“The Spirit of Detroit” at sunset


Anne Hayner, MLA I 2021

Summer 2019

Organization: Detroit Planning & Development Dept, Detroit, MI

Sponsor: Doebele Community Service Fellowship


“What is landscape research?

The second topic which I continued reflecting on this summer is the relationship between landscape and research. Is there such a thing as landscape research at all?  Certainly, landscape architects don’t have to be informed by spatial information alone. They utilize all kinds of information and research – both historical and scientific, quantitative and qualitative. Using this information, landscape designers tend to look for patterns and generalizations, and then they derive strategies from these generalizations.

The ability to gather, distill, dispense, and act on a multiplicity of sources is both a strength and weakness of the field.  A landscape intervention grounded in research makes actionable information that would otherwise only exist in words & text. However, this inevitably comes at the expense of the specific and minute, and it will always contain gaps in information.

Complicating this further is the fact that spatial relationships are particularly difficult to prove. It is a tricky task to prove a correlation between spatial arrangement and social outcome. Most things are spatially influenced, and space itself is formed by other invisible influences such as market forces and mass mentality, but nothing is exclusively the result of placement in space. The role of landscape architecture isn’t to piece apart the specific causes and consequences, but because such information will always be relevant to the field, it is important that we are as rigorous as possible in understanding the possibilities and limitations of this kind of information.

I have reflected on all of this primarily in the context of how to advocate for landscape interventions when they might not be valued as an immediate solution to specific or systemic issues. In order to elevate the role of landscape architecture outside of the immediate field, I believe that we have to give rigorous attention to the quality of the research that informs our practice. I also believe that we must develop rigorous systems for evaluating the efficacy of landscape interventions that have already been made.

My time in Detroit was an incredibly enriching experience that provided a lot of context for what it means to be a landscape architect outside of landscape architecture school. I’ve come away with the crucial understanding that I have to be able to advocate for landscape interventions and landscape-thinking, in order to convince others that it is worth the financial and political investment. I hope that this semester, in which I’ll participate in a research-based studio on the Boston Harbor Islands, I will be able to rigorously examine the research that informs practice, and to consider how to quantify the effect of the interventions we make.”


Vacant land adjoining an abandoned house in the Davison neighborhood