There is a general consensus amongst landscape architecture academia that the discipline has to urgently advance its methodological repertoire to generate new knowledge and thus strengthen the academic position of landscape architecture. To enhance the methodological repertoire, the core activity of landscape architecture – designing – needs more emphasis in research. Therefore, we shed light on methods that actively employ designing within the research process or ‘research through designing’ (RTD) in this essay. We position ‘research through designing’ in general discussions on research and design relations and indicate its great importance for landscape architecture research. Building upon Creswell's well established overview of knowledge claims ((post)positivist, constructivist, advocacy/participatory and pragmatic) and related research methods, we categorize different types of RTD for landscape architecture in these knowledge claims. For each claim, we articulate types of new knowledge that is searched for, related research questions, appropriate RTD methods and evaluation strategies. In grounding RTD in Creswell's framework, we argue that many types of designing can be a respected research method when they comply with the respective rules. With this overview, we would like to facilitate further methodological discussion in landscape architecture and enhance interdisciplinary communication and cooperation with other academic disciplines.
Lenzholzer, S., Duchhart, I., & Koh, J. (2013).Research through designing’ in
landscape architecture. Landscape and Urban Planning, 113(0), 120-127.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2013.02.003
Sanda LENZHOLZERa), Ingrid DUCHHART b), Jusuck KOH c)
a) Chair group Landscape Architecture, Wageningen University, e-mail: sanda.lenzholzer@wur.nl
b) Chair group Landscape Architecture, Wageningen University, e-mail: ingrid.duchhart@wur.nl
c) Chair group Landscape Architecture, Wageningen University, e-mail: jusuck.koh@wur.nl
Full contact information corresponding author:
Sanda Lenzholzer, Dr. Dipl. Ing. MA (AA)
Chair group Landscape Architecture
Wageningen University, Wageningen UR
p.o. box 47
6700 AA Wageningen
The Netherlands
telephone: 0031-317-485848
e-mail: sanda.lenzholzer@wur.nl
key words: landscape architecture; research; design; knowledge claim; research theory; design theory
Landscape architecture has to articulate ‘research through designing(RTD) methods
RDT should meet academic research requirements depending on the knowledge claim
Knowledge claim framework: (post)positivist, constructivist, participatory, pragmatic
RTD methods and research evaluation are described according to knowledge claims
Differentiating RTD according to knowledge claims sharpens methodological discourse
There is a general consensus amongst landscape architecture academia, that the discipline has to
urgently advance its methodological repertoire to generate new knowledge and thus strengthen
the academic position of landscape architecture. To enhance the methodological repertoire, the
core activity of landscape architecture- designing- needs more emphasis in research. Therefore,
we shed light on methods that actively employ designing within the research process or ‘research
through designing’ (RTD) in this essay. We position ‘research through designing’ in general
discussions on research and design relations and indicate its great importance for landscape
architecture research. Building upon Creswell’s well established overview of knowledge claims
((post)positivist, constructivist, advocacy/participatory and pragmatic) and related research
methods, we categorize different types of RTD for landscape architecture in these knowledge
claims. For each claim, we articulate types of new knowledge that is searched for, related
research questions, appropriate RTD methods and evaluation strategies. In grounding RTD in
Creswell’s framework, we argue that many types of designing can be a respected research
method when they comply with the respective rules. With this overview, we would like to
facilitate further methodological discussion in landscape architecture and enhance
interdisciplinary communication and cooperation with other academic disciplines.
1. Introduction
The aim of this essay is to discuss research methods for landscape architecture that actively
employ designing and comply with generally accepted rules for academic research. We expect
this to sharpen and open the debate on landscape architecture specific research methods.
The call that landscape architecture, as a maturing academic discipline urgently needs to develop
its methodological repertoire to generate new knowledge, has become quite persistent over the
last decades (Benson, 1998; Brown & Corry, 2011; Deming & Swaffield, 2011; Milburn, Brown,
& Paine, 2001; Milburn, Brown, Mulley, & Hilts, 2003; van den Brink & Bruns, 2012). Deming
and Swaffield condense this by posing that production and consumption of knowledge is the
‘new normal’ in landscape architecture academia. They state that as the discipline expands and
engages with other disciplines, there is a need to broaden and deepen academic thinking.
(Deming & Swaffield, 2011)
So, landscape architecture needs to develop research methods that are discipline specific and
academically accepted. Since we see designing as the core activity of landscape architecture’s
community of practice, discipline specific research methods will include combinations of
research and design(ing) (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011, p. 47). To investigate such methods, we
have done an international literature content analysis, not only in landscape architecture, but also
in other disciplines that link research and designing.
When we use the term ‘research’, we mean curiosity or question driven, rigorous academic
research as defined in different disciplines (Creswell, 2009) and not the loose meaning of
‘research’ that had already been criticized (e.g. Milburn & Brown, 2003). By ‘designing’, we
mean the process of giving form to objects or space on diverse levels of scale and when we speak
about ‘design’, we mean the results of a design process. The process of ‘designing’ can include
creation of ‘designs’ i.e. new objects on a 1:1 scale. In landscape architecture however, the
designs are usually projected first, either in plans, scale models, computer simulations, or various
other media. These are also a result of a design process and thus a ‘design’. These designs may be
made with the objective to be executed, such as detail designs or with the aim to contribute to
changing an environment in a more abstract, visionary way (Filor, 1994).
