As a follow-up to a previous post investigating Post Occupancy Evaluation methodology and its benefits to the design practice, I have been thinking about the kind of information garnered from the process and what data would prove most beneficial for landscape architects. Performance-based or quantitative data is relatively easy to measure and compile, but assessment of an aesthetic or qualitative design aspects can prove much trickier.

Adhering to a checklist of design best practices assures a baseline level of design competency. However, designers ultimately evaluate qualitative design aspects through the lens of their values. Note, the term “evaluation” contains the word “value”. It is personal and professional values that influence how we judge any design.

Everyone has a different perspective about what constitutes “good” design, with context and the passage of time further adding to the complexity to their definition of pleasing aesthetics. With a body of work spanning over three decades, AHBE has an opportunity to benefit by studying the evolution of our practice’s design work against the backdrop of major shifts in professional and societal values, including the greater inclusion of ecological principles in design and the general cultural trend toward celebrating cities and urban living.

U.S. Borax Headquarters, Santa Clarita, California, Completed March 1993. Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects.

What design lessons might the U.S. Borax Headquarters project have taught us had it not been replaced by the owner? Twenty-five years after its initial installation, the design could have served as an example of the enduring nature of “good design”.

Cedars-Sinai Healing Plaza Garden, Los Angeles, California, Completed Fall 2016. Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects.

Assuming “good design” is functional, what other criteria might be used to evaluate the quality of our current design? Does the design of the Cedars-Sinai Healing Plaza Garden express a clear, unambiguous, and cohesive identity? Is it evocative and engaging? How thoughtful is the design in addressing the needs of users? The answers to these questions can clarify the core design values for our firm and serve as a clear touchstone for our design process moving forward.

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