Landscape Architecture: Contemporary Theory and Research

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Landscape architecture focuses on the key elements that are responsible for the urban and rural landscapes as well as the development of strategies and design methods that can be used as intervention measures as well as the direct development of the landscape. The discipline perceives the landscape as being composed of the cultural, natural and social architectural elements in relation to social, ecological as well as economic parameters that can be best understood through morphological research. Milburn and Brown (2003, p. 47-66) point out that in landscape and architecture, design and research can be best described as a variable relationship between context and object. They are of the opinion that research design forms a solid basis for knowledge as well as creative design. Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh (2013, p. 120-127) argue that landscape architecture as a discipline is in need of urgently developing its methods to facilitate the generation of new knowledge and to enhance the disciplines academic position. They point out that the main activity within landscape architecture is designing, which is made possible through research. This paper presents a proposal of a landscape architectural design using the “design through research approach.”


Recent times have seen increased concerns regarding the use of natural resources as well as the development of sustainable communities. This has made the current era the most important for the role of landscape architecture in environmental sustainability to be highlighted. Landscape architecture applies a holistic approach that is very much required for the successful creation of places that are environmentally sustainable and in which people can safely live and work. Reports from leading research bodies on climate change indicate that the global climate is already changing and will continue to change due to the cumulative effects of the emissions produced since the onset of industrialization (Milburn and Brown 2003, p. 47-66). This calls for adaptation of landscapes to these changes, which is quite an urgent challenge. Apart from intensified urban heat island effect, climate change could impact our landscapes through water shortages as a result of lower amounts of rain and higher evaporation rates. Other effects of climate change on landscapes include decreased air quality, changes in biodiversity, flooding within the build environments as well as rising levels of sea water (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013, p. 120-127).

Urban areas are expected to be hit the hardest as a result of climate change. Food shortage, intensified urban heat island effect as well as flooding within the built environments are some of the effects of climate change that urban dwellers will have to cope with. With Statistics indicating that the Australian urban population has been steadily rising over the past three decades, the number of people that would have to suffer as a result of climate change would be very high (Tradingeconomics 2016). Urban farming promises to be an effective way through which landscape architects can offer solutions to these challenges.

What the Research is Setting Out to Investigate

The current research seeks to investigate whether the establishment of an urban farm in vacant spaces within cities is an appropriate approach through which urban centres can mitigate the effects of climate change such as poor air and water quality, excessive temperatures as well as food shortage (Milburn and Brown 2003, p. 47-66). The main idea on completion of this research is to develop a public garden at a vacant space within a city. The public garden would comprise of an urban farm as well as a centre for the homeless people. It will also offer community kitchen services, education programs, food processing as well as a market for the different food items produced within the farm (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013, p. 120-127).

Importance and Relevance of the Research and Design

Available evidence indicates that urban farming has the potential to generate both economic and environmental benefits. The current design is of great significance as it would allow the city to solve the homelessness problem as well as mitigate the increasing threats posed by climate change. The project would also help the city eradicate the urban plight created by abandoned and vacant spaces (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013, p. 120-127).

Key questions

  1. What is the overall topic of my design research?

The overall topic of research design is urban farming at New Belmore Park. The proposed project seeks to transform a vacant space that is Belmore Park into an urban garden and an eco-centre for the homeless individuals.

  1. What is my personal design ambition and design language in relation to this topic?

My personal design ambition is to come with something that can benefit the less privileged in the society and empower them economically. The landscape design would be approached through topographic systems that would allow for the ecological urbanism to be registered in relation to the current and proposed infrastructure (Milburn and Brown 2003, p. 47-66).

  1. Given the topic, what gets represented, and how are these things or aspects represented?

The things that get represented include the current landscape condition of the selected site as well as a plan of how the proposed project will look like. These include gardens, a community kitchen, food processing area, botanical garden as well as a public park.

