Innovating Through Landscape Performance Evaluations

Author: Meiling Sproger
Contributors: Craig Skipton, Elizabeth Housley

Since our founding in 1969, AHBL has been a technical excellence and creative solutions leader. One area where our Landscape Architects have evolved is providing Landscape Performance Evaluations (LPE) after project build out. LPEs provide user feedback and measurable outcome data after the project's construction. Examples of outcomes can include the amount of carbon sequestered, localized temperature improvement, ecological functioning, amount and quality of stormwater filtration, or change of site user safety.

In 2020, AHBL developed a landscape performance methodology and collected field data to assess the possibility of integrating LPE into AHBL's landscape architecture practice.

In an internal review of an AHBL-designed and AIA award winning green schoolyard project, evidence suggests that the design features of student learning environments contribute to positive student experiences and improved learning outcomes. Recently, an outdoor learning program with alternating lessons between classroom, schoolyard and the local park supported students in reaching state learning targets in science, math, language, arts and Native American studies in grades K-5. This intriguing result informs AHBL design decisions when renovating existing sites and creating new, sustainable, user-centered outdoor environments.

One of our landscape designers, Elizabeth Housley, was recently interviewed to learn more about AHBL’s LPE program.

What does AHBL’s LPE program look like?
"LPEs are conducted on an ongoing basis, generally starting 1-3 years after a project is complete and the plantings are installed. This timeframe allows users to settle in and develop patterns and observations regarding how they use the space. It also allows time for the plants and stormwater infrastructure to function through multiple seasons. AHBL landscape architects typically conduct a warranty walk post-construction, and this is a good time to observe plant installation and collect baseline data for the future. LPE’s also includes interviews with the design team and owners early in the design process to establish goals, post-occupancy user interview protocols, and documenting the site through photographs from pre-construction, during, and post-construction. Ultimately, this data collection allows us to develop an ongoing iterative toolkit and Better Management Practices (BMPs)."

How do LPEs inform innovation and environmental sustainability?
In the Puget Sound basin, designing with stormwater is essential to landscape architects, and the health of Puget Sound is a distinct indicator for our region. Every year, millions of gallons of stormwater are filtered by AHBL projects, with a substantial portion of this water making its way to Puget Sound.

Over the past several decades, green stormwater infrastructure innovation has evolved to be modeled and designed more like natural systems, working to create more sustainable and resilient places. A well-executed LPE will identify and suggest improvements for built projects through the documentation and review process.

Image Credit: Stormwater mapping in King County: A glimpse into the world of tracking where the rain goes | Employee News (kcemployees.com)

AHBL's landscape architecture team recently worked on a project in Arlington, Washington, that demonstrates finding new ways of sustainable innovation through collaboration between our landscape architects and civil engineers.

By collaborating with our civil engineering team, the landscape architects were able to support and inform the civil design process. With climate change at the forefront of concerns, we are adaptable and solution-oriented to create places that work and will thrive for years.

Will AHBL offer LPEs as a service?
We are creating and testing a standardized procedure for obtaining measurable results. In a few years, we will have enough data to draw conclusions for project sites and improve our process internally. After this testing phase, we hope to roll it out on a larger scale for our clients to benefit even more from AHBL’s creative design solutions.

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