Research into practice

Whilst researching bat habitat design guidance for Citu’s Climate Innovation District, I came across an interesting observation made at a conference last year. The conference pointed out that in spite of fairly strong evidence that bat gantries don’t work (Altringham, 2012), 4 new gantries were installed as part of the A11 works in 2014.

This gap between research and practice in landscape architecture isn’t particularly unexpected, but it does feel that compared to architecture, civil engineering or ecology, landscape architecture practice is sometimes a little less connected to frontline research. But this isn’t quite fair or even for want of trying: the Landscape Institute, for example, is trying to share technical information but it seems an uphill struggle.

There seem to be two obvious problems with bringing new landscape research into practice. The first is access to research. As Marcus Hanwell and many others have argued, we need a revolution in academic publication so that scientifically-minded practitioners outside of academia can access new research: how can professionals be expected to read peer-reviewed journals in a field as eclectic as landscape architecture? By the same token, we also need to remind researchers that with the best will in the world, there’s a deluge of information available to us and that fighting through the noise to reach the people you need to reach is a challenge whose answer probably isn’t posters and conferences.

So, as well as being protected and hidden, research is also difficult to implement because it’s very often written in a way that practitioners don’t understand. As Simon Odell pointed out with this article, if he can’t understand an article, how on earth is he going to share it with the profession that he represents?

But perhaps these two obvious problems hide a third. The general trend in the profession over the past twenty years has been the increasing use of standard details. The increasing prevalence of BIM  is an example of this but in essence BIM is merely the latest development of Coordianted Project Information, External Works and NBS specifications as formulated in the 1990s. Perhaps the more prosaic problem is that the landscape architecture profession is increasingly geared towards relying on product developments from manufacturers to drive innovation rather than carrying the risk to our PII and design bespoke answers to technical challenges?