More Than A Trend

Performance trumps aesthetics for a new type of landscape.

These works give definition and high credibility to a new way of conceptualizing architecture and landscape.

Where urban ecologists see the city as their central concern, landscape urbanists envision a new type of ecological fabric for making the expansive geographies of the American city cohesive. The debate between the two viewpoints transcends architectural- and landscape-design practice, and is something that draws broader cultural attention to the problem.

An Alternative Approach

“High performance” is my contribution to the discourse, and extends the high-performance building practices of architects like Adrian Smith, Gordon Gill, and William McDonough. Starting as far back as 1982, I co-authored Water Conservation in Landscape Architecture with Gary O. Robinette. This Van Nostrand Reinhold book advanced water harvesting and conservation techniques to contemporary landscape.

The work started a line of exploration that has coalesced in several built works.

After 12 years in existence, the 212-acre Sprint World Headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., has never had to buy one gallon of water for irrigation, which has saved the company an estimated $3 million.

By dedicating the entire site-perimeter to native grasses and reconstructing 17 acres of wetlands as a campus irrigation source, several million dollars in construction costs were saved and redirected to make seven garden quadrangles, resulting in a more habitable and beautiful campus.

Defining performance by quantitative measures is becoming more and more common. However, qualitative terms were used for the new R. Gerald Turner Centennial Quadrangle at Southern Methodist University.

Dedicated in September 2011, the time-honored building methods of load-bearing structure, mortarless jointure, and gravity-fastened slate roofs were modernized and applied to the Gail O. and R. Gerald Turner Centennial Pavilion and the Cooper Centennial Fountain, both located within the quadrangle.

High performance can also be part of the process of programming and urban planning.

For a 100-acre urban infill project in north Dallas, a performance-based urban plan was developed for Vitruvian Park that transforms in image and use as it is built incrementally. Where the first phases of an urban development historically struggle for lack of a formed and usable context, the first two multi-family blocks of Vitruvian Park were conceptualized as a pair of resort hotels leased to tenants. A 17-acre park was built concurrent with the first two blocks that would reinforce the first phase’s incremental image as a resort.

Despite the economy, both buildings are 100-percent leased.

Performance also influenced the design of the 17-acre public landscape at Vitruvian Park. One branch of the network of some 200 springs that traverse the DFW region crossed the project site. The drought-resistant park was produced by opening the formation through excavation. Spring-fed waters envelop a set of cypress-planted islands, making the park a durable oasis for public use.

It’s important that performance is understood as neither a replacement for history, nor a new type of process that will produce design innovation automatically. Rather, view performance as a catalyst with the potential to culturally resonate and breathe new life into the art of landscape design.

Kevin W. Sloan, ASLA, M. Arch, is the owner of Kevin Sloan Studio in Dallas, Texas. He can be reached via email at

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