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.

 

Site Observations – a first person take on landscape architecture projects

I have had the idea for a while to write first-person experiences of visiting landscape architecture projects. The idea was to not critique but provide the reader with a narrative of walking through the site. My first “Site Observation” was on Grand Park in Los Angeles. I enjoyed writing it but it did not get the readership that I thought, so I am still working on the next one.

To read my first Site Observation  go to WLA

Site Observations is a new feature of WLA. Seeking to provide a first-hand experience of landscape architecture projects. These are not design critiques but seek to provide observations, impressions, perceptions of the site and experiencing the space. 

Grand Park is a large park situated in downtown Los Angeles……

How can we better promote landscape architecture?

In a recent WLA reader survey, the most common answer to the question What is your biggest problem you face working as a landscape architect? was a lack a recognition of landscape architecture by the allied professionals and clients. What is the solution to our lack of recognition? How do we let people know what landscape architects do and the value that we bring?

Landscape architects are often conflicted as they seek to create better places often thinking of the profession as a vocation and therefore wish to be humble achievers in the background rather than our colleagues in other professions who seek the limelight, we often don’t promote our role and also not acknowledged by architects or clients as was recently highlighted by a New York Times feature piece about the Chicago Riverwalk  which didn’t mention the role of the Sasaki – the landscape architect for the project. We need to as a profession need to lose the notion that we are in a vocation and that landscape architecture is a profession like so many others that in an ever-increasing world of noise needs to grow a stronger voice to promote our work beyond that of our own profession. (if you don’t have the 5 minutes to read this article skip to the In Summary at the end)

Simplify our Language
The first step is to change and improve our use of language, landscape architects are known to not write and also when we do we use a blanket of jargon to create a sense of knowledge and academia around our work which in turn often alienates those who wish to learn more. Listen or read any recent presentation and you will find that there are peppering of jargon including public realm, tactical urbanism, spatial awareness and many others phrases that create a barrier between the profession and those who we seek to engage and acknowledgement.

A great example of using simple everyday language is the Landscape Institute’s #ChooseLandscapecampaign which discusses places, outdoors, spaces, environment, nature allowing those viewing and reading the message to quickly and easily understand what landscape architects do and the range of careers that landscape architects can choose.

Storytelling
As landscape architects, we need to improve the way we explain our designs, often we are too engrossed in analysis and explaining our response to the site that we forget to create a story about the design and what we have created a space for people and other inhabitants. This could be that we were not educated in our university courses to create stories and narratives but more to justify our designs. We need to become better storytellers through written and visual media, whether it be a display board, presentation or video.

Read the full article 

Landscape architects leading projects

Over the past decade, we have seen landscape architects moving out of shadows and increasingly leading projects from residential developments, placemaking, urban design and climate change initiatives including Resilient by Design projects or reimagining a city precinct or leading a conservation and tourism plan. The profession of landscape architecture has increased in profile and also influence in designing cities and places.

The shift from being hired last to being hired first is great for the profession, however, we need to harness the energy of this shift to improve the profession and also increase our influence on shaping the built environment. There are numerous changes and movements occurring including smart cities, increasing urban density, water shortages, social inequality, climate change that we need to voice our opinions to ensure that the cities are changing for the better.

Read the full article over at my landscape architecture blog – World Landscape Architecture

Popups – fast food design or catalyst design

I recently published Pop ups – the fast food of landscape architecture or the catalyst for regeneration?  on WLA about popups with my main point that popups are a simple idea that has been co-opted by designers, cities, and organisations as a fashionable easy fix for bigger problems and also a “look we are doing something about it” moment. Popups have become a highly orchestrated, overly designed and highly detailed in construction, whereas they are most successful when they are testing an idea that is simple in nature and execution.

Excerpt
“Over the last two decades, we have seen the popularity of pop-ups grow within cities from retail stores to parklets. Pop-ups fall into various typologies from the short event (1-3 days) such as Parking Day, seasonal installation, semi-permanent installation such as pilot study for possible retrofitting a street. Are these pop-ups transforming cities and attitudes towards public space or are they little more than brightly coloured interventions that are becoming the “fast-food” of landscape architecture?”

Read more at World Landscape Architecture – http://worldlandscapearchitect.com/pop-ups-the-fast-food-of-landscape-architecture-or-the-catalyst-for-regeneration/

Design regulations against terrorism – a catalyst for change

Over the last year there have been several terrorist incidents that have seen the loss of life in our cities and due to this acts we have seen governments have turned to security experts, police departments and intelligence experts to offer advice on how to make cities safer. This is a continuation of the ever increasing change in the way we live our lives over the last few decades as we have secured airports, train stations, bus stations, border crossings and tourist attractions.

Due to recent events the Australian government has sort advice from security experts and recently, the Prime Minister of Australia launched the Australia’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism. A document which seeks to “…assist owners and operators to increase the safety, protection and resilience of crowded places across Australia.”. This strategy is similar to the Crowded Places Guidance recently published by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office(UK) and the FEMA – Site and Urban Design for Security.

 

Read the full post at World Landscape Architecture

What are the stages of a Landscape Architecture project?

Landscape architecture design projects differ in scale and complexity, however they are separated into various stages to allow for ease of management. Due to the variation in project types the staging of landscape architecture projects requires a flexible approach to project management. The project stages often follow a similar pattern however, they may be shortened or not undertaken due to various factors including scale, complexity, client requirements, budget and so on.

I hope to assist those interested in landscape architecture by providing general information about the stages of design projects. The stage names and terminology may differ from country to country and region to region but there is a common process of managing a project through stages.

Before, the landscape architect gets to the exciting part of designing the project there are few stages that often occur prior to putting pen to paper. The client has contacted you and agree to provide a fee or proposal for landscape architecture services.

Read the more of my post at World Landscape Architecture