Sustainable Site Design Studio


STOCKSCH 497 DS (2 credits)

 Non-standard dates – 8 Weeks (September 6 – November 11, 2016)

Register Here

Prerequisite:  STOCKSCH 386 (formerly 397S) – Sustainable Site Design & Planning or equivalent course with Instructor Permission

Instructor:  Professor Thomas S. Benjamin, RLA, LEED-AP BD+C

Email:   Regular Online Office Hours by email appointment only.

 The most fundamental role of the Designer is to inspire and solve problems creatively and practically. Site design is both an art and science. Landscape designers are place-makers and space-shapers. Sustainable site design considers the impacts to future generations of the design solutions we choose to solve today’s problems. By thoughtfully synthesizing site information, namely the natural and human factors that affect a site, we can create forward-looking design solutions that well serve both our human constituents and the natural world well into the future.

 Course Description:

Thomas Benjamin

 This 8-week course to be taught in online studio format will take design skills gained in Stocksch 386 (formerly 397 S)  Sustainable Site Design & Planning to the next level. The previous course provided an exploration into the fundamentals of landscape design with particular attention to integrating both existing and new buildings sustainably into their landscapes and culminated in a final design project. In this course students will deepen their design skills by expanding upon their previous final design projects or focusing on new design projects. Students will prepare a draft and final set of landscape design plans for a project or site of their choosing. In the process, students will become aware of common manual and computer-aided graphic techniques including computer programs that can be applied