Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
Chapter 5 - FORM-MAKING




This book was written to assist landscape architecture practitioners, students, and clients in developing dynamic sustainable landscape design resolutions. As sustainable landscapes are increasingly requested and required, landscape architects are expected to respond to ever more complex sustainable programs. All too often conventional—and even sustainable—design approaches fall flat in responding to critical challenges by failing to comprehend them within a broader context—a consideration that provides potential two-way benefits for both site and context. Our examination of sustainable design approaches employed in the United States within the last ten years revealed that the primary characteristics distinguishing the most successful outcomes were those that incorporated the qualities of the context within the site design. Multidimensional integration of contextual elements, whether in the immediate adjacency or regional scale, has shown itself to be an essential ingredient in achieving sustainable goals such as ensuring environmental quality, connecting to significant open space, cultivating community, and improving regional aesthetics. This book provides criteria, a process, and case studies for looking beyond site-only solutions to integrate regional and site concerns and maximize sustainable landscape design potentials.
The built projects examined for this book, all designed by leading firms in the profession, successfully integrate regional phenomena with site sustainability resulting in efficient, purposeful, and meaningful places that cultivate connections between people and the landscape. Study of these projects revealed the following conclusions:
1. Site sustainability encompasses cultural as well as ecological concerns.
2. A design process inclusive of stakeholders is the basis for a landscape’s long-term success.
3. Regional factors interrelate with and are inseparable from factors critical to site design.
4. Strong design form actualizes sustainable concepts in the landscape.
5. Constructions designed to achieve multiple purposes are efficient and cost effective.
6. Places that hold meaning for people encourage stewardship.
This book addresses a variety of needs within the environmental design industry. Practitioners such as landscape architects, architects, and developers can use this book to tailor their own design processes toward sustainability, students can use it as a framework for envisioning new directions, and clients can utilize it as a resource to direct and substantiate their visions.


Over the last fifty years, many have contributed to the development of contextual sustainable design. Perhaps most influential has been Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature with its focus on assigning value to regional processes. Others, such as Frederick Steiner’s The Living Landscape; Joan Woodward’s Waterstained Landscapes; Wenche Dramstad, James Olson, and Richard Forman’s Landscape Ecology Principles; William Marsh’s Landscape Planning: Environmental Applications; and Carol Franklin’s Fostering Living Landscapes, offer useful guides to landscape sustainability. Still others such as Kevin Lynch’s Site Planning and James LaGro’s Site Analysis: Linking Program and Concept in Land Planning and Design have provided general site planning guides that encourage the consideration of context.
As these sources testify, while a process is a useful guide, the design of landscapes can never be formulaic and attempts at confining the process produce uninspired results. Landscape architect Steven Krog writes, “We delude ourselves in believing that by energetically invoking the process we will definitely arrive at a creative design solution. We can only dissolve this obeisance by facing the great risk-by recognizing that creation/invention is an emotion, intuition, intellect, and energy-intensive task” (Krog 1983). Yet armed with the requisite energy and skills, a process does provide critical direction for the complex task of defining and developing sustainable site goals and outcomes.
At the heart of this book’s examination are two ingredients essential to achieving successful sustainable site design—the defining of sustainability criteria and a process to fulfill them. The rationale for the sustainability criteria and process is rooted in a review of existing literature that explores sustainability within the context of landscape architecture, site design, and planning. This framework values environmental health and function, site access and spatial organization, as well as aesthetics to reconcile people with nature, to balance development practices with natural resources, and to foster healthy communities. As such, it differs from conventional design approaches as its emphasis is broader in scope and its sustainability potentials extend outside traditional project limits.
In Chapter 1, the notion and significance of context integration is examined and the set of five criteria, gleaned from the case study research, is developed. Each of the criteria contributes to and expands on the relationship between a site and its context:
In Chapters 2 through 7 of the book, the design process is developed, led by six essential questions that fulfill the criteria. These questions focus on areas where the sustainable design process differs from that of conventional design in generating sustainable outcomes—Program Development, Stakeholder Influence, Regional and Site Assessment, Form-Making, Design Efficiency, and User Experience. Finally, strategies and methods for addressing the question are paired with a sustainable design case study that strongly exhibits that particular aspect of the design process.

Program Development

What people, resources, and strategies guide sustainable site programming?

