New publication stresses importance of collaboration in landscape design

Pamela Krewson Wertz
April 25, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Landscape architecture is rooted in science and ecological education, both as an area of study and in practice. Due to these strong scientific ties, it is not uncommon to see a landscape architect take a project on and run with it, without consulting allied scientists to inform them of site conditions or to identify potential ecological impacts of their designs. If their budget allows, they might bring in ecologists as consultants to run a final check of their design to, say, make sure their hard work isn’t going to be washed away in a flood or negatively impact the environmental health of the land.

A new publication based on the proceedings of the E+D: Ecology Plus Design Symposium, which was held in the fall of 2017 at the Penn State, flips that notion on its head. According to the inaugural E+D publication, a true partnership between designers and ecologists from the start of a project through the design process and to completion is essential to dealing with the complex issues that are involved in the education and practice of landscape architecture.

“This was our opportunity to introduce the Penn State community to this idea that ecologists be brought into the landscape design process right from the onset of the project, rather than when it’s too late to make an impactful difference,” said Andy Cole, an ecologist and associate professor of landscape architecture who is the director of the E+D research initiative. “Landscape architects should understand the science behind how systems work before they get to work on a project, so their design decisions are then based on tried-and-true research.”

The symposium featured both academics and practitioners from different fields who reflected on their own experiences and engaged the community in conversations about their areas of expertise. Interdisciplinary graduate students also reflected on the E+D approach and talked about how it might impact their work.

“I think we, as designers, have a big role in the co-creation and management of our environment, and this responsibility goes beyond aesthetic concerns,” said Paula Neder, a master’s degree student in landscape architecture who participated in the symposium. “E+D encourages a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of ecosystem services. Discussing core principles for ecological and social impact will further guide us on future design efforts, whether in research or in practice.”

The publication itself was put together by a group of graduate and undergraduate students as a way to educate the next generation of designers and researchers about this collaborative approach to landscape design. It features reflections from the event speakers, transcripts of their talks (and links to videos of those sessions) and opportunities to collaborate moving forward.

“We are not the first to try to explicitly incorporate ecology into design, but we are making a determined effort to teach our students the value of the approach, to include the philosophy in our research efforts, and to continue to try to educate other professionals and the general public,” said Cole.

The publication was sponsored by a variety of University entities including: the College of Arts and Architecture, Stuckeman School, Department of Landscape Architecture, Institutes of Energy and the Environment, Ecology Institute of the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences, PA Water Resources Research Center, Center for Human Ecology, and Hamer Center for Community Design.

The E+D initiative, which received seed grant funding from Penn State for supporting the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan and its thematic priority of stewarding our planet’s resources, is already picking up steam as it gets ready to issue a third round of funding to projects that support the collaborative approach in fall 2019.

For more information, or to get involved with E+D, email Cole at cac13@psu.edu.

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Last Updated May 14, 2019