  1. What are the principles of form generation?

My design ambitions and intentions would be explored CNC technology which provides an appropriate analogy to landscape architecture. A subtractive process would be employed, whereby modification and sculpturing of the landscape would be accompanied by removal and addition of some features (Milburn and Brown 2003, p. 47-66).

  1. What happens when these are all applied to the site?

Application of all these to the site would make it possible for the space to be transformed into an economically viable space. Similarly, the space will be transformed into a carbon sink

Examination of the Selected Topic of Design Research

Landscape Architecture and the Ecology

Many researchers now agree that human activities have made a significant contribution to climate change through processes that result in the emission of greenhouse gases (Hanson and Marty 2011, p. 22). As such, there is a need to reduce the human-induced causes of climate change. The field of landscape architecture offers many approaches through which both the rural and urban landscapes can be protected, enhanced and conserved as means of countering the effects of climate change. Most of these approaches take into consideration the social, environmental and economic conditions that characterize the contemporary landscapes (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013, p. 120-127; Asla 2016). The approaches can be broadly categorized into large-scale interventions, site-specific intervention, working practices, renewable energy as well as Green infrastructure (Moser and Boykoff 2013, p. 45). Under large scale intervention, landscape architects act as master planners, shaping the key areas of the current as well as new communities in ways that support sustainable lifestyles. Activities that the architects can undertake under this form of intervention include integrating and site as well as building planning into the whole process of landscape planning, as well as integrating and maximizing the process of food production within the landscape (Moser and Boykoff 2013, p. 45).

Site specific intervention includes the creation of carbon sinks in urban areas. These are created through providing of green spaces that make it possible for the excess carbon to be removed from the atmosphere, thereby contributing to increased quality of air. Additionally, site-specific intervention can be applied to buildings in the form of green walls and green roofs which in turn improves the thermal efficiency of the said buildings (Moser and Boykoff 2013, p. 55). With green infrastructure, landscape architects create a network natural elements and spaces that are interconnected with the landscape. Some of the key components that make up green infrastructure include pocket parks, small woodlands and street trees (Starke and Simonds 2013, p. 67).

Moser and Boykoff (2013, p. 12) opine that given the rising urban population, climate change would have the greatest impact on urban areas. They are of the view that landscape architectures have the ability to make urban areas more liveable by taking into consideration the complex relationship that cities share with the natural environment. Starke and Simonds (2013, p. 36) argues that there are numerous debates regarding what to do and what can be done to counter the effects of climate change. According to Starke and Simonds (2013, p. 36), some section of the debaters are of the view that there is a lot that can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change while others believe that it is too late to reverse the processes. However, they point out that landscape architects can make a significant contribution to the efforts geared towards slowing down climate change by making use of a variety of practices. These practices include low impact designs and conservative and sustainable development. Apart from taking into account the changes that have taken place, it is important for the architect to adapt to the changes that are inevitable. Starke and Simonds (2013, p. 36) point out that inevitable changes that designers need to take into consideration include the anticipated rise in sea water levels, which will have a significant impact on coastal areas.

Starke and Simonds (2013, p. 37) opine that different administrations and institutions have reacted differently to the need to address the effects of climate change in the designing and urban area. They state that while some localities and cities have taken the threats posed by climate change seriously by conducting extensive studies and preparing necessary plans, others have completely ignored the problems. Modern day landscape architects gradually recognize the need to address the challenge of climate change and related issues including energy demand, food security and the declining resources. Some authors opine that the current environmental problems call for making ecology and ecology studies the main focus of all design projects (Viljoen, Bohn and Howe 2012, p. 56). Papesch et al. (2011) state that urban designers, landscape architects and architects gain credibility by making it possible for the members of the society to see the advantages of their focused creativity.