Stakeholder Influence

How are the philosophies and needs of neighbors, community members, and other project stakeholders purposefully incorporated into project scoping and direction?

Regional and Site Assessment

What sustainable site design potentials are revealed by the consideration of context?


How is sustainable design articulated through cohesive, imageable, and artful form and space?

Design Efficiency

How does design efficiency serve multiple goals in sustainable landscape design?

User Experience

How can design incorporate “meaning” to connect user and place?


A report summarizing research commissioned by the Landscape Architecture Foundation in 1997 concluded that the case study method is a highly appropriate and valuable approach to advancing the knowledge of the landscape architecture profession.
The primary body of knowledge in landscape architecture is contained in the written and visual documentation—that is, stories—of projects…
…these cases provide the primary form of education, innovation, and testing for the profession. They also serve as the collective record of the advancement and development of knowledge in landscape architecture . . .
From the range of knowledge that can make up a case study, at least three levels of information are possible in a case study analysis. The first, and simplest, is a project abstract. The second is a full project case study. The third is a more in-depth case study with contextual or specialized material. While each may have a different audience, the greatest need, especially in teaching, is for the more detailed case studies of the second and third nature. (Francis 1997)
This study and report spurred an increase in case study publications, begun by those published by Process Architecture, and Spacemaker Press in the United States. The Landscape Architecture Foundation has been instrumental in continuing this progress with the publication of case studies that center both on more general landscape types (Urban Open Space: Designing for User Needs), and on specific seminal landscapes (Village Homes: A Community by Design and Paris-Lexington Road: Community-Based Planning and Context Sensitive Highway Design).
At the same time, while a variety of sustainable tools and checklists are available, most are specialized to focus on theory or techniques but do little to offer case study analyses of built work. In addition, at the time of this writing, we found most case study books analyze finished designs but do not deconstruct the design-journeys that led to project completion. In seeking successful design strategies, we interviewed top firms, took note of projects highlighted in industry journals, and visited award-winning projects. The six projects selected represent a breadth of design styles, scales, locations, designers, and processes.
To develop the mapping diagrams and background information for the case study projects, we traveled across the United States from Connecticut to the Pacific Northwest to the Virginias and the Desert Southwest. The projects are found within diverse biomes and settings from a densely settled industrial park to a suburban residence to a pristine rural park. Each area with its unique cultural qualities, regional character, natural limitations, and cultural practices, revealed forms, functions, and philosophies that shaped the sustainable approaches taken. The map diagrams in the case studies, created specifically for the book, are based on the design process information provided by the landscape architecture firms. While the mapping shown does not necessarily reflect the mapping produced by the firms, it illustrates issues inventoried, assessed, or considered that are evident in the design resolutions.
Each case study is used to illustrate a particular dimension of the design process but also to more generally exemplify the contextual landscape basis of the landscape sustainability framework and criteria. Toward this end, the case studies first lay out the regional conditions that form the landscape context and later the sustainable site design outcomes of six widely varied projects. They are formatted for ease of comparison to one another. The projects are:
Menomonee Valley Industrial Center,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sandstone Visitor Center, Sandstone, West Virginia
Whitney Water Purification Facility,
Hamden, Connecticut
Paradise Valley Residence, Paradise Valley, Arizona Gannett/USA Today Headquarters, McLean, Virginia Tanner Springs Park, Portland, Oregon
The format for the case studies, which unfolds through the mapping and analysis of the projects’ site/context relationships, forms the basis for the sustainable design process guidelines. The presentation of the case studies is not meant to interpret each designer’s own design process, but rather to reveal to the reader the sustainable outcomes in relation to both site conditions and context conditions. The format includes:
The project’s inception is explained and the design concept is briefly introduced.
The client and designer philosophies are outlined through an examination of their project goals and previous experiences. General sustainability trends in land use and program types comparable to the case study subject are also explored.
The project’s context is explored at a variety of scales from the entire United States, down through its multi-state region, watershed, metropolitan, or local area and neighborhood, to the immediately adjacent conditions of the site. This context is described through three dimensions: form, (the physical features of the context), function (the ecological and human systems and processes at work in the region), and philosophy, (the attitudes toward development and conservation in place in the region). The overall sustainability of the regional context is evaluated as a basis for examining the site and its design solution as either a sustainable integrator or a sustainable pioneer.
Design considerations are first presented in the form of an examination of the predesign site, an analysis of the most influential scales of context, and an explanation of the ecological and cultural dimensions of the program development. An example of a conventional (versus sustainable) approach to the same type of project that exists in proximity to the case study site is also presented.
The design solution is analyzed at a variety of scales with regard to two sustainability dimensions that were also used in the regional context analysis: landscape form (the site’s organization, spatial framework, and materials), and site design function (the site’s stormwater management, planting, human use systems, and site management strategies), as well as site design integration (the creation of meaning through elements that engage the user with dimensions of sustainability).
The project’s predesign and postdesign conditions are compared with regard to the program/site/context relationship. The use of design techniques that contribute to site-level sustainability are identified and distinguished from techniques that contribute to sustainability of the larger landscape beyond the site. The case study’s specific fulfillment of the five landscape sustainability criteria developed in Chapter 1 is outlined to establish its exemplification of the framework. Finally, other examples of similar sustainable projects are identified.