There is a variety of relations between design and research that have been addressed in the
literature within which we can identify three groups of research and design interactions. In the
first group, ‘research for design’ research informs design to improve the quality of the designed
artifact and to increase its reliability. This kind of (scientific) research can also be conducted by
other disciplines than landscape architecture, e.g. by ecologists, hydrologists, planners. Such
knowledge is then translated by the designer to substantiate the design (examples see Groat &
Wang, 2002, pp. 203-248; Deming & Swaffield, 2011, pp. 90-100). In the second group that can
be circumscribed by ‘research-on-design(ing)’, research is carried out on finished design products
(substantial) or on the design process (procedural). Landscape architects or other researchers (e.g.
sociologists, historians or geographers) carry out this kind of research. Examples are post
occupancy evaluations (e.g. Deming & Swaffield, 2011, pp. 72-77, 180-184), case study research
(e.g. Groat & Wang, 2002, pp. 341-374; Francis, 2001) and plan analyses (e.g. Brinkhuijsen,
2008). In the third and last group that received various names such as research-by-design/
research as design/ research through design, the designing activity is employed as a research
method (Deming & Swaffield, 2011; Duchhart, 2011; Jong & Voordt, 2002b; Lenzholzer, 2010;
Nijhuis & Bobbink, 2012; Zeisel, 2006). We want to focus on this kinds of methods that
inevitably require the inclusion of the essential activity in landscape architecture: designing.
This latter type of research was contested for several decades as a valid research method (Groat
& Wang, 2002; Lang, 1987; Milburn & Brown, 2003). Recently, however, the ‘practice turn’
(Schatzki & Knorr Cetina, 2001) has evoked a shift of thinking in many academic disciplines that
lead to a growing acceptance of practice as a research method (Borgdorff, 2012; Gray & Malins,
2004; Sullivan, 2010). Landscape architecture academia too stressed the necessity to use
designing in research processes to generate new knowledge that is urgently needed for the
development such as substantial or procedural design guidelines (Lenzholzer, 2010; Nijhuis &
Bobbink, 2012; Steenbergen et al., 2002). Moreover, other non-design disciplines started to value
the contribution of designing in knowledge production (Musacchio, 2009; Nassauer & Opdam,
2008). Based on the work of De Jong and Van der Voordt (Jong & Voordt, 2002a) in architecture
and urban design (Breen, 2002; Klaasen, 2007), ‘study/ research by design’ methods have been
employed for some time. Their definition of ‘study/research by design’ relates clearly to
buildings and building typologies and is embedded in a positivist thinking tradition. Their
landscape architect colleagues at Technical University of Delft have also used this technique
(Nijhuis & Bobbink, 2012; Steenbergen, Mihl, & Reh, 2002; Steenbergen, Meeks, & Nijuis,
2008). We consider this ‘research by design’ definition too narrow for landscape architecture
because landscape needs to be addressed as a dynamic, highly complex larger scale natural and
socio-cultural system.
Deming and Swaffield partly build their exploration of the potentials for ‘research by design’ as a
research strategy for landscape architecture also on Steenbergen’s work. They call this type of
inquiry ‘projective design’ and treat it as a purely subjectivist strategy. In their opinion, the
principles to legitimate projective design as a research method, are only beginning to emerge, and
are of limited relevance to generate new academic knowledge (Deming & Swaffield, 2011, pp.
205-222). Putting Deming and Swaffield’s ideas on ‘projective design’ into the perspective of
general literature on designing processes within research (Eder, 1995; Simon, 1996; Sullivan,
2010), we think that they do not sufficiently acknowledge the value and potentials of designing as
a constitutive part of academic research processes.
Given the lacunas in definitions and the lack of acknowledgement of landscape architecture
designing activities as a research method, we want to suggest more precise definitions, sketch
more potentials, and show how landscape architecture designing can produce relevant new
knowledge. We will use Creswell’s framework because it is widely accepted in all academic
disciplines. This framework will help to order and discuss research employing designing and
support its value for knowledge production.
Before we deepen the discussion, we want to first sharpen our definition of the term that
describes methods that employ designing activity in the research process. Actually, all other
terms such as research-by-design, research as design, research through design, used the word
‘design’ without clarifying its role as a verb or a noun. Since the use of a verb is more precise to
denominate an activity, we will use the gerund form ‘designing’ in our definition. Therefore, we
suggest to use the term ‘research through designing’ (RTD) to describe research methods that
employ ‘designing’.
In the following, we will first give an overview of Creswell’s framework of knowledge
production within different knowledge claims. Based on this framework, we discuss how new
knowledge can be created for landscape architecture by employing specific RTD methods within
these knowledge claims.
2. Epistemological framework of research
Creswell (2009) describes ’research’ as a systematic activity to generate new valid and reliable
knowledge or insights. He gives a broad inclusive account of different world views influencing
research, the related knowledge claims, their main aims and related typical methods. Linking
these core knowledge claims to different disciplines in which they are traditionally used, he
outlines four knowledge claims in research theory: (post)positivist, constructivist, advocacy/
participatory and pragmatic knowledge claims. Each claim has a different aim, related methods
and value systems. However, boundaries between the four claims are not always that sharp and in
pragmatist mixed methods procedures the underlying assumptions may be mixed (Creswell,
2011; Schwartz-Shea & Yanow, 2012).
The positivist knowledge claims are rooted in the long tradition of the natural sciences. Scientific
inquiry is considered to reveal ‘objective’ quantifiable knowledge. It often serves the verification
of theory. The classical methods mostly consist of making propositions or hypotheses, which are
tested rigorously and are then verified or falsified leading to formally considered ‘absolute
truths’. The important criticism of Popper, Kuhn and others lead to a more relativizing
postmodern view within this knowledge claim, rejecting the idea of ‘absolute truths’ and ‘pure
objectivity’. This also lead to the naming as (post) positivist knowledge claim. The criteria to
evaluate research are generally validity, reliability and generalizability.