Urban planners and landscape architects play an important role in the creation of sustainable cities and communities. Such communities emit low levels of carbon due to the ample green spaces that characterize them. Additionally, landscape architectures make a significant contribution to the sustainability of urban areas by working hand in hand with architectures to ensure that buildings are energy efficient (Milburn and Brown 2003, p. 47-66). They are able to achieve this fete by ensuring that trees and other green spaces are strategically placed and that the buildings are insulated by green walls and roofs. Landscape architects also work in conjunction with environmental organizations as well as government departments with the main aim of managing sustainable green areas such parks and forests (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013, p. 120-127).

Urban Farming and Sustainable Ecology

Urban agriculture is one of the ways that city dwellers can effectively respond to the increased threats posed by climate change. Increased concerns about the sustainability of urban environment as well as increased concerns about health and other community building-building issues have led to increased popularity of urban farming (Milburn and Brown 2003, p. 47-66). In most cities and towns, the food system comprises of global, regional and local production systems. Urban agriculture has, over recent years, emerged as a significant component of local food production. Bailkey and Nasr (2000, p. 25) define urban agriculture as the growing, processing and marketing of food and other agricultural products within and around cities. Apart from providing food for the urban families, urban farming is also a source of extra income for urban families (Hendrickson and Porth 2012, p. 1-52)

Viljoen, Bohn and Howe (2012, p. 106) posit that the important of urban farming within the modern urban open spaces is quite variable. This means that the benefits that different urban areas can derive from the practice are different, largely depending on the needs of the populace as well as the environmental challenges the cities or towns face. Viljoen, Bohn and Howe (2012, p. 106) are of the view that the environmental benefits that urban farming presents have just but started being acknowledged. They further argue that there is a great disparity between the significance of urban farming in developed and developing countries. While urban farming in developing countries is chiefly motivated by economic needs, it is driven by the response to recreational or social needs in developed economies. Viljoen, Bohn and Howe (2012, p. 106) give an example of Europe, where there has been a constant increase in interest in allotment holding. This, in turn, has led to a rise in urban farming, which in turn has contributed to increased production of food by urban households.

Hanson and Marty (2011, p. 22) opine that urban farming is a significant form of sustainable agriculture. They point out that the practice has significant environmental and social benefits, but the economic benefits are quite difficult to comprehend. According to Hanson and Marty (2011, p. 22), urban farming is set to continue growing in diverse ways, a fact that would allow it to conform to the changes in the social, environmental and even economic conditions. Their focus is on the economic benefits of urban farming and they report that for such projects to be successful, the farmers need access to capital.

According to Hendrickson and Porth (2012, p. 1-52), urban farming is an attractive endeavour given the environmental, health and economic advantages that it offers. Through farming, the urban population can have improved access to cheap and healthy food products while at the same time counter the pollution impact from waste products, industrial activities as well as transportation. Urban farming also facilitates the utilization of vacant land, thus allowing municipalities to turn once invaluable spaces into important spaces with high economic value. Despite these benefits, a number of concerns have been raised with regard to urban farming. Key concerns include the impact of urban farming on property value, impact on aesthetics as well as concerns over nuisance (Hendrickson and Porth 2012, p. 1-52). It is argued that in many urban areas, efforts by municipalities to accommodate urban farming have been useful, but most of the efforts have been undermined by ineffective amendments in the laws and regulations that address urban farming. According to Hendrickson and Porth (2012, p. 1-52), town and city officials that wish to make urban farming a tool through which the towns or cities can be revitalized should consider incorporating the same into their zoning laws and regulations.

Waterford (2015, p. 4) states that the current food production systems are inefficient when it comes to energy use. He argues that the current systems account for high energy costs attributed to the high transportation costs. He argues that when cities are able to produce their food locally, the energy costs as a result of transportation would be significantly reduced. Additionally, switching to foods that have been grown and produced locally within and outside the city can significantly reduce the transport-related emissions. According to Waterford (2015, p. 5), urban farming can also help reduce the carbon footprint of cities and towns. He points out that the farms can act as carbon sinks, making it possible for carbon accumulation to be offset. However, the type of plants grown as well as the farming methods used heavily determine the effectiveness of urban farms as carbon sinks. The ability of a farm to offset the carbon accumulation can be increased by choosing plants that are able to retain their leaves all year round.