We are indebted to the following landscape architects for providing us insight into their design processes: Tavis Dockwiller of Viridian Landscape Studio, Matthew Urbanski and Chris Gates of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Herbert Dreiseitl and Gerhard Hauber from Atelier Dreiseitl, Mike Abbaté of Greenworks PC, William Wenk and Greg Dorolek of Wenk Associates Inc., Steve Martino and Andrea Cooper of Conservation Design Forum, and Michael Vergason and Doug Hays of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects.
Special thanks to Joe Bivona for his dedication and skill in mapping research, obtaining image permissions, and generating graphics. We would also like to acknowledge University of Connecticut landscape architecture students Katherine Liss, Jameson Secco, and Mary-Kate Casey. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers of this book and give thanks to colleague Mark Westa for his review, Dan Buttrey for graphic assistance, and Dr. Mary Musgrave for her guidance and encouragement. This research was supported by a faculty grant from the University of Connecticut. The editorial staff at Wiley, especially Margaret Cummins and Lauren Poplawski, were helpful with the evolution and development of the manuscript.
Additional thanks to the Oriental Café in Storrs, Connecticut, where we had the good fortune of spending many working lunches. We owe this work to the patience and support of our families, especially Rich, Emily, Garrett, Ted, and Katia.

Always design a thing by considering it in its largest context, a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.
—Eero Saarinen
Achieving sustainable environmental design encompasses myriad efforts on the part of both professionals and the public. These efforts—grassroots awareness campaigns that challenge individual citizens to come together to champion good planning for their communities, the realignment of our regulatory structures to facilitate and encourage healthy patterns, the retooling and retraining of our construction and materials industry, and the development of planning and design methods that inform and guide professionals’ design processes and ultimately the built environment—are all essential to reversing the destructive patterns of sprawl and the subsequent loss of nature and community that permeate contemporary development of our environment. The complexities and interrelationships of these needed efforts are daunting, yet nearly every person, organization, and profession has a role to play and perspective to contribute.


The relationship between and intersection of these three concepts—landscape, design, and sustainability—form the basis for this book and define the role of the profession of landscape architecture. Landscape, referred to by Frederick Steiner as the connective “tissue” of our world, is the medium that hosts, links, and conveys the vast complex of ecological and cultural systems in an intricate fabric of landform and habitats. Though it can be divided into many types of units, it does not and cannot exist independent of its larger whole. Through design, humans plan their technological interventions and express creative urges to satisfy individual and societal needs. When deployed in the landscape, design takes on the dynamism of a living, fluid, and changing medium, where decisions made at a site scale have direct impact on and connection to larger scales and vice-versa. Finally, the urgent call for sustainability of human development of the environment requires that we begin to recognize the critical role landscape and its design—landscape architecture—must play in uniting fragmented places, healing degraded systems, and engaging people in healthy relationships with nature. From this perspective, land is a continuum of cultural and ecological influences and responses, where a site boundary acts as a filter rather than a wall, and design holds the potential to draw and propel positive influences to and from the site.


