First off, we are pleased to announce that Bluegreen won a Merit Award at this year’s ASLA Colorado Awards!
The winning project, the Top of the Rockies National Scenic and Historic Byway planning document, provides guidelines for future site development along the entire 117 mile alpine highway. By creating a Corridor Management Plan, an Interpretive Management Plan, Design Guidelines, and a master plan for the popular Independence Pass Summit Site, this expansive project delivers a set of tools for future designers. In the process, we inevitably asked ourselves the beguiling question:
How do you go about designing design tools?
Here are a few challenges that we encountered and our responses:
CHALLENGE ONE: Expression of Process and Product
The Top of the Rockies project is rich; it has broad scope, numerous players, and a deliverables set comprised of four distinct documents equaling some 300 pages. This inherent complexity, while making for a dynamic project, became problematic in expressing the processes and end goals to clients, partners and public stakeholders. We found that text alone did not succinctly explain the players, scope, geography, timeline and final products. We needed a tool that was both engaging and legible.
In response to this challenge, we developed the above process diagram which conveys the entire Byway project. Though it is brief and intuitive, it is deceivingly simple. Space, time and final product were compressed into the clear format, expanding the diagram into an outreach and advocacy tool while simultaneously liberating it from the lifeless realm of the flow chart.
CHALLENGE TWO: Archetypal Site Development
Among other documents, the Top of the Rockies project produced Design Guidelines which define the goals and methods for successful site improvements. While the Byway has over 40 distinct sites, ranging from ranch land to mining towns to pristine alpine forest, we had to describe all manifestations of the Byway and their design solutions through an archetype. To tackle this challenge, we chose to develop a section.
Sections are fundamental design tools for landscape architects, but for this particular section we had to illustrate more than topographical change and spatial relationships. We had to boil down Byway diversity and illustrate materiality, amenities and site processes for all conditions. This “universal” site becomes a useful abstraction for future designers. By overlaying the traditional section with diagrammatic use zones and material functions, the informational capacity is augmented and it evolves into robust design tool.
CHALLENGE THREE: Design Intent Translation
After receiving remarks expressing confusion over certain design features of the Byway, we realized we needed clearer channels of communication. It was not the ideas themselves that were confounding, but the manner in which we were expressing them.
In preparation for a public open house and with clarity in mind, we took a few steps back and reformulated our approach. Instead of displaying fully formed imagery or photographic precedents, we distilled design ideas down into simple, conceptual forms. These graphics provided a solid platform from which to discuss materiality, site context and other design nuances. We were very happy when public open house attendants exclaimed, “Now I understand what you mean!” From this shared point of reference, Bluegreen received more accurate opinions that went on to influence final design decisions. While these diagrams in themselves are not unique, their application as a translation device is.
In the end, the most fascinating part of developing these design tools lies not in the affect they produced in their users, but the understanding they cultivated in their creators. This phenomenon is best expressed by the following adage:
You do not know something until you teach it.