Social constructivism has a clear human-focused culturally grounded perspective in which
attitudes, beliefs, interaction and experiences are the subject of research. This knowledge claim is
common within the arts, humanities and social sciences. The aim in social constructivist research
often is the generation of theory or meaning. The researcher’s intent is not to find generalizable
and quantitative knowledge, but rather to ‘make sense’ of situations in a qualitative and
contextual way. The methods used generally are open-ended, inductive and interpretive. The
research directly or indirectly involves the researcher because their interpretations are at the core
of research evaluation. Here, the main criteria are authenticity, originality, credibility,
transferability and dependability.
The advocacy/ participatory knowledge claim has its roots in the emancipatory movements, has a
political tenor and often occurs in social and political sciences. This knowledge claim is winning
influence among the humanities (Dongre, Deshmukh, & Garg, 2011) and social sciences (Ayale
& Elder, 2011; Chambers, 1994; Lang, Wiek, Bergmann, Stauffacher, Martens, Moll, Swilling, &
Thomas, 2012) and recently within the natural sciences (Farley, Batker, Torre, & Hudspeth,
2010). It has an action and change oriented character and involves the researcher, in contrast to
the knowledge claims described above where the researcher has a distanced, observing role.
Often, the researcher helps to ‘voice’ the (often marginalized or disenfranchised) participants of
the research. The aim of this kind of research is- next to generating new insights- to bring about
changes in actual situations and raise awareness of the participants.
The ‘pragmatic’ knowledge claim integrates the three knowledge claims described above. It
arises out of the need for ‘actions, situations and consequences’ This stance implies that the
researcher is not committed to any one system of philosophy or reality. Pragmatists agree that
research always occurs in social, historical, political and other contexts. So, the knowledge claims
among which the researchers maneuver and the related methods depend on the research questions
and context. Hence, researchers need to legitimate their choices and argue how the combination
generates relevant new knowledge. The mixture of methods also requires careful argumentation
about the sequence how different methods are used- be that in parallel or in sequential steps. The
criteria to evaluate research results depend on the knowledge claims and research methods
As mentioned earlier, we consider Creswell’s comprehensive description of research methods
also useful for landscape architecture because of its inclusiveness and its wide acceptance in all
academic disciplines. In the next sections, where we articulate and differentiate RTD in landscape
architecture, we will use Creswell’s framework to structure our discussion.
3. ‘Research through designing’ in landscape architecture
We propose four different types of RTD strategies following Creswell’s four knowledge claims
and describe these in the following. We organize the discussion of each on knowledge claim
related RTD as follows:
Describing the kind of knowledge that should be generated;
Giving indications of the types of issues to be addressed and questions to be answered
through the research;
Suggesting the research methods applied;
Explicating the way how evaluations are conducted and which criteria are used.
3.1 (Post)positivist ‘Research through designing’
In general, RTD within the (post) positivistic worldview relates to the physical realm and
addresses technical, functional, as well as environmental psychological or behavioral questions.
The knowledge to be produced is usually quantitative, objective and generalizable. Such
knowledge can take the form of generally applicable insights and design guidelines.
Typical questions for (post) positivist landscape architecture RTD would be: How tall, long or
deep do certain spatial configurations have to be? What are their (‘optimal’) geometries? How
does a design have to function to fit natural processes (e.g. climate, hydrology, ecology)? How
does a large scale design intervention work within a landscape system? What are appropriate
materials? Are there prototypes that can be generally applied? What type of spatial configuration
has what effect on people’s perception? What spatial configuration induces what use?
Some decennia ago, Herbert Simon pioneered the idea of ‘design as science’ in which he
discusses designing as a rational process that follows strict protocols and in which most decisions
are taken according to quantitative and logical analysis (1996, first ed. 1969). These were later
taken even further by Hubka and Eder (1987) into design decision systems involving computers.
What the methods all have in common is the generating of design propositions and/ or artifacts
and testing these. De Jong describes it with the ‘TOTE model’: Test→ Operate→ Test→ Exit.
(Jong & Voordt, 2002b, p. 455). The resemblance with experiments in empirical research is
obvious. Breen describes one of the typical processes as the “design activity … incorporated into
the development of technical applications or product innovation. Such an approach is similar to
the practice of research and development (R&D) common in industry.” (Breen, 2002, p. 139).
For landscape architecture this ‘empirical research’ through designing can include the translation
of specialist knowledge (e.g. hydrology, climatology, landscape ecology or environmental
psychology) into generally applicable design guidelines or other models. Klaasen gives numerous
examples of such guidelines or models for regional design (Klaasen, 2007). Such guidelines can
be seen as design hypotheses (using Zeisel’s term) (2006, pp.19-25), which are tested and
evaluated according to quantitative or measurable effects. Such design hypotheses can, for
instance, be spatial models for flood prevention based on hydrological knowledge, which are
tested in flood tanks. Or for urban climate adaptation, spatial prototypes can be proposed that are
then tested with numerical simulation software (Lenzholzer, 2012), with scale models on site or
in wind tunnels. Another example is spatial modeling for urban circulation systems. Different
alternatives can be proposed and then be tested with space syntax software. In addition, the very
important visual effects of landscape interventions can be tested, for instance with view shed
analyses in GIS. Much material research also follows this empirical science procedure, but then
in 1:1 experimental setups (see also Forsyth & Crewe, 2006). One example is the testing of
outdoor objects of different qualities on their durability. In such cases, the designed objects are
exposed to environmental influences, such as weather, air pollution and the like to assess their
effects. We could also translate RTD into processes where quasi-experimental setups are used.
For instance, human behavior could be studied in such settings. Different design solutions (being
design propositions) could be developed, subsequently be built as ‘mock-ups’ and then tested on
site on their effects, for example on people’s experience or behavior. That experience or behavior
could be surveyed with classical methods of empirical social sciences. More examples can be
found in Deming and Swaffield as ‘dynamic simulation strategies’ and ‘experimental
strategies’(2011, pp. 103-125) and in Groat and Wang in ‘experimental and quasi-experimental
research’ and ‘simulation and modeling research’ (2002, pp. 249 273). Interestingly, neither
Groat and Wang nor Deming and Swaffield classify these as research techniques that actively
employ designing, although they describe it as a constitutive part of the research technique.