Sustainability in landscape architecture until recently was viewed as a specialized branch of the field, heavily associated with ecological design. However, the synthesis of the cultural and ecological qualities of landscape architectural design reflected in contemporary built work blurs the once sharp line between ecological design and culturally resonant “high design.”
Several critical benchmarks in landscape architectural theory and practice have contributed to current views about sustainability within the profession (Ndubisi 1997). These benchmarks can be considered within three significant “generations”: the first generation occurring roughly between 1960 and 1975 and sparking a general awakening and shift in design approach toward ecological awareness; the second generation occurring between 1975 and 1995 and developing more scientific and specialized areas of interest; and the third/current generation from 1995 to present, which can be characterized as moving toward integration of sustainability within the more generalized practice of landscape architecture.

First Generation: 1960-1975

Systems-Based Model for Landscape Planning. Alongside public outcries critical of the status quo such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the founding of environmental movements such as Greenpeace, Ian McHarg’s landscape planning techniques in his book Design with Nature in 1969 represents the first explicit and systematic consideration of natural and cultural resources in landscape architecture (McHarg 1995). His “layer-cake” approach to determining land use suitability remains the gold standard for design methodology across all disciplines dealing with land use analysis and planning and set the stage for later technological development of Geographic Information Systems. McHarg’s work and that of his contemporaries and colleagues, most notably Philip Lewis, focused on large-scale planning projects such as The Woodlands residential community in Texas. These concepts and methods were also applied to site-scale design in determining both the suitable uses for a site, as well as how it might be designed to fit within its surroundings.

Second Generation: 1975-1995

This period is benchmarked by several divergent outgrowths of land planning models developed in the earlier generation.
Regenerative Design. The work of John Lyle, practitioner and professor at California Polytechnic State University at Pomona, developed the concept of regenerative design focused on site-scale subjects. Regenerative design is the idea that development does not just consume resources, but also can regenerate or produce them. Examples of regeneration are recharging groundwater, reusing graywater, producing edible crops in the landscape, or harvesting solar energy (Lyle 1992). The Center for Regenerative Studies at California Polytechnic State University is a living laboratory for these concepts.
Ecological Design Firms. Meanwhile, ecological design firms such as Andropogon Associates in Philadelphia and Jones & Jones in Seattle, both early proponents of landscape sustainability, developed systems-based and context sensitive ecological approaches evident in landmark designs such as the Crosby Arboretum and Paris Pike.
Reclaiming Landscapes. Also during this period, a bold social approach to reclaiming abandoned human landscapes can be identified through projects such as Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park, which reconnected the divided pieces of Seattle; Richard Haag’s Gasworks Park, which reclaimed the waterfront site of a former gas utility for recreation; and later Hargreaves Associates’ Byxbee Park, a former industrial site along the San Francisco Bay.
Regional Identity. A focus on regional identity, both cultural and ecological, is part of this generation’s contribution. The insight of Michael Hough in his book Out of Place (1992) and regionally inspired built work by practitioners such as Phoenix-based Steve Martino embody the value of distinctive regional context in creating landscapes that are “of the place.”
Schism between “High Design” and Ecological Design. Along with the more specialized identity of ecological design within the larger profession of landscape architecture, a growing dialogue and debate about the role of creative form-making in sustainable design was forming. There was a strong impression that the profession was still rewarding design work that did not give adequate consideration to ecological function or health, while there was also a common observation that many of the ecologically conceived projects lacked inspiring or memorable form. This debate was crystallized in a 1992 forum featured as a cover story by Landscape Architecture Magazine entitled “Is it Sustainable? Is it Art?”

Third Generation: 1995-Present

The Metrics Approach. The current generation of sustainability in landscape architecture is characterized first by a growing interest in the metrics for ecological function and economics in the built environment. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the United States Green Building Council, provides a detailed checklist for incorporating a range of ecologically based sustainable design principles into architectural development projects. Site-related components are not a central focus of the system.
Construction-Based Sustainability. The Sustainable Landscape Construction book produced by William Thompson and Kim Sorvig in 2000 provides important site-based technical focus for sustainable design implementation. Advances in native plant production and construction technologies have bolstered the ability to implement site elements that were once not possible within conventional construction practices. In a similar vein, the concept of low-impact design calls for recharge, filtration, and other on-site treatment methods for stormwater engineering in a time when water resource conservation has become a focus.
Applied Ecological Principles. Articulation of applied ecological principles at the landscape scale has been a critical contribution of Dramstad, Olson, and Forman as developed in their 1996 book, Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning. The ecological structure and functioning of land in corridors, patches, mosaics, and matrices provide a new language for land-use planning that protect ecological integrity and connectivity.
Ecorevelatory Design. Eco-revelatory design is intended to reveal and interpret ecological phenomena, processes, and relationships (Brown, Harkness, Johnston 1998). This concept has brought exciting synergy of visual drama/appeal and ecological process of such phenomena as stormwater conveyance and reuse that has fueled a new brand of innovative form-making.
Mainstreaming of Sustainability. A particularly prominent aspect of the current generation is that sustainability is moving away from being viewed as a specialized type of landscape architectural practice, focused exclusively on ecological concerns, toward a more mainstream concern for all landscape architecture projects. The concerns of “high design” that emphasize rigorous attention to form-making are being merged with the concerns for ecological integrity.

