Reclamation and Restoration Professional Practice Network
Landscape Architecture and the Scientific Approach to Ecological Restoration and Reconstruction
by Joe Howard
The ecologically-oriented landscape architect (LA)  can be a critical link between the sound scientific  understanding of ecological processes and a biddable  and constructible ecological restoration project. Along  with restoration planting and irrigation design, the LA,  when working closely with the scientific community,  can offer much broader expertise than a team that  does not include a spatial planner/designer. An LA’s  experience in site-specific analysis and problem solving  through a design methodology is a natural complement  to ecologists’ insights into biological opportunities and  constraints. Working collaboratively, the LA and the  ecologist can develop biological design criteria to create  feasible restoration approaches and design solutions  that provide significant biological functions and values.    

As design concepts are developed, the landscape  architect can graphically communicate conceptual ideas  so they can be readily understood by scientists and other  members of the project team, as well as by regulatory  agencies, clients, funding entities, stakeholders, and  community groups. In addition, a landscape architect’s  training in public presentation and group facilitation  can be an asset when generating input from a broad  audience or in building consensus around an idea or  design.  

Continuing to collaborate with the biological experts, the landscape architect can create the construction documents required to build a project that responds to the ecological potential of a site. An example of this would be the Kobold Creek Reconstruction project in Contra Costa County, California. At this site biologists and LAs working for H. T. Harvey & Associates collaborated to transform an eroded, debris-filled ravine into a natural creek channel with boulder and log weirs, pools, and riparian habitat. The ecological goals of the project were primarily provided by the biologists, the design criteria (how to achieve the ecological goals) required collaboration between the biologists and LAs, and the construction drawings were developed by the LAs (with oversight by the biologists).

 Bank clean up along Kobold Creek  
                      photo courtesy H.T. Harvey & Associates 

 Bank clean up along Kobold Creek 

 Condition of plantings
                      photo courtesy H.T. Harvey & Associates

Condition of plantings and stream corridor one year after construction

A primary goal of this project is to provide habitat for the endangered California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii—a federally-listed species). Specific in-stream features to provide frog habitat were dictated by the biologists. Landscape architects then worked with a hydrologist to develop construction plans and specifications that would guide the landscape contractor in bidding and implementing those specific habitat features as well as riparian revegetation of the creek banks.  

For this and other ecological restoration projects, once the conceptual design is finalized, the landscape architect converts design concepts into construction plans and details, specifications, and estimates. These construction documents are prepared in a standard format used by project engineers and contractors. Whether creating large-scale grading plans, detailing smaller scale restoration features (e.g. breeding habitats, wildlife exclusion barriers, fish passage features, etc.), or tackling any number of highly specialized design problems, LAs provide an important connection in translating scientific concepts into projects that are easily understood and properly built by contractors.  

The proper translation of the conceptual design into the final construction documents is a critical component of any restoration project. The LA, working collaboratively with scientists, can successfully convey important biological design factors into a successfully installed and properly functioning restoration site—while also addressing aesthetic and other cultural values.  

Joe Howard ASLA, Senior Landscape Architect at the ecological consulting firm H. T. Harvey & Associates, is co-chair of the Reclamation & Restoration PPN. He can be reached at Lee R. Skabelund, ASLA, of Kansas State University, serves as oo-chair of the Reclamation & Restoration PPN.
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Lee Skabelund, ASLA, Chair
(785) 532-2431