Do you stop to consider the utility of a bench, the inviting shade of street trees along a downtown sidewalk, the network of bike lanes down a busy corridor, an inviting gather space? Admittedly, not many of us think of these things until we are using them or need them, or when they are frustratingly not there or easily accessed. Ask any parent wrangling a small child across a busy urban sidewalk or a bicycle commuter navigating rush hour traffic, and you will understand the value of a well-designed public space. At Lochmueller Group, our landscape architects and urban planners make it their mission to design accessible, flexible, and resilient spaces for people, shaping a positive experience with the infrastructure they come into contact with every day.
For Lochmueller’s Senior Landscape Architect, Laurel Harrington, imagining places and spaces that bring joy to people’s daily lives is good urban design. She believes the positive impact of a well-planned site actually begins prior to the work of a civil engineer whose primary focus is on the site on which a project will be built. Landscape architects and urban planners collaborate on a vision that considers how the site sits in the context of its city, how the natural resources of the site can be preserved, how a positive user experience can be designed, and how the technical and financial challenges can be met. When a concept plan is coordinated with engineers, the meaning and purpose of the vision has been infused into the site solutions from the beginning – creating an inclusive and intentional design.
To help visualize what this means, imagine a stand of attractive mature trees on a site being planned for a new development or redevelopment. These trees are likely to be viewed as an impediment to the efficient layout of the site or financial pro forma of the development, so the trees would be removed and the site would be prepared. To landscape architects, this stand of trees is a natural resource that cannot be replaced in our lifetimes. This resource demands consideration for what it contributes to the “green” infrastructure of the site. The benefits of green infrastructure, such as tree and habitat preservation, stormwater interventions, porous surfaces, and others, can be calculated. There are aesthetic, monetary, and practical benefits to a site that are often overlooked. For example, the preservation of existing trees on a site can…
• Offset landscaping requirements of city development codes
• Contribute to a city’s goal for the preservation of their urban forest and native vegetation
• Intercept 500 to 750 gallons of stormwater each year, thereby reducing the storm runoff on the site, city streets, and drainage area
• Hold soil in place and reduce erosion with the root systems of mature trees and vegetation
• Reduce pollution by carbon sequestration and produce oxygen
• Reduce the heat-island effect of unshaded hardscapes and buildings, thereby keeping people and buildings cooler
• Provide instant context and human scale for the new development and be the inspiration for useful and attractive outdoor gathering spaces
With record-breaking heat indexes on the rise, frequency of violent storms, and the devastating impacts of flooding, a multidisciplinary and resilient approach of site design is a prudent investment.
The benefit of integrated landscape architecture and site design is that it looks beyond the scope of a project and always considers the planning and development context. A well-planned project can enhance the adjacent land uses or set the standard for the improvement of the adjacent parcels. When looking at the planning, design, and engineering context early, the landscape architect and site engineers are asking critical questions such as:
1. How can this site contribute positively to the regional and local planning context?
2. What is the site telling us about the opportunities, resources, and benefits?
3. How can the natural features of the site be leveraged to preserve, restore, or create context?
4. What are the natural, practical, and cost-effective solutions that can be derived from the conditions?
5. How can we consider the quality of life of people, plants, and animals?
It is a planning and design partnership between the landscape architect, engineer, and client that realizes all the benefits of integrated design. The next time you notice that well-designed space or place, you have landscape architects, urban planners, and civil engineers to thank!
Laurel Harrington, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP BD+C*, heads Lochmueller’s Urban Design Group and has over 30 years of experience designing spaces for people. She received her BLA in Landscape Architecture from Michigan State University and is licensed in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Michigan. She is active in the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the American Planning Association (APA), and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP).
*PLA = Professional Landscape Architect, ASLA = American Society of Landscape Architects, LEED AP BD+C = LEED Accredited Professional Building Design + Construction.