Square or Park?

This week the International Landscape Architecture Festival kicks off in Melbourne Australia. The theme of the conference is The Square and The Park. The festival curators see it as a contentious issue between these two landscape typologies which dominate our cities that haven’t changed in the past hundred years.

Klyde Warren Park – Office of James Burnett  | (Image Credit: Thomas McConnell)

Many cities across the world are grappling with the decision of whether they create a square or a park. Which one does the community need? What will be best in the long term for the city? Many parks and squares have been resilient to our ever-changing cities, providing open space for citizens but they offer different benefits.

SQUARES
Perceived by the public as a civic space with hard surfaces one or more open sides as a forecourt to a major building (Trafalgar Square in front of The National Gallery) or closed central plaza with active edges of retail, restaurants and a church or town hall (Piazza San Marco).

Kungsbacka Square – White arkitekter (Image Credit: Per Kårehed)
Grote Markt – OMGEVING (Image Credit: Hannelore Veelaert, OMGEVING)

There are many squares across the world from the small squares in Italy and town squares of the USA (often under 1000 square metres/10,000 square feet) to the large squares of Moscow, Beijing, Madrid which are often in the hundreds of thousands of square metres (millions of square feet). They serve a variety of purposes from central squares, markets squares with a few hundred people up to parade squares with thousands of people. Squares are gathering spaces that are often in a highly urban context with large areas of hardscape that also for a multitude of program and placemaking. Although they can also be very stifling in summer and cold in winter. Squares are often seen as places of activity and commerce allowing for various groups to gather and congregate to shop, dine, people watch and enjoy the life of the city.

The Piece Hall – Gillespies (Image Credit: Paul White)
Victoria Square – Hansen Partnership (Image Credit: Andrew Lloyd)

PARKS
Parks are often seen as soft spaces that create green lungs for the city offering an urban forest with large expanses of planting and grass for the public to seek respite from the hustle and bustle and heat of the city. A place that can be passive and allow people to relax, but also engage in various activities (active and passive sports) that often could be seen to be out of place in a square (or often banned in the square).

Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park – LANDPROCESS | (Image courtesy of LANDPROCESS)
ZilArt Park – !melk| (Images courtesy of !melk)

SQUARE OR PARK
The conundrum that city planners, urban designers and the public often faces is do we need a square or a park? This question has become more fraught and tenuous as the density of cities has increased at the same time that open space and the urban forest have been lost.  

Leicester Square City Quarter – Burns + Nice | (Image Credit Burns + Nice)

The answer is not always clear as cities endeavour to strike a balance between civic and environmental needs of the community. The most important element is understanding the site context to determine the best use of the place. Often in highly urban environments, a central park may not be the answer due to the micro-climate (orientation, shading, scale, available space) whereas a plaza may be more suited due to the ability to create a multiuse area with active building edges. Whereas, an open plot in medium-density family housing lends itself to a park with a variety of uses and able to serve a wider demographic.

Cities have also recently built hybrids typologies with a park in a square or square in a park that incorporates hard and soft spaces (a periphery or central green or a square with a small area of green) which allow for a variety of passive and active programming. These squares also integrate water sensitive urban design such as Water Square which allows for water retention and storage during rain events.   

Water Square – De Urbanisten | Image Credit: De Urbanisten
Yagan Square – ASPECT Studios (Image Credit: Peter Bennetts)
Berczy Park – Claude Cormier + associés | (image Credit: Industryous Photography)

Having a discourse about these hybrid spaces is often hard as they are not often clearly called a park or square with squares called parks and parks are called squares. In the end, is it of consequence? or is it all academic and the true value of the space is that a successful space is created that suits the community needs who have taken ownership of space and enjoy to the full.

Warrior Square Gardens | (Photograph Copyright: Colin Philp)
Warrior Square Gardens | (Photograph Copyright: Colin Philp)
Dilworth Park | (Image Credit | James Ewing / OTTO)
Dilworth Park | (Image Credit | OLIN / Sahar Coston Hardy )

The key is to design a successful central place for the community is to ensure that it responds to the context of the surrounding environment and provides a place for the community to thrive. Any park, square or hybrid must be resilient and allow for repurposing for future uses and communities with little rework and expenditure.

First published on World Landscape Architecture

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

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.

Spaces for Social Exchange and Protest

In recent times, the spaces of the cities have become places of protest and places of attack. The fear is that these spaces will become fortified and lead to the reduction in public exchange and erosion of democratic use of spaces to protest. This leads us to the question of how do we design the streets and public spaces of cities to allow for the exchange of ideas (through protest) whilst protecting the safety of those involved in the exchange without fear of harm or attack.

To design spaces for social exchange we need to understand the community, discover their needs and wants, learn from past spaces and seek to create a tapestry of program over spaces that allow people to thrive and take ownership of the space. Using these principles will create a space that allows individuals and groups to exchange ideas whether it is in small groups or by protesting as a large group.

Read the full article at WLA

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.

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