Deming and Swaffield, for example, place them in a pre-design phase (2011, p. 205).
Within this knowledge claim, the evaluation criteria are quite strict: validity, reliability and
objectivity’. The ‘design hypotheses’, be they models or projections of possible future states,
real objects or ‘mockups’ are mostly evaluated according to numerical and quantifiable data.
Often, statistics play an important role in assessing the effects. The design hypotheses that are
tested best in numerically measurable scales may serve as generic design guidelines, ideal
patterns or prototypes. But also quantitative post occupancy evaluations can be part of a longer
and more complex RTD process. In many cases, though, the quantitative evaluations still need to
be combined with qualitative evaluations or triangulations, for instance, when the results of the
quantitative data do not allow for a ‘best choice’.
RTD within this (post) positivist knowledge claim produces valid and reliable knowledge, and
because it needs to be ‘generalizable’ it is mostly partial knowledge (design guidelines,
prototypes) that fits all purposes, ‘realities’ and socio-cultural contexts. Often, the new
knowledge needs, when applied, site specific adaptation; be this in practice or within a larger
scope RTD project (also see section 4.4).
3.2 Constructivist ‘research through designing’
Research strategies represented within this knowledge claim are important for landscape
architectural RTD, first of all because it is suited to address socio-cultural issues that form a
crucial aspect in landscape architecture. Second, constructivist research is mostly embedded in a
context. Also in landscape architecture, the unique situational and complex interactions of
humans with environment, need to be addressed. Third, research is predominantly about ‘problem
finding’ and generating new ‘insights or constructs’ rather than testing them - as is the case in
(post) positivistic research. This latter aspect of exploring and generating the ‘new’ and
‘unknown’ was one of the reasons why constructivist research methods were broadly adopted in
the field of the arts (Barrett, 2006; Leavy, 2008; Sullivan, 2010). The link to landscape
architecture as a creative discipline is evident here and we can partly build on the methodological
body of knowledge from the arts for landscape architecture within this knowledge claim.
The knowledge to be produced for landscape architecture within this knowledge claim is
qualitative and revolves around suggesting new constructs. These can be mental constructs such
as theory, interpretations, concepts, meanings or cultural critique. They can also be ideas for new
physical construct such as forms of landscapes and urban environments. The knowledge
generated is not generalizable as is the case with positivist knowledge - rather, it is embedded in
the context of physical and social environments. Since physical and social systems are in constant
change, the knowledge is also correspondingly embedded in a certain time frame. Such non-
generalizable knowledge cannot be transferred to other contexts straightaway, but still some parts
might be transferable or can be used for further comparative studies. Another important field of
inquiry is design practice itself, for instance the inquiry of tacit knowledge of experienced
designers (see Cross, 2007; Schön, 1987).
Central research questions revolve around the generation of something new, often within a
specific context. For the issue of mental constructs these questions can be for instance: What kind
of concepts about a landscape/ place can I generate? How do these relate to other people’s
experience? With respect to new artifacts this can mean: What kind of artifacts or environments
can be conceived of and how do these relate to the physical and social context? How can I
express or represent my interpretation through a landscape design? How can I communicate my
main conceptual idea through designed form or other means? This leads to the more general
issues of socio-cultural scope and questions such as: What are the expected reactions and
aesthetic evaluations of people for these design results? How can people appropriate the design?
Can the design bring about a shift in people’s sensing, thinking or behavior? And last but not
least- the process of making can be analyzed according to questions such as: when do I take
which design steps? When do I switch from rational to intuitive? When do I shift from thinking to
making (e.g. drawing. writing, crafting)? What inspires me and triggers my creativity? Can I see
patterns in (my) design behavior?
For the first set of questions concerning new mental constructs, techniques such as landscape
analysis and interpretation and reframing (e.g. historical aspects of landscape) can bring about
new concepts or metaphors. Data analysis and representation such as ‘datascapes’ or visualized
analyses (e.g. Tufte, 1990) can also engender new ways of seeing and concepts. Also personal
involvement- be it the physical immersion in place/ site or the social encounter with inhabitants
or users- can result in new ways of conceptualizing places, people and their interaction. In the
way of communicating such ideas, one can think of the classical visual representation methods in
landscape architecture, but also narration or ‘thick description’.
The second set of questions about generating new form can be studied with many of the classical
‘creative’ reflection-in action techniques (Schön, 1987) of the repertoire of the landscape
architect, such as drawing (physical or computer drawing), crafting, sculpting, building scale
models or 1:1 mock-ups. Here, ideation techniques such as ‘stepping out of the box’ and
‘doodling’ can play an role too (e.g. Koberg & Bagnall, 1974). Methods to study questions
regarding the socio-cultural context of design concepts or design proposals such as reactions and
shifts in thinking amongst people about concepts, appropriation, aesthetic evaluations of designs
can be studied by the designer with qualitative techniques from the social sciences such as
observations or interviews, but they can also involve people’s direct action (also see section 4.3
and 4.4) as an integral part of the design process. Techniques to describe design action and reveal
procedures or patterns can be reports, videos of design and communication processes (e.g. Dorst,
1997; McDonnell, Lloyd, & Reid, 2009), audio reflection (Gray & Malins, 2004) but also -
‘reflexive journals’ (Gray & Malins, 2004). Generally important for all these methods - just like
in all other constructivist research - is that the studies have to be conducted in a systematic way
and use an unbiased, very conscientious description of all steps taken. Ideally, different research
techniques are triangulated (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, pp.305-307).