The Next Generation

As nearly all of the influences just outlined begin to converge, built work is exhibiting a critical synthesis of ecological, social, and cultural landscape considerations. As the “green revolution” takes hold in the global environment, a chief concern for the future of sustainable site development is the need to integrate larger planning efforts to combat sprawl, conserve ecologically intact open space, and create more livable communities with the more specific and detailed design of sustainable sites. The projects reviewed for this exemplify the benefits of such integration. Future approaches must utilize context-informed site design to address the broader range of criteria included in planning-scale projects.


The information age has brought a dizzying and seductive amount of unfiltered data to our fingertips. Often it is tempting to simply tune out context, as it provides too much information and can derail the process of defining a problem and taking action. Yet, the tremendous efforts we mount to make objects and technologies sustainable and “green” must all be viewed within the appropriate context. The energy efficiency of using corn as a biofuel, for instance, has been rejected, viewed within the context of how much energy it takes to produce the corn. Similarly, a central problem with sustainable site design is one of contextual scale and integration, where piecemeal solutions negate possibilities for larger cohesive ecological and social function and identity. Simply put, individual green buildings or sites do not necessarily add up to green neighborhoods, communities, or regions:
Not that all our earnest recycling, our water-scrimping showers, our labors to cool the planet are futile, but our larger lapses raise the fundamental question of where and how—and whether—we should be building anew. …The vision of a sustainable planet begins with the individual but requires planning on a large scale—not just locally, but regionally, nationally and internationally—to endure. It becomes increasingly clear that only if we encourage and participate in land planning on a larger and political scale can we consider ourselves builders of a truly sustainable world and not just hammer-wielders building little green islands in a sea of subdivided land.
—Jane Holtz Kaye 2002
The U.S. Green Building Council has recognized this need for larger-scale planning through its LEED ND (Neighborhood Development) program, which is aimed at neighborhood-level planning to provide better control and coordination of larger systems of transportation, building massing, and other elements. This is on the heels of its widely followed and highly influential program for sustainable building construction, in recognition of the growing concern for the larger community context.
Yet this is not a book about land use or community planning per se. While professional planning activities address important analysis, strategy, and policy direction, they rarely result in direct built work. Rather, this effort is aimed at approaching the basic building block of development: the site, that singular piece of the larger land complex, whether it contains a building or exists primarily as a landscape—with an eye toward regional context, applying planning principles to site design. Sites that are conceived with an overview of the larger, hierarchical systems of the environment, both ecological and cultural, stand a much better chance at protecting and enriching—sustaining—the site environment and its inhabitants. Further, sites that design experiences, elements, and visual character that help site users “read the texts of their surroundings” go beyond physical resource conservation achievement to create meaning based on understanding of our relationships and interactions with our environments (Steiner 2002). Designing with context in mind holds potential not only for the sustainability of the site itself, but also for the greater sustainability of the neighborhood, area, or region.
Now more than ever, information without clear and appropriate frameworks for selection and application can be counterproductive and even damaging. The framework presented here retains focus on site design, but aims to strengthen or repair connections to context that are lost or unrealized through piecemeal site planning. Further, it aims to utilize sensitive and artful site design to reveal and express regional values and identity.
This framework offers a way to consider and integrate information about context—in the form of physical constructs such as watersheds and neighborhoods, and in the form of nonphysical constructs such as local history and community attitudes—in the process of site design. It identifies two basic contextual situations for a sustainable site design problem: pioneer and integrator.

Sustainable Pioneer

Where the project’s region is generally more challenged in ecological and/or cultural terms, the site can be considered a sustainable pioneer. Three of the case studies presented later in the text, a corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia, a private residence in Phoenix, Arizona, and an industrial development in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, fit this description. The design for a sustainable pioneer site can introduce sustainable form, function, and philosophy to a larger area that lacks integrated cultural and ecological health. The term pioneer connotes the idea that these projects are trailblazers, leading a trend that will grow and transform the larger environment. The sustainable pioneer site can impart its trailblazing effect in a variety of ways. It can revitalize lost or broken networks of cultural or ecological function between the site and its surroundings, or reintroduce forgotten heritage or invisible bioregional character of the area. Nevertheless, it can also create self-reliance and wholeness for the site independent of its surroundings. In other words, it may have an important catalyzing effect on the surrounding lands or it may simply be one small island of sustainability unto itself, which when repeated across the region will create the transformation.

Sustainable Integrator

A sustainable integrator is a site whose design can reflect the health and stability of its sustainable context. Three of the case studies presented later in the text, an urban park in Portland, Oregon, a water purification facility in Hamden, Connecticut, and a park visitor center in Sandstone, West Virginia, fit this description. The success of each can be said to be linked to the intact political, cultural, and ecological character of its region. These projects answer the question: How do we build upon the success of the surroundings? Integration or connectivity of ecological and human systems is recognized as one of the key criteria for sustainability in this framework. There are two kinds of contextual connectivity addressed here: physical and symbolic. Physical connectivity, such as improvement of a portion of a stream buffer along a larger system, improves regional ecological health. Symbolic connections, such as use of repurposed local materials, provide a vehicle for human engagement critical to sustainable site making. The sustainable integrator project can knit together discontinuous intact systems and typically improves upon the site’s predesign value and health.


