Article by Patricia Lussier
2020 proved we could change. Globally, we have drastically altered our daily lives – including our relationship to the public realm. The past year has re-instilled our appreciation for green spaces in urban cityscapes. It has also reinforced the collective power of individual efforts. We have been offered an incredible opportunity to reconfigure urban life in a way that is beneficial to both people and the planet. How do we seize this moment and create better, lasting designs, that ultimately lead to better cities?
A deeper connection to the natural world
Landscape architecture has evolved with the new reality, playing an ever-increasing role in the intervention and development of spaces. What was once a mostly ecology-focused approach has evolved into a holistic one. Living elements are afforded new considerations in the process of creating urban forests. Discussions around monospecific plants are being replaced by ones about biodiversity. We find that designs that are purely aesthetic lead to adaptability, to the sustainability of plants and to the evolution of what is beautiful. We are seeing a shift away from overly manicured designs towards plant adaptability and sustainability. As the profession and its practices evolve, the mission remains the same: create spaces that improve people’s lives and connect them to the natural world.
With newfound importance weighing on the public realm, we are called to partake in an open dialogue around creating resilient spaces that foster well-being. This conversation transcends the world of landscape architecture and implicates many stakeholders including engineers, planners, ecologists, specialists in public health, developers and policy-makers. Greening our cities is a collective endeavor.
We must begin by taking a human-centric approach to our public realm. In doing so, we will be better poised to create more meaningful public spaces that will nurture vitality, social sustainability, and community cohesion. Once created, we must explore how we can better support and preserve these sites. Indeed, our efforts risk being squandered should our designs neglect the importance of care and maintenance. Biologists, multidisciplinary teams, and scientists are indispensable when committing to designing for the future and for the successful maintenance of micro ecosystems. Collaborating with such partners allows us to continually evolve our approach so that we can better support the preservation of these important sites.
New tools for viability and sustainability
Landscape architects have begun using new tools and mechanisms to foster the quality and care of their projects:
- Applying the principles of biophilia: these principles improve health and well-being on a larger scale, both indoors and outdoors.
- The use of methods for the development of resilient and self-sufficient urban forests, including the Miyawaki Method which, among other things, enriched our Hypernature 066 proposal. Numerous studies that have deepened our knowledge of soils and the importance of microorganisms. Understanding ecosystems is increasingly studied.
- Virtual reality enables new forms of site analysis, representation, and speculation in the late stages of design.
A site’s sustainability and performance can be assessed with the following:
- The LEED Arc platform can measure a project’s sustainability, exploring variables such as energy, water, waste, transportation, along with the human experience.
- The Living Building Challenge 12-month performance period examines the material, site, energy, water, indoor quality, beauty and inspiration – to encourage the creation of regenerative built environment
- The Sustainable SITES credit is a comprehensive system intended for the use of many stakeholders to safeguard the creation of sustainable and resilient projects. Their rating systems consists of guidelines and performance benchmarks to measure a site’s performance, sustainability and elevate its value.
Performance measurement has also become more prevalent, including that of the Landscape Architecture Foundation which evaluates the environmental, social and economic benefits of projects. With a growing number of tools at our disposal to ensure our designs are rooted in innovation and sustainability, we all play a part in continuing to drive forward both the profession of Landscape Architecture as well as our widely-held values and agendas for a greener world.
We must remain optimistically critical on how we can create lasting designs. This past year has proven that people are adept at changing their daily habits and priorities. The pursuit of greener, more innovative and sustainable designs will not be an individual effort. Collaboration is key. Armed with momentum, emerging tools, collective thinking and an optimistic vision, all citizens are invited to join the dialogue in creating a better city for tomorrow.
Click here to read our article on Place des Montréalaises – a landscape architecture project that promotes biodiversity, self-sustaining design, and multidisciplinary collaboration.
Patricia Lussier, landscape architect and associate at Lemay, has more than 20 years of experience in the development of public spaces. Designing to fulfill the functions of social engagement, Patricia brings a unique sensitivity that highlights the history of each space she creates. Her distinctive approach has led to many multidisciplinary projects and competitions in urban design, landscape architecture and architecture, and resulted in awards of excellence.