The evaluation criteria reflect constructivist knowledge claim’s values that are generally about
authenticity, credibility and depending on context. This makes the knowledge not generalizable,
but still it can be transferable, especially when it is put in perspective with similar research
outcomes. Concerning the methods to develop new concepts, designs or artifacts, the most
important criterion is authenticity, specifically originality. This can be evaluated through
precedent research or through peer review. Here, design competitions can play an important role,
but also peer review in the academic community on these aspects can be enhanced. For the
research strategies that deal with the effects that the concepts or designs can have on others, the
criteria are if people’s perceptions are authentically and transparently represented, and possibly if
their value systems are changed. This can concern people’s positive aesthetic appreciation, but
also the contrary, for instance when the aim of the design or concept is to serve as a cultural
critique such as projects of Adriaan Geuze (1996) or Martha Schwartz (1993). New ways of
sensing and understanding designs and landscapes (e.g. through eco-revelatory design) can also
be inquired in a similar way – or as Leavy puts it: what counts in this sort of research evaluation
is “not rigor, but vigor” (2008, pp. 17-19). In general, the credibility of the research outcomes
must be guaranteed by conscientious and transparent documentation that can be open to
discussion at all times.
The strength of this type of research lies in the innovativeness of the research outcomes and the
flexibility to respond to different contexts. Unlike the outcomes of (post) positivistic RTD, that
are rather ‘half-products’, the products of constructivist research may be ‘full’ designs. However
they tend to lack technical functionality, because such aspects are not the focus in such RTD
3.3 Advocacy/participatory ‘research through designing’
RTD within advocacy and participatory research knowledge claims focuses on social
transformation and the actions needed to realize the envisioned changes. In the
advocacy/participatory research, the researcher facilitates an RTD process in which the
community itself is involved in creating meaning, for example, by problem identification and
data collection.
Chambers was a founding figure to introduce participatory methods using rural appraisal research
and inviting the community to draw up their environment and to design possible solutions for
their problems (Chambers, 1994). By the late 1980’s, researchers in landscape architecture
discipline too embraced advocacy and participatory research approaches (Deming & Swaffield,
2011; Hester, 2006; Linehan & Gross, 1998). Landscape architecture practice has already
extensively applied participatory design methods (Condon, 2008; Dijk, 2011). Deming and
Swaffield (2011, p. 193) state that these methods acknowledge experiential knowledge, including
that of learning and intuitive knowing. Based on this tradition, we situate action research and
participatory RTD within the advocacy/participatory knowledge claim. The newly generated
knowledge empowers the community, so that people act for a better environment on their own
account. Consequently, within this advocacy/ participatory knowledge claim new knowledge
occurs both in academia and in the community (Dijk, 2011; Friedman & Rogers, 2009).
In line with the above stated, the new knowledge within this advocacy/participatory knowledge
claim can have various forms. It is largely subjective and inductive and brought forth (and is
owned) by a local community (Leavy, 2008), or multiple perspectives present in a certain region
(Chambers, 1994; Dijk, 2011). Often, the newly accumulated and agreed upon knowledge is
related to a vision on the future and is visualised in strategic designs. These designs form the
framework for the change inducing actions. Similar to constructivist knowledge claims, the
researcher can also generate new academic knowledge by reflecting on his/her personal
transformation (Schön, 2007). The RTD procedures can bring about new generic theoretical or
methodological principles
Questions in this participatory knowledge claim concern people’s perceptions, needs, their future
visions, and possible action such as: What ideas shape a landscape or a neighborhood? What do
various citizen groups need now and in the future? What spatial organization facilitates good and
equal access to public space? What short-term actions are needed to induce and sustain
transformations towards an envisioned future? For who do problems occur and who suffers most?
Procedural questions can be: how can we organize a decision process that create commitment and
involves everybody?
The inquiry strategies deployed can have many forms. One important technique is ‘appreciative
inquiry’ that has a focus on positive attributes that may fuel change and challenges problem-
oriented research strategies (Chambers, 1994; Dick, 2004, 2009; Grant & Humphries, 2006).
Research participants are asked to value the best there is, envision what might be, dialogue about
what should be, and innovate on what will be (Grant & Humphries, 2006; Nyaupane & Poudel,
2011). Design charrettes in which the inquirer facilitates collaborative research and spatial design
processes, are typical. The RTD strategies demand the participants to draw, map out, and design
by themselves. Leavy states that although “the aesthetic quality of amateur designs may take a
back seat, designs produced by the community” (2008, p. 228) can be powerful in conveying
emotion and multiple meanings. Here, the landscape architect helps by asking questions, giving
tips, and inventing designing exercises, yet refraining as much as possible from making design
interpretations. The community itself debates the design choices to be made and the required
actions to be initiated. Bottom-up (local community) and top-down (regional decision-making
community) iterations are part of the process (Deming & Swaffield, 2011). The charrettes can
bring about new research questions, which calls for a next phase of research, learning, and
designing. Consequently, the participatory RTD process often cover long time spans.
Evaluation of research results in advocacy/participatory research has many levels that are tightly
connected to the research technique used. Though the inquiries are subjective, situational, context
related and to a certain extent time bound, they need to be valid, trustworthy, and authentic
(Leavy, 2008). For this purpose, Pain and Francis (2003) propose to include criteria in the
evaluation that assess durable transformational change, for example the degree of engagement of
participants within and beyond the research project. In line with that, the internal discussion of
values in a participatory RTD process already generates much new knowledge. When participants
with different types of technical or experiential knowledge are involved in a joint design process,
verification starts as soon as one of the participants draws up his/her first idea. Others will react,
ask questions, or reject ideas from their perspective. External validation also takes place during
participatory ‘RTD, as new research questions, findings, and opinions emerge, external
(co)inquiries with experts may be required. Moreover, regular site visits of all involved
participating community members and consultations with experts are an integral part of nearly all
steps of such a process. This enables real-life verification of design outcomes.