Heather (2012, p. 2) points out that modern cities face a host of environmental challenges that include inadequate biological diversity, excessive heat and poor air and water quality. He states that urban agriculture allows for more green spaces to be added to neighbourhoods, thus contributing to increased ecological diversity as well as better air and water quality. According to Heather (2012, p. 2), urban farming makes it possible for idle and vacant pieces of land as well as rooftops to be turned into areas where healthy and pesticide- free foods can be produced from. He points that in many urban areas in developed countries, vacant or abandoned spaces make a significant contribution to urban plight. Empty spaces or abandoned spaces in urban areas do not make any positive contribution to the communities but instead, act as hotspots from criminal activities. Apart from that, they often end up being used as dump sites, most of which contributed to poor water and air quality within the neighbourhoods (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013, p. 120-127).

For communities that do not have access to adequate and nutritious food, urban farming has the potential to help reduce both the racial and class differences that contribute to the inadequate access. Producing local foods in urban areas means that both the poor and rich persons can afford healthy food products, thereby leading to greater equity between the rich and the poor neighbourhoods (Milburn and Brown 2003, p. 47-66). For poor communities, increased access to quality and cheap food through urban would help alleviate their psychological stresses. The mental health of the members of a community can also be improved through the process of selling and buying quality food products. For communities characterized by poor infrastructure, urban farming may help improve the liveability as well as the quality of built structures within these communities. However, it is always important to take into consideration the nature of soils since contaminated soils may pose a health risk (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013, p. 120-127).


In conclusion, urban farming promises to offer the most appropriate solution to the climate change challenges urban areas face. These challenges include inadequate biological diversity, excessive heat and poor air and water quality. Urban agriculture allows for more green spaces to be added to neighbourhoods, thus contributing to increased ecological diversity as well as better air and water quality. The proposed project to turn a vacant urban space into a farm would not only make it possible for the city to tackle its environmental problems, but it will also help address the problem of homelessness, thereby helping bridge the gap between the poor and the rich.

References List

Asla, (2016). Combating Climate Change with Landscape Architecture | [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2016].

Bailkey, M., and J. Nasr (2000) From Brownfields to Greenfields: Producing Food in North American Cities, Community Food Security News, Fall 1999/Winter 2000:6

Hanson, D. and Marty, E. (2011). Breaking Through Concrete. 5th ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Heather, K. (2012). The Environmental Benefits of Urban Agriculture on Unused, Impermeable and Semi-Permeable Spaces in Major Cities With a Focus on Philadelphia, PA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2016].

Hendrickson, M.K. and Porth, M., 2012. Urban Agriculture—Best Practices and Possibilities. University of Missouri, pp.1-52.

Lenzholzer, S., Duchhart, I. and Koh, J. (2013). ‘Research through designing’ in landscape architecture. Landscape and Urban Planning, 113, pp.120-127.

Milburn, L., and Brown, R. (2003). The relationship between research and design in landscape architecture. Landscape and Urban Planning, 64(1-2), pp.47-66.

Moser, S., and Boykoff, M. (2013). Successful adaptation to climate change. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.

Papesch, P., Haberl, J., Koester, R., Proctor, D. and Berkebile, B. (2011). Buildings, Climate Change, Education and Action: The role of the building sector systems in climate change mitigation « Journal of Sustainability Education. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2016].

Starke, B., and Simonds, J. (2013). Landscape architecture. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional.

Tradingeconomics, (2016). URBAN POPULATION (% OF TOTAL) IN AUSTRALIA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2016].

Viljoen, A., Bohn, K. and Howe, J. (2012). Continuous productive urban landscapes. 4th ed. Oxford: Architectural Press.

Waterford, D. (2015). 21st-century homestead. 2nd ed. New York: