Jenna Witzleben

Ecology School blog

Welcome to the Ecology School blog, where I document my ongoing self-education in ecology, landscape design, and urban design.

"Toward an Urban Ecology" Pt. II - Ecological Design Methods

As mentioned in a prior post, I recently finished Kate Orff’s book Toward an Urban Ecology. This is the second of a multi-part blog post documenting some of my key take-aways. In grad school, we studied many design / design research methods, including futuring workshops, observational research, and sketch prototyping. I enjoyed in this book learning about some additional methods that SCAPE uses, many of which are specific to the company’s ecological focus. These included:

01. Community knitting

As part of the oyster-tecture work, Kate and the SCAPE team engaged local community members in a knitting party, where they wove rope floors that would act as the foundation for the oyster reefs. This tactile co-design method takes working sessions a level beyond typical 2D worksheets and proformas. The community members are directly contributing to the creation of new design features in their neighborhood. This, I imagine, also helps with capacity building in communities, encouraging local individuals and groups to continue leading the way for ecological restoration.

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02. Engaging local elementary schoolers

Another part of the oyster-tecture work involved visiting with local elementary schools, teaching them about ecological restoration and sharing the design concepts. This seems like a great way to get feedback from a wider variety of age groups. And hopefully inspires kids to get involved in stewardship from a young age!

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03. Hiking for design research

As part of their work in Lexington, Kentucky, the SCAPE team went on hikes in the surrounding regions to observe the local botany and geology. Being a huge fan of observational and immersive research myself, I loved reading about this! It completely makes sense that hiking and nature observation would be a part of the research phase on an ecological design project, particularly if the design team is not familiar with the local geology, flora, and fauna. It can serve as a great source of technical information as well as creative inspiration for the designers.

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04. Using bird building design guidelines

SCAPE collaborated with NYC Audubon Society and Columbia University to create the Bird-Friendly Building Design guidelines. This document serves to provide recommendations in facade design, material selection, and lighting solutions to prevent bird collisions. They are meant to be used in combination with LEED and other design standards to the mitigate negative environmental impact from buildings. This is one of the more well-known examples, but I’ve found that there are actual many guidelines and reports we designers can use for considering wildlife crossings and migration in our work, depending on the context of the site and the project type.

Reading about these ecology-centric design methods has started to make me think about what a toolkit or framework for ecological design research and community engagement would look like. For example, we used AEIOU (activities, environment, interactions, objects, users) in grad school when observing public spaces. From an ecological lens, however, one might study migratory paths, rivers and watersheds, geologic formations. Can the AEIOU framework be adapted to observe human and non-human systems? Or is a new framework needed? What other methods should be included in ecological design projects? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!