As RTD may have a tendency to evolve towards consensus, the acknowledgment of negative,
divergent, or discrepant information requires special attention. Also, the position and bias of the
researcher is an issue: emotional attachment may cloud the view of the landscape-architect
researcher as well as an inclination to influence the designing participants. So, derivation of valid
and reliable knowledge becomes critical. In such cases, extra validation techniques such as
interviews and triangulation of the RTD results with data derived from other sources of research
as well as peer debriefing and external auditing or reviews of the entire project Creswell (2009).
Even though we acknowledge some weaknesses of this participatory knowledge claim, we see
participatory RTD as a crucial research strategy to face tendencies that require action, e.g. climate
change or the move from governing to governance with the increased responsibility of
communities for their own future and immediate living environment.
4.4 Pragmatic ‘research through designing’
Pragmatism draws on many ideas, employs ‘what works’, uses different knowledge claims, and
values both objective and subjective knowledge (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). In this type of
RTD, there is a concern with applications and solutions to problems within a specific context. So
the new knowledge often revolves around the ‘how’ and about integration of knowledge because
parts of the issues may lie within the workings of nature (postpositivistic knowledge) while
others relate to socio-cultural issues (constructivist and participatory knowledge) in a given
context. As we had discussed above, single strategies (e.g. within the (post)positivist knowledge
claim) tend to generate ‘partial’ knowledge that may need adjustment to a context. So, a careful
integration of methods described above can be required. These interactions can generate unique
contextual new knowledge.
Research questions posed within pragmatic RTD concern natural and cultural aspects as well as
design procedures, often within a certain geographical context. These could be for instance: How
can old cultural landscapes be redesigned to face river or sea level rise? What design strategies do
energy transitions on the landscape require? How do climate responsive designing examples
change people’s mind sets? What artistic interventions can also inspire technical changes in the
landscape? How can we use the new élan of participatory action amongst citizens to adjust cities
to shrinkage in rust belt cities?
Working within a pragmatic knowledge claim does not mean randomly mixing research methods.
The research questions and/or problems guide the choice and order of suitable knowledge claims
and their related research methods and designing researchers have to carefully explain these
choices. An RTD process within a pragmatic knowledge claim typically includes a series of
different studies that are carried out in parallel or in sequence. To illustrate possible RTD
combinations, we give indicative examples relating to the questions mentioned above. For
instance, to study a question concerning redesign of old cultural landscapes to face river level
rises, one would first have to use positivist/ technical methods to address the hydrological issues
with design prototype solutions and then study the consequences of applying such prototypes on
the landscape through methods that deal with designer’s and people’s interpretations
(constructivist and participatory). To answer questions about design strategies for energy
transitions in the landscape, positivist technical scenarios and socio-political (constructivist)
scenarios can be studied in parallel and then be combined. Studying how climate responsive
designing can change people’s mind sets, one could first generate designs that combine technical
and creative methods and then bring them into an interactive process with the community.
Questions concerning how artistic interventions can also inspire technical changes in the
landscape can involve parallel design processes where the results are tested against each other
and may be fused or explicitly used to show controversies. Questions concerning the
incorporation of participatory action amongst citizens to adjust cities to shrinkage in rustbelt
cities could first use interpretive methods from constructivism to study the scope of shrinkage
and then action-oriented methods to make best use of participants élan. In all cases, not only the
combination, but also the sequencing in the research process is important in the setup of the RTD
Each separate method needs to adhere to the evaluation criteria and strategies that go along with
the selected knowledge claim. The combination of different evaluation criteria can, in case they
enhance each other, strengthen the ‘truth value’ and relevance of the research outcomes. In case
different methods and value systems lead to different outcomes, these contested views (see
(Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011, p. 45) need to be acknowledged in the documentation for the
sake of transparency and proper decision making.
The strength of pragmatist RTD is that the qualities of various knowledge claims and methods
can enhance and complement each other. Constructivist research may help to find creative new
solutions, while positivistic research may help to test the effect and function of such solutions,
while participatory research enhances the empowerment of community and implementation. In
this respect the outcomes of a pragmatist RTD process differ from the other RTD methods which
often produce ‘partial’ knowledge. Here, the final product might be a ‘fully’ integrated design –
an example of accumulated knowledge.
4. Conclusions
Recognizing different notions on academic research that actively involve design and designing,
we identified lacunas in the respective knowledge regarding definitions, value and potentials of
designing activities within research processes in landscape architecture. In response, we
suggested more precise definitions of RTD, which we based on Creswell’s widely accepted
framework on research epistemology and methods. We discussed the types of new knowledge to
be generated, the kinds of questions to be answered, the typical RTD methods and appropriate
criteria and techniques of research result evaluation. Embedding these in a generally accepted
research framework, we think to be able to respond to the claim of Deming and Swaffield that
design as research “…when crafted and practiced appropriately is no further from mainstream
science than are other emergent research strategies.” (2011, p. 246). We now summarize the
major characteristics for RTD in landscape architecture together in an overview (Table 1).
The use of the described RTD strategies has several implications for researchers in landscape
architecture: they need to be aware of the different knowledge claims, the type of new knowledge
that can be generated through designing, the typical methods and research evaluation systems to
help assessing their chosen RTD methodology. We expect that making RTD methods more
explicit with our overview, we can support this awareness and the making of choices. By giving
more precise definitions of RTD, our overview contributes to sharpening the research
methodology discourse in landscape architecture. Apart from that, it can form a source of
inspiration to broaden the research method repertoire of landscape architecture.
