Design with Data in Mind
Quality landscape design involves more than placing plants in pretty arrangements, so how do we define success in such a seemingly subjective field? In recent years, a trend toward data-driven design has developed in landscape architecture. Increasingly, landscape architects and designers are using data to inform the design process and to measure a project’s effectiveness toward reaching environmental, social, and other performance goals. Rather than settling for vague buzzwords like “green” and “sustainable,” designers are demonstrating exactly how their projects are meeting specific, defined objectives. Along these lines, the Sustainable SITES initiative entails a rigorous rating system for sustainable landscapes analogous to the popular LEED certification program in building and architecture.
At Refugia, we put our landscapes to work repairing soil, sequestering carbon, feeding pollinators, and absorbing stormwater. We incorporate data-collection into our process from the earliest stages of site analysis through post-installation maintenance. Most notably, we have developed a comprehensive soil health assessment and management program. By measuring pH, nutrient levels, compaction, and the presence of soil microbes, we are able to choose plants that are adapted to existing soil conditions, reducing the need for costly and disruptive grading or fertilizers. We continue periodic soil testing post-installation to learn exactly how our landscapes improve soil quality over time. Other metrics include measuring plant species diversity before and after installation and quantifying improvements made in ecosystem services offered by our landscapes, such as the amount of carbon sequestered by planted trees.