Landscape of professionalism

From Winnipeg Free PressBy: Brent Bellamy

Scatliff + Miller + Murray A design sketch for a commercial streetscape. Landscape architects work as part of a design team to ensure buildings appropriately engage the public realm

There is nothing more frustrating than flying into a new city while sitting in the middle seat of an airplane. You stretch to see over the person beside you who’s pressed up against the small round window. You strain to catch a glimpse of the city passing below you, trying to formulate that first impression of the place you are about to experience.

We often seem to rate the urban quality of North American cities in this way, as if we are 1,000 feet in the air. The size of its freeways or the height of its skyline resonate as symbols of civic affluence and vibrancy.

The true health of a city, however, must be judged from its sidewalks. Its urban quality can’t be measured from the height of its towers. It can only be found in the spaces between those buildings. The human experience is not defined by how buildings engage the sky, but how they engage the ground, how they define public space, how they facilitate a social connection between the people in and around them.

The quality of these spaces is what makes a city livable and prosperous. Active parks, sidewalks, plazas and courtyards work together as an integrated network of open space that can attract people to live, work and invest in a city. When done well, they can be a catalyst for growth and development. When done poorly, they can enable crime and promote urban decay.

As cities look to increase density and become more sustainable, the need for quality public space has become vitally important. With this pressure, the voice of the landscape architect has become recognized as a key contributor in the design of healthy cities.

During Winnipeg’s recent growth spurt, headlines have generally focused on the construction of shiny new buildings. Less celebrated has been the role landscape architecture is playing in improving our city’s health and quality of life through interventions at all scales of development.

At the largest scale, landscape design is transforming Winnipeg through a complete renaissance of our neglected regional park system. The most significant project is occurring at Assiniboine Park, which is in the midst of a $200-million redevelopment that has already revolutionized the city’s premier green space. Under construction is the zoo’s Journey to Churchill exhibit that will become a global centre for northern wildlife education, research and conservation.

At a civic level, landscape design in Winnipeg has recently been implemented as a successful catalyst for growth and neighbourhood rejuvenation. The construction of Waterfront Drive along the Red River converted an abandoned rail line into a network of parks, plazas and pathways that provided the spark for hundreds of new residential units, stimulating the economic rehabilitation of the entire Exchange District. Further west, the redevelopment of Central Park has taken a once crime-filled, derelict urban space and transformed it into a proud neighbourhood focal point and public gathering place that has uplifted an entire community.

Landscape architects work as part of a design team to ensure buildings appropriately engage the public realm, strengthening their connection to the human scale. A successful example of this is the urban plaza that creates a transition from the stark glass walls of Manitoba Hydro Place to a sun-drenched public gathering place along Graham Avenue. Similarly, an integrated landscape design will be essential to ensure the introduction of the towering Canadian Museum for Human Rights does not diminish the pedestrian scale of The Forks site. New landscapes can also redefine existing buildings, exemplified by the City Hall Plaza and Steinkopf Gardens redevelopment at the Manitoba Centennial Centre that reconnect austere modernist designs with their urban fabric.

Landscape architecture influences every part of our city, right down to our neighbourhood playgrounds, schoolyards, skate parks, wetlands and retention ponds. As their profile and public responsibility grows, it is becoming important the profession of landscape architecture regulates the skills and qualifications of those who practise in their field. For this reason, the Manitoba Association of Landscape Architects is currently working with the provincial government to secure “name-act legislation.” This legislation would restrict the use of the title landscape architect to those with the education, training and qualifications defined by the association, similar to that of other design professions such as architects, engineers and planners.

Three provinces currently have similar legislation and others are progressing toward it. Professional regulation would help to ensure industry competence and ethical practice by establishing comprehensive standards that work to protect public health, well-being and quality of life, while promoting design expertise that enhances our natural environment and cultural heritage.

The design palette of a landscape architect is composed of living things; things that change each year, things that grow and die and transform through the seasons. The spaces they create redefine themselves over time. They bring us together, encourage social interaction and enhance our connection to the environment. The ability to compose these spaces with a knowledge of how they will live, grow and evolve through the years is the magic landscape architects as professional designers bring to our cities and to our lives.

 

Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

bbellamy@numberten.com

How to Integrate Design

From ASLA Dirt recently at the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities conference in Philadelphia, the intricacies of practicing integrated design reveal that even in the USA it is difficult to justify and implement the required processes to actually make integrated design work. On a current project in Cape Town involving banking and life insurance clients and and extensive team led by an architectural firm I find it frustrating that many of the decisions taken are for image and appearance of either the client or the architectural form, rather than the impact on the city at street level or the environment  we all share, this despite the “green”credentials of the clients and the Greenstar rating they are aiming for.

According to integrated design process is supposed to “… break(s) down silos between professions and brings multiple designers, expert consultants, contractors, and product manufacturers together to mesh design requirements together at the beginning of a project and then co-implement the project throughout the process. Integrated design processes enable “systems thinking” and create projects that hit multiple benefits at once.”

However as most of us who have been part of an  integrated design  process have experienced,  as Jose Alminana, FASLA, Andropogon, said there are two levels of barriers preventing more widespread use of integrated design processes: individual and external. At the individual or professional level, education is the obstacle. Designers and manufacturers have areas of expertise and some are “narrowly focused.” Others, like landscape architects, argued Alminana, have an “integrative perspective” and traits more apt to bringing together diverse experts to achieve sustainable designs. External factors include budget limitations or an unimaginative client.

Still, many forward-thinking landscape architects and architects who could be practicing this way but aren’t because “that’s doing something outside the norm.” “Delegated design is what’s practiced today, not integrated design. However, we have a moral imperative to practice this.” Steve Moddemeyer, Principal, Collins Woerman, agreed, arguing that “we need to look across silos.”

Along with discussing problems with the barriers to integral design of municipal by laws and lack of understanding of what value there is in accommodating the “public Good’ and environmental concerns there is also the clients point of view : Schwendinger thinks that there is a general lack of understanding about integrated design projects: “They cost less but the perception is that they are more expensive. The perception of cost is out of line with actual cost.” However, Aliminana thinks that integrated design processes do actually cost more. “Delegated design is about absolutely mimimal investment so being integrative does cost more.

There are other aspects of integrated design with cost implications: An audience member from William McDonough + Partners remarked that the ever-increasing specialization of consultants made integrated design expensive. With 20 consultants on a project, a client may not understand why so many need to be involved to make a systems-based project work. Another from KieranTimberlake added that “consultants have to be pushed a lot. There has to be someone there to make them accountable.”

Yocca also added that “there’s the time value of money.” Some clients don’t want to “start the meter” until they are almost at the construction phase, which shows how little the design process up front is valued. To remedy this kind of problem, Shwendinger called for ”flattening the process” from the get-go, and bringing in the client so they can “see all the players as an integral part of the process.”

Despite the difficulties in relationships, split responsibilities , fee sharing, it is an essential prerequisite of an improved city scape and more sustainable and resilient city.

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