We believe that grounding RTD in Creswell’s well-accepted framework can help to further
establish designing activities as a respectable research method among a wide academic
community. In relation to other disciplines, we see landscape architectural ‘designing’ employed
in RTD processes as the unique skill of landscape architects to contribute to generation of new
knowledge- a proficiency that cannot be easily replaced by other disciplines’ research skills.
We see encouraging opportunities of RTD in improving interdisciplinary communication with
other academic disciplines. This is mainly due to the same ‘language’ we propose to use in
dialogue with other disciplines which will enable open and transparent academic discussion.
Including designing in the research process can also help to bridge the ‘utility gap’ between
academic knowledge and applicability (Eliasson, 2000; Kantrowitz, 1985; Nassauer and Opdam,
2008). For instance in an interdisciplinary RTD process, the scientific knowledge can be
translated into design principles, while the new design artifacts or knowledge developed by
landscape architects can be tested and/or validated by specialists from other disciplines. This
leads to more reliable design knowledge, while in the process of validation other researchers
become aware of how to improve the usability of the knowledge they produce.
We hope that we achieved to demonstrate the added value of RTD for landscape architecture and
for other disciplines. In order to provide the discussed RTD methods with more grounding,
testing and elaboration, we would like to investigate and reflect further on existing research
projects within landscape architecture. We invite you to enter this academic discussion with us
and jointly advance the research capacities of the landscape architecture discipline.
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List of tables
Kind of
new design
- predictive
- ‘objective’
- deductive/
- quantitative
- verified theory/ design
- patterns, prototypes
- suggestive
- ‘individual’, meaning
- contextual
- qualitative
- new artifacts/ projects
- making tacit
knowledge explicit/
- transformative
- collaborative
- contextual
- agendas for action
- qualitative (and
sometimes quantitative)
- procedural/ theoretical
combination of design
knowledge of
constructivist and
advocacy/ participatory
knowledge claims,
depends on specific
needs per research
Issues that
- physical/ functional
- psychological - social
- interpretations and
- new forms and artifacts
- aesthetics
- adaptation
- social
- emancipatory
- appreciative
- political
- real-world
- economical
- combinations of issues
e.g.: physical and social,
psychological and
aesthetics, search for
meanings and political
Methods - design hypothesis
- design experiments
tested with surveys,
simulations or
- strict protocol
- ‘creative’ reflection- in
- personal involvement
- question driven design
- thick description
- intense designer
- systematic ‘reflexive
- triangulation
- qualitative/ quantitative
- recursive design and
participant feedback
- emergent
- normative
- sequential/ concurrent
- depends on research
questions - mixed
e.g. design hypothesis
testing with surveys and
participatory methods;
creative form generation,
testing with simulations
criteria and
- ‘objective’
- validity
- reliability
- generalizability
- quantitative/ numerical
- statistical analysis
- empirical science test
- originality
- dependability
- transparency
- credibility
- effect on perception
and feelings of users
- shift in values
- mainly qualitative
- precedent comparison
- design competitions
- shift in values
- ownership of
- participant
commitment to change
- mainly qualitative
- on-going researcher
- monitoring of
- directly depends on
research question and
research methods chosen
Table 1 Overview of RTD in the different knowledge claims and related parameters in landscape
... It seems, then, that community consultation (or participatory planning, or what we term here "familiarity" with community) should be incorporated as an important element of Smart City planning (or the bottomup approach, as noted above), with Allahar [24] concluding that "The success of building smart cities has been traced by some scholars to depth of community engagement and level of citizen participation". Certainly, there is a history of participatory planning in water and community-based natural-resources management, landscape architecture, and urban planning [40][41][42][43][44][45], although Swapan [46] identified a number of barriers to community participation in the planning process, particularly for cities of the Global South. Simonofski et al. [47] also observed that while the technological aspects of the Smart City have been thoroughly explored, the civil-community role has often been neglected in the literature. ...
... The scale of the case studies ranges from the larger superblock to the site scale in physical space, but also considers aspects of cyberspace and programmatic space. Lenzholzer et al. [42] reflected on the need for landscape architecture to formalize its research methods so that they are discipline specific and academically rigorous and, in particular, explored the "research through designing" concept. Research through designing considers four traditional epistemologies that may be adapted within landscape architecture as a means to generate new knowledge about landscape transformation: (post)positivist, constructivist, advocacy/participatory and pragmatic. ...
... As noted in Section 1.3, the pragmatic research through designing approach was employed in this study, integrating aspects of (post)positivist, constructivist, and advocacy/participatory epistemologies. Lenzholzer et al. [42] noted that the pragmatic approach will typically consider "natural and cultural aspects as well as design procedures, often within a certain geographical context", and may include… "a series of different studies that are carried out in parallel or in sequence". This parallel or sequence of efforts must be meaningfully integrated into the overall study, as illustrated in Figure 1. ...
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... Yet, simultaneously, the proliferation of computer-based simulation tools that can predict design outcomes paved the road to a closer relationship between research and design. The opinions started to change about 10 years ago, when the discourse began to broadly embrace the synonym notions of 'research by design' or 'research through design(ing)' (Lenzholzer 2012;Nijhuis and Bobbink 2012;Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013;Brink et al. 2017;Nijhuis and de Vries 2019). For simplicity, this article adheres to the term 'research through design' (RTD). ...
... Despite the evolution of RTD studies, a recent literature review of the academic literature arguably employing RTD by Lenzholzer, Nijhuis and Cortesão (2018) indicates that in academia a wide range of interpretations about the meaning of RTD occurred. The results of that study showed that only a small number of academic publications dealt with RTD in a scholarly sense, that is, meeting the requirements of academic research such as originality, validity (internal and external), transparency and reliability (e.g., Cook and Campbell 1979;Jong and van der Voordt 2002;Creswell 2011;Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013;Prochner and Godin 2022). Furthermore, the study revealed a general misappropriation of the terms 'research' and 'research by/through design', which seem to be used simply to describe a design process instead of a structured and in-depth reflection on the design products created. ...
