What makes a school building project an aesthetic and environmental success?

Landscape architects look beyond the four walls

by Timothy Bonaparte

On Board Online • August 14, 2017

By Timothy Bonaparte

Imagine you are touring a brand new school building. Inside, it has a creative layout and an attractive interior design. Outside, there is a beautiful facade.

But what if you had to park a quarter mile away? What if there were no sidewalks and big puddles because of an absence of infrastructure to manage storm water runoff? And what if there was nothing green in sight?

Site design and environmental sustainability are as important in school building projects as building design and construction. That's why every capital project involves a landscape architect. These professionals usually work as subcontractors for your district architect.

As a partner at a landscape architecture firm that has worked on many school projects in New York State, I often find it necessary to explain what I do for a living. It is a common misconception that landscape architects focus solely on plantings and aesthetic landscaping. Those professionals would be considered landscape designers. And landscape contractors are the teams who do installation work by moving earth, pouring concrete and planting trees.

The profession of landscape architecture dates back to the mid-1800s and the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, who is sometimes called "the Father of Landscape Architecture."

Olmsted's genius is prominent throughout New York State. His firm designed New York City's Central Park and the nation's oldest system of parks and parkways in Buffalo, as well as Washington Park in Albany, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, Highland Park in Rochester and Congress Park in Saratoga Springs. As a conservationist, he was active in early land use planning in the Adirondacks.

Following approaches pioneered by Olmsted, landscape architects strive to create beautiful, sustainable and functional outdoor spaces that complement building construction.

"Thoughtful landscape architecture adds value to a commercial development by handling aesthetic and practical considerations, and addresses the growing public concern for the environment," according to the American Society of Landscape Architecture.

During the last two decades, landscape architects have helped ensure building projects have sustainable design and qualify for LEED Certification. Landscape architects strive to do what is best for the environment while meeting the goals of their clients.

Landscape architects create drawings similar to an architect's blueprints. These are graphic representations showing a wide variety of site improvements including parking, drives, footpaths, drainage infrastructure, water lines, lighting and landscaping.

Just as a general contractor uses blueprints to construct the school building, a site contractor uses the landscape architect's construction documents to implement the site design.

Landscape architects can also participate in community outreach to inform the public about potential or current building projects. They often take the lead in coordinating project development with local, state and federal agencies such as the state Department of Environmental Conservation, state Department of Transportation, historic preservation offices and planning boards.

In addition to doing design for new construction, landscape architects regularly assist with site improvement for existing school buildings.

School board members and school administrators should also understand that landscape architecture can be a rewarding career for students to consider. A landscape architect is required to have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture from an accredited institution such as SUNY-ESF (the state university's College of Environmental Science and Forestry). Individuals are certified by the State Education Department as Registered Landscape Architects after passing a four-part licensing exam.

For more information, visit the American Society of Landscape Architects' website at www.asla.org .

Tim Bonaparte is a partner at Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture in Syracuse. Contact him at (315) 476-1022.

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