Existing frameworks for creating and evaluating sustainable design fall primarily into two categories: those that offer qualitative, theoretical, or values-based criteria; and those that prescribe specific quantitative or standards-based criteria (Edwards 2005). While many of the former tend to be highly influential and formative, the most actively utilized and applied systems tend to be the latter, where focused, tangible, and measureable directives and benefits are identified. The widely followed LEED program, mentioned earlier, for instance, is a point system for design and certification of high-performance green buildings. This program considers the embodied energy of materials and systems used in the building process and the operation of a building and its site. The benefits of certification, in addition to the energy savings and other environmental resource gains, include long-term economic benefit and the cachet of social consciousness that accompanies the attainment of silver, gold, or platinum certification levels. It rates sustainability in the areas of sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor air quality, innovation and design process. A similar program for the measured evaluation and recognition of designed landscapes has been introduced with the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a joint effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden. The areas of focus for this program are hydrology, soils, vegetation, materials, and human health and well-being.
An essential characteristic of these types of frameworks—and what makes them so eminently attractive and useful—is that they can be applied to nearly any project, regardless of site or its place within the urban to rural transect of the developable environment. Another key characteristic is that they retain clear focus on measureable technical and scientific criteria, leaving artistic, cultural, and social criteria cleanly out of the mix for the most part.
Alternatively, the framework presented here is centered on crafting sustainable landscapes based largely on a site’s relationship to its unique natural and cultural context. This context may be rural or urban, Northeastern or Southwestern, environmentally or economically stable or distressed—all these and many other contextual conditions create distinct opportunities and challenges for sustainable design. Context relevant to site design occurs at a range of strategic scales that begins at the regional level—the Central Plains/Midwest region for instance—and proceeds through state, watershed, local, and neighborhood levels, right down to the site-adjacency context where a site’s physical relationship to its neighbors is direct and tangible. In some contexts, native plant communities may be a particularly relevant factor; in other contexts, patterns of historic development and land use may be a more relevant factor. While these aspects cannot be easily measured, they do offer specific opportunities and needs for sustainability.
The aesthetics of sustainability in the landscape have long been a point for debate, some arguing that attention to visual quality has been sacrificed by the concern for sustainability, others pushing for new conceptions of beauty and imageability to embrace the “messiness” of nature. To this end, the framework also develops qualitative criteria that address questions of form-making and meaning related to sustainability and context.
With the ultimate goal to derive sustainable site design process guidelines, what follows here is a baseline establishment of criteria for sustainable landscapes. These criteria serve both to further define a sustainable landscape framework in which site and regional concerns are integrated and to provide the basic parameters used for the selection of the case studies, which illustrate the qualitative outcomes. The criteria draw from many wide-ranging and foundational developments in thinking about land, landscape, planning, design and case study research, and place these within five major themes for implementing and evaluating landscape sustainability. The five landscape sustainability criteria: connectivity, meaning, purpose, efficiency, and stewardship, each in their own way forge a relationship between a site and its context.
Comparative Criteria for Sustainable Landscape Design
The following provides brief comparative outlines for several frameworks that exist for sustainable design.
Qualitative Frameworks:
Andropogon Associates’ Ecological Site Design Guidelines
• Create a participatory design process
• Preserve and re-establish landscape patterns
• Reinforce the natural infrastructure
• Conserve resources
• Make a habit of restoration
• Evaluate solutions in terms of their larger context
• Create model solutions based on natural processes
• Foster biodiversity
• Retrofit derelict lands
• Integrate historic preservation and ecological management
• Develop a monitored landscape management program
• Promote an ecological aesthetic
Sanborn Principles—Urban Design Foundations for Sustainable Communities
• Healthy indoor environment for occupants
• Ecologically healthy
• Socially just
• Culturally creative
• Beautiful
• Physically and economically accessible
• Evolutionary
Values of Place—Essence of Timeless Design, Human-Centered Building, and Personal Responsibility
• Diversity
• Beauty and aesthetics
• Accidental meeting places
• Surprise and discovery
• Resource efficiency
• Leaving your mark
• Human form emerging naturally from its place
Principles of Smart Growth—www.smartgrowth.org
• Range of housing opportunities
• Walkable neighborhoods
• Community and stakeholder collaboration
• Distinctive attractive communities with sense of place
• Development decisions are predictable, fair, and cost-effective
• Mix land uses
• Preserve open space in critical areas
• Variety of transportation
• Place new development where existing infrastructure /development occurs
• Compact building design
Sustainable Landscape Construction Principles—Thompson and Sorvig
• Keep healthy sites healthy
• Heal injured sites
• Favor living, flexible materials
• Respect the waters of life
• Consider the fate and origin of materials
• Know the costs of energy over time
• Celebrate light, respect darkness
• Quietly defend silence
• Maintain to sustain
Quantitative Frameworks:
LEED—New Construction v2.2
• Sustainable Sites
• Water Efficiency
• Energy and Atmosphere
• Materials and Resources
• Indoor Air Quality
• Innovation and Design Process
LEED-Neighborhood Development—Pilot Program
• Smart Location and Linkage
• Neighborhood Pattern and Design
• Green Construction and Technology
• Innovation and Design Process
Sustainable Sites Initiative
• Water Waste
• Water Pollution
• Biodiversity and Invasive Species
• Resource Waste
• Energy
• Soil
• Air


Sustainable landscape solutions must evidence:
• site to context connections
• cultural systems and natural systems connections
• temporal connections that recognize the life of landscapes over time
We live in an era and culture where phenomena like fractal geometry and Google Earth have begun to give us new views of how things are interconnected and in many cases, how these connections have become compromised or destroyed. Fractals, a term coined in the 1980s by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, are objects with geometric structure that display self-similarity at various scales. Magnifying a fractal structure reveals small-scale details similar to the large-scale characteristics. Although fractals have similar patterns at a variety of magnified scales, the smaller-scale details are not identical to the whole. In fact, its structure is infinitely complex, though the process of generating it is based on an extremely simple equation. The phenomenon of similarity at various scales provides a window on the order, structure, and organization of complexity. With a visual appeal that comes from its balance of complexity and unity, the concept of fractals has been applied and examined in the creation of fine art and other fields in which geometry is relevant.
Fractal patterns are found across vast scales everywhere in nature in small objects such as snowflakes and ferns, as well as large landscapes such as coastlines and mountain ranges. Ian McHarg, in Design with Nature, first directed environmental designers to notice these patterns and build with environmental fitness in mind, so that these patterns could be preserved and woven throughout the built environment. The book A Pattern Language, written by architect Christopher Alexander in the 1970s, applies the idea of observing and linking successful or proven human patterns at different scales to the built environment. From regions, communities, neighborhoods, and sites, down to buildings, rooms, and windows, A Pattern Language proposes a hierarchical, structured way of designing. Whereas McHarg developed a systems-based methodology that responds to each design subject’s unique qualities and circumstances, Alexander’s methodology uses more of a “recipe” approach with a list of somewhat idiosyncratic patterns that can be applied to any problem and location.
Technological advances in digital geographic information systems and satellite imagery allow us to instantaneously zoom from viewing the entire earth from outer space to our own backyard or latest project site. A vast array of geographic systems information floats out in cyber space, and though there are widely varying scales of accuracy and precision, designing with spatial context in mind has never been more possible.