... To develop evidence-based design solutions, a scholarly conception of RTD that involves 'research' in the academic sense, as framed by Glanville (2015), has been suggested by several studies Cortesão et al. 2019;Jonas 2007;Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh 2013) on urban and landscape design. Within this conception, RTD follows clear research questions and its design process involves various iterations to develop design solutions which are tested with scientific research methods. ...
This study takes stock on how research through design (RTD) is interpreted in urban and landscape design practice in relation to the scholarly meaning of RTD. The results indicate that the term ‘RTD’ in Dutch practice largely refers to the typical procedures and resources of a practical design process. This interpretation differs from definitions of scholarly RTD which have more focus on the rigid testing of design alternatives. Such a scholarly RTD approach is advisable to ensure the validity and robustness of design products. This study recommends that this approach to RTD is adopted in urban and landscape design practice.
... Weller, 2008) and research through design approaches (e.g. Lenzholzer, Duchhart, & Koh, 2013). ...
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... The visual aspect of the landscape is a key means of communication, thanks to which it is possible to create representations of various social, cultural, and political theories (Raaphorst et al. 2017). The landscape's cognitive aspects, local, social, scientific, pragmatic, and institutional, are legitimised and conveyed through visual communication (Cross 2006;Lawson and Dorst 2013;Lenzholzer et al. 2013;Raaphorst et al. 2017). For this reason, it is the subject of ongoing interest on the part of creators. ...
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... De Høje Målebordsblade og Preussiske Målebordsblade fra sidste halvdel af 1800-tallet, ortofoto med angivelse af matrikler, samt udvalgte Google Street Views, der viser landskabelige karakteristika og kantzoner mod havet. .1.4.2 Oversigt over de tyve casebyer og udvaelgelsesparametre. Kilde: DST BY3 Folketal 1. januar 2021, Wikipedia, Trap Danmark og Den Store Danske Limfjorden. ...
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Postcard to the Future - historical storm surges in contemporary coastal city landscapes - a collection of examples for future generations, is a booklet based on an exploratory work superimposing knowledge from the past with the settlement patterns of today, situated in the current terrains/landscape. The objective is to discuss sea-level rise and ´see´ current building/landscape practices in the context of the past - to inform our future. It is an intergenerational approach; what do we know today and what do we pass on to future generations, discussing a need for changing landscape practices in the context of climate change.
... This can be illustrated in the rise of the "research through designing" methodology in architecture and landscape architecture disciplines. Such a methodology requires the thorough and systematic testing of design solutions to provide effective and evidence-based design solutions (Lenzholzer et al., 2013). When applying this methodology to a salutogenic framework, it is apparent that testing hypothetical design solutions for their ability to support the health of real communities is at best complex and at worst impossible. ...
Purpose The purpose of the article is to present some preliminary findings and discussions points from a symposium on Public Outdoor Spaces and COVID-19 organised in Wageningen, The Netherlands, in June 2021. Design/methodology/approach The article argues for a salutogenic perspective on infrastructure planning and design, dealing with the interplay between the ideas and practices of infrastructure planning and design and the outcomes of those ideas and practices for health. Findings Within that perspective, the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is seen as an opportunity to revive the importance of infrastructure in promoting health and well-being. Originality/value The salutogenic approach adds a much-needed new perspective on infrastructure planning and design, and also involves challenges both in research and practice, for the application of holistic principles to the design of new environments.
... Noteworthy advances have undoubtedly been made to develop research outcomes useful for practitioners in tackling climate adaptation at the urban scale, yet a persistent gap between theory and practice seems to pervade the design of green spaces (Klemm et al., 2017a;Lenzholzer et al., 2020;Matthews et al., 2015). 'Designing' is conceptualized as "the process of giving form to objects or space on diverse levels of scale", while 'design' refers to "the results of a design process" (Lenzholzer et al., 2013). Given the proliferation of scientific research aiming to inform the design of urban green spaces, the question emerges of what the notion of 'design' implies for researchers generating evidence-based guidelines focussed on climate adaptation. ...
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Urban green spaces provide important contributions to enhance climate adaptation, and therefore research in this area has increased exponentially in the last decades. While several studies showed that the morphology and type of living and built elements of urban green spaces greatly affect their performance, a persistent gap between theory and practice continues to pervade the design of green spaces. This study conducts a semi-systematic review of research published in the last decade to investigate to what extent recent research has produced evidence-based outputs relevant to practitioners concerning the design of outdoor urban green spaces in the context of climate adaptation. An innovative design-oriented approach is subsequently applied to critically review evidence-based research outputs considering a comprehensive spectrum of climate impacts and adaptation measures. Our specific objectives are to: i) identify evidence-based research outputs of relevance to practitioners according to type of climatic impact; ii) assess the level of relevance and geographical transferability of such outputs to support the design of urban green spaces; and iii) identify key challenges that might hinder the implementation of evidence-based guidelines. Our results support a call to align research to confront the 'wicked' gap between scientific research and implementation in design practice.
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Addressing challenges and potentials during the times after the fall of Iron Curtain, this chapter explores the evolution of landscape architecture programmes in Albania. It also explores relationships between landscape architecture education and democracy. It points at needs for social and institutional developments that provide the framework necessary for landscape architecture education. Objectives are to chronicle educational history and analyze educational challenges and potentials that are specific to the Albanian context; explain some of the reasons why landscape architecture education started late in Albania and other former communist countries.
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Proceedings of the Public Play Space Symposium, aiming at exploring innovative and creative practices for the co-design of inclusive, cohesive and sustainable public spaces, through the use of games and digital technologies. The Symposium took place online in July 2021
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Ce cours est destiné aux étudiants inscrits en 2ème année architecture, système LMD.