples of garden designers and landscape architects such as Olmsted, Guilfoyle, Repton, Mueller, Brown, worked with plans and gardeners in the field to create, sculpt, position, and evolve their designs. Of course, we as contemporary landscape architects cannot spend hours, days, weeks, on-site to achieve the design outcome we desire; however, we can use some of the ideas and methods to enhance our design process from concept to ongoing maintenance.

read the full editorial on World Landscape Architecture

Overgrown By Julian Raxworthy – Book Review

Overgrown by Julian Raxworthy calls on landscape architects to embrace gardening and connecting with the site and working plants in the landscape. He encourages landscape architects to develop a new type of design practice by leaving their offices including the visualisations and plans to acknowledge and learn from the growing landscape.

Throughout reading the book you often feel like you are wandering down a meandering garden path with Raxworthy using case studies and insights into the works of landscape architects including Burle Marx, Kiley, Sven-Ingvar Andersson, McHarg, Dutton as he explores this notion of this new type of practice which he calls “the viridic”.

Raxworthy seeks to encourage landscape architects to work in the landscape and use the unique language of landscape architecture that makes it distinct from other design professions. The final chapter – A Manifesto for the Viridic calls on landscape architects to change practice by embracing gardening to learn about plant growth and maintained spaces to “exercise design judgement over what is emerging over time”.

Overgrown provides landscape architects with a work that challenges that existing paradigm of a design practice seeking to push landscape architects to move out of the office into the landscape as many of us yearned for during university and throughtout our professional careers.

Overgrownis available from Amazon for $35.56 (as 12 July 2019)

Overgrown: Practices Between Landscape Architecture and Gardening
by Julian Raxworthy (Author), Fiona Harrisson (Foreword)

Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (15 October 2018)
ISBN-10: 0262038536
ISBN-13: 978-0262038539

Overgrown was purchased by WLA from Amazon for this review. Links above are affiliated with Amazon.

Starting off 2019

I have great hopes for 2019 and today is the first day of 2019 and I am planning ahead for World Landscape Architecture and also some other side projects this year.

The first month will be busy with organising the WLA Awards which is starting to receive entries with a deadline of March 1. This is the third year and I am proud to say that the jury is once again is full of highly experienced jurors.

I am also involved with some ASLA events this year and looking to partner with a few other landscape architecture organisations this year.

Be one the look out for more from me and also WLA in 2019. I wish you all the best for your family and friends and feel free to contact me through email and social media.

Improving quality through independent reviews

Independent reviews (peer reviews) are important for projects as they provide an assessment and feedback from an expert who is impartial and not involved with the project to critically review and evaluate the content. The quality of a project can improve with successive reviews at various milestones (end of stages) to ensure that issues are identified and either eliminated, substituted or controlled and allowing for a better result.

Reviewers need to be impartial and provide critical feedback however, they also need to balance the project requirements to ensure that quality and function do not override design and innovation.

Over the last six years, I have acted as the independent reviewer for many projects in Australia and China. These reviews were either design reviews, technical reviews or both and were seen by teams as helpful in providing an independent expert review of the project design. As we often know that large or complex projects can allow for basic and simple elements to be missed or not communicated as the people undertaking the project become “too close” to the design and don’t see the issues and opportunities. This is why an independent reviewer is key in offering a critical eye but also often providing a different perspective or solution to a problem.

Reviews can take many forms they can be formal with written documentation providing extensive comments and markups of the documents. Or it can be an informal desktop review that allows the team to go through the documents and take notes during the course of the discussion. Both formats have their pros and cons including the time required, finding an expert who is available.

Overall, I encourage all design firms to develop a design process that involves an independent reviewer who can offer guidance, ideas and solutions that improves the design and technical quality of your project.

What would be the ideal final year design studio at university?

Over a the of years, I have seen and heard about final year design studios (design subjects) and have been inspired by the design thinking and ideas presented by students. I also remember back to when I completed my final year design studio at university and then what I experienced as a landscape architect in design firms. I feel that there is a way to improve university design studios to better integrate how practices design into a university landscape architecture program design studio.