Site to Context Connections

The most tangible work of landscape architecture—the creation of places of meaning, visual delight, and spatial identity—occurs at the site scale at which human perception operates. But we can look to critical contributions of landscape architecture that occur at larger scales of planning like the neighborhood or community, which, though less tangible and visually iconic than site-scale design outcomes, are equally compelling and arguably more valuable. Much of the most important 19th-century work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted—the “Emerald Necklace” of the Boston Parks system, the Stanford campus, Chicago’s Columbian Exposition—occurred at the larger planning level, where study and understanding of the neighborhood, the community, and the region allowed for sensitive siting and land use relationships. These same planning examples, with their far-reaching impacts on whole communities, however, also come with familiar sites that have imageable, physical qualities. The Backbay Fens, Commonwealth Avenue Parkway, and the Public Garden are memorable landscapes precisely because they fit within and enhance their urban context and larger open space framework. The linking of larger community planning concepts and knowledge of site context with more immediate site planning and design concepts provides powerful results on many levels.
The new urbanism movement is an example of society’s growing recognition of the need to think outside the building and think outside the site, to address the needs of sustainable smart growth. With its combination of principles that emphasize pedestrian connectivity, mixed land uses, compact development that allows for open space preservation, well-defined districts, and the importance of the civic realm, new urbanism calls for a return to the patterns of traditional town planning and a rejection of the patterns of unplanned sprawl that dominated the second half of the 20th century. More importantly, it places the design of sites and architecture within a very contextual realm—each piece of the community is dependent on its neighborhood, district, and community structure. Many of the concepts of new urbanism can be traced back to the ideas of Kevin Lynch and his theory of good city form. In Image of the City, Lynch defines the memorable elements of the city as related to him by everyday citizens—landmark, district, node, path, edge. These are connective elements and structures that organize urban environments and make them legible, interesting, diverse, and whole.
In creating site-to-context connections, we can think about functional physical connections such as circulation corridors, vegetation patches, or hydrological features, which encourage the larger flow and health of the landscape. We can also think about spatial connections such as how a site may be configured as an open or a wooded site to either link with or contrast against its surroundings. Another way to think about site-to-context connections is in program development, where the type of park you might wish to develop is highly dependent on the surrounding land uses and the variety of other parks that are available in the local area. Finally, we can use formal connections to context to create unity and meaning related to regional vernacular materials and architecture and natural forms.

Natural and Cultural Systems Connections

An end to thinking of natural and cultural landscapes as occurring in two separate realms was suggested by McHarg and elaborated on by Anne Whiston Spirn in The Granite Garden. The growing trend toward renewal of natural process in urban environments through stream daylighting and dechannelization, urban forestry, green roofs, and permeable paving is proof that integration of natural process in human development is not only possible, but needed and desired.
The scientific concept of ecology has, until very recently, been studied primarily within the realm of the natural world and has not been applied to the physical development, or design, of the human world. While the notion of “human ecology” was explored as a branch of sociology and geography in the early 20th century, it became disconnected from the physical world to focus on more economic, demographic, and political approaches. Frederick Steiner proposes a new interpretation of human ecology, which denies this historic disconnection and encourages more integration of physical and social science. Ecologist Richard Forman and his colleagues broke this barrier in their development of landscape ecology principles that were specifically developed for use in landscape architecture and land use planning. Steiner, a landscape architect, proposes that the critical issues of sustainability and sustainable development require that we more actively and aggressively engage these principles in applying the concepts of ecology to the planning and design of built human environments (Steiner 2002). The integration of human and natural forms and functions—as in regenerative human ecosystems such as wetlands stormwater treatment systems—is a critical expression of connectivity.

Temporal Connections