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Design Research

Research, like theory, forms the intellectual scaffolding of thoughtful, reflexive practice. The department’s research activities seek to advance the discourse and practice of urban ecological design and address the complex web of environmental sustainability, social justice, and economic viability while creating potential for a rich and meaningful aesthetic experience. Landscape architecture has a critical opportunity to place itself at the center of contemporary discourse and policy-making on issues of ‘sustainable design’, climate change, and social and environmental justice. The department’s vision to advance knowledge of urban ecological design through our attention to social and ecological processes, design, and technology is an important step towards leadership in the discipline and in the larger community of scholars and practitioners. The following highlights a selection of the current projects and areas of research in the department.

This work addresses the how the design of civic landscapes may enrich children’s experiences in and learning about their local ecological/cultural communities. Participatory design processes engage children and youth in creatively imagining the future. Working with local elementary school communities, design studios have envisioned ways that the school site may integrate ecological processes and provide dynamic places of learning and play. Julie Johnson

his area of research explores the role of design in improving human and environmental health and spurring economic development in developing communities of the Global South. Current projects in Lima and Ventarron, Peru focus on the invention and implementation of technologies and infrastructure that help communities adapt to climate change impact and co-benefit human and environmental systems. Ben Spencer

This area of research examines how radically different design studio pedagogy is, with its focus on synthesis and integration, when compared with teaching methods and processes common in higher education. It further explores how pedagogical methods typical of design studios may be adapted for use in other contexts to contribute to the larger societal interest and need for education to more proactively address creativity. Iain M Robertson

Green roof infrastructure is rapidly becoming a hallmark strategy for sustainable urban development. This study, in partnership with private industry and public agencies, examines the effectiveness of green roof infrastructure in the Puget Sound/Cascadia region. Specifically, it examines performance in hydrology, biological viability, and energy conservation. Ken Yocom and Ben Spencer

Green walls and green screens are increasingly used to satisfy new “Green Factor” code requirements, assuming they provide ecological function. Our research is testing design technologies for constructing and maintaining living walls and screens, including irrigation with harvested water, and will examine actual sustainability benefits such as thermal regulation and increased biodiversity. Nancy Rottle, with the Green Futures Lab

esearch in the historiography of landscape architectural and design history suggests that the ways in which we tell our histories, how we narrate our past, defines our present, and shapes our futures. Thus scholarship that seeks to reveal alternative histories and competing arguments offers a richer foundation from which to practice design as an engaged practitioner. Such investigations in turn contribute alternative means and modes of practice thus opening new futures. Thaisa Way

Landscape designs containing plants are living systems that require continued control to maintain them in their desired states. Typically described as ‘maintenance’ or ‘management’, these activities are, in fact, a form of on-going design that should follow logically from the initial design. Using his work replanting Freeway Park in Seattle as a model Robertson is examining the complex ways in which the design of living systems differs from the design of static objects. Iain M Robertson

Dense, vibrant, hybrid, and dynamic are words often used to characterize the aura and ambience of cities in Asia. Funded by the China Studies Program at UW, with a cross-disciplinary group of scholars in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, this project focuses on a selection of Asian cities to examine the production of their dynamic urban fabric, including the specific spatial and cultural practices that underlie the making of those spaces. Jeff Hou, with Dan Abramson, Manish Chalana, Ken Oshima, and Vikram Prakash

rban environments worldwide are in the midst of multiple shifts, driven by interconnected flows in capital, people, and resources at local, regional and global scales. This project examines today’s multifaceted urban environment in order to explore emerging theories and practices that will enable us to address these critical issues. Specifically, it investigates three areas of knowledge and practices: emergent ecologies, emergent cities, and emergent tactics. Jeff Hou, Ben Spencer, Thaisa Way, and Ken Yocom

A rich area of qualitative research exploring the lived experience of place, including people’s emotional relationships to place (place attachments), place identity and sense of place in various contexts including the everyday environments of urban dwellers, the experience of displacement among poor people, and the cultural impacts of rapid urbanization. Lynne Manzo

This research examines the impacts of public housing redevelopment on the lives of low-income families who have been relocated through HUD’s HOPE VI program, which replaces public housing with new mixed-income developments. These studies consider how relocation affects the health, well-being, economic security, access to services of residents along with considerations of the experience of place and displacement as a result of the redevelopment. This work has strong advocacy and policy implications. Lynne Manzo

On the Olympic Peninsula, the Elwha River is the location of the largest dam removal project in the United States History. Building on the expansive research being conducted on the river system, this project examines shifts in perception and understanding of the system as the river responds and recovers as a free flowing entity. Ken Yocom

Funded by the Worldwide University Network, this project investigates Transcultural Placemaking as a framework for rethinking culturally based placemaking in multicultural urban contexts. Specifically, it engages in an interdisciplinary examination of a variety of contemporary cultural and spatial practices to look at how cross-cultural understanding is engendered through everyday activities and other instances of placemaking. Jeff Hou

This research addresses urban planning and design practices that may help cities to both adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts, with the goal of achieving resilient, biodiverse regions and metropolises. The study examines practices in cities in the US, Europe and New Zealand, with a focus on urban green infrastructure. Nancy Rottle

Stormwater carrying pollutants from urbanized areas is a leading cause of degradation to Puget Sound and other regional water systems, with over 6000 stormwater outfalls discharging directly into the Sound. This research examines applicable approaches for stormwater treatment on waterfronts, develops designs for multi-functional waterfront stormwater parks, and proposes to monitor and document the efficacy of new treatment approaches. Nancy Rottle, with Rich Horner and the Green Futures Lab