I fully support the need for students to learn how to design and the various the theory of various design theories, constructs, paradigms and going through the challenging process of design, however, there is also a place for experiencing collaborative design with other disciplines as may occur in the landscape architecture profession. Therefore, the following is the framework for an ideal design studio from the perspective of a practitioner.

A final year design studio (one or two-semester design studio) would be a culmination of everything learnt during the course (landscape design, history, culture, construction technology)  and the application of that learning into one studio which involves students from other programs (Property, Finance, Ecology, Architecture, Engineering, Interiors, etc) that would allow those students to also test, trail and experience their learning in a fully integrate multi-discipline design studio. I am sure that there are some courses in the world that undertake similar inter-discipline design studios (architecture, urban design, construction, etc) however, I feel that these are the exception not the standard approach for landscape architecture programs.

The framework for the final design studio would be to try and replicate a design project as it occurs for each profession (including the trials and tribulations). The studio would involve several different teams who would have 2-3 members from each program and they would be mentored by professionals from each discipline who would attend at regular intervals to act as advisors.

Once a site is selected and a brief and budget are formulated to allow students to explore design, but it also constrains them to a budget, physical site, local regulations and expected outcomes. This may be limiting their imagination and skills, however, having constraints (including financial ones) can often drive innovation and ideas. The course leader, tutors and industry professionals would act as the client with predetermined scenarios to provide input as the client and stakeholders. The different design teams would include a landscape architect, architect, engineers and other program disciplines and would work as one team but similar to many projects they would still work within their own university departments. The mulit-discipline teams would undertake the design studio including site analysis, interviewing stakeholders, and would work in workshops at the concept, design development and final design phases.

This idea to replicate a “real world” project may be looked down upon by many as it is not a pure design studio or testing the student’s design capabilities in line with design schools ideals, but it will allow them to experience designing a project in a collaborative environment with other allied disciplines where it requires the learning of interpersonal skills and empathy for others professionals to create a successful fully resolved design. This type of design studio will also allow students to learn how to obtain advice from other disciplines and learn about their limitations as design professionals.

I hope that this outline generates some discussion in design schools, practices and the broader design community. Feel free to contact me via email me damian@worldlandscapearchitect.com to discuss the ideal final year design studio.

 

Service Procurement – finding the right people

As a landscape architect, one of the hardest things is to find great people to collaborate with. And we often have to look to procure services from other professionals including architects, engineers, horticulturalists, ecologists, irrigation designers, lighting designers, landscape contractors and many others. How we obtain these services is often based on past experience and word of mouth. Some landscape architects consistently use the same professionals because they know their work and enjoy working together. However, we often need to obtain new services due to unavailability, a new area of expertise, or you have a project in a new location. Often we seek the experience of others to find new people to provide a service but how can you reduce the risk of working with the wrong consultant?

Similar to when landscape architects are bidding for projects there are a set of criteria and it is best practice to do the same including:

  • Past experience – does the company have past experience in that area of expertise and location?
  • The right people – do they have the right people with the expertise you need? Also are those people available?
  • Willingness – are they willing to work with a new client? (i.e. you)  – some consultants have a large pipeline of work and aren’t seeking new clients.
  • Financially viable – do they have money/cashflow issues? (this is the hardest one to evaluate as most companies are private and don’t publically disclose financial information)
  • Qualifications and certifications – does the company have the right qualifications and certifications such as ISO9001 or ISO45001?
  • Insurances – do they have the right insurances and coverage?
  • Industry reputation – does the company have a good or bad reputation? Are there particular people in the company who are great to work with?

These are ways that you can minimise risk when looking for consultants to join your project team. It also comes down to relationships and working well together. If you can build a good relationship then it is a pleasure to work together and create projects as a team and you will also start to recommend each other to others. Word of mouth and networks are a great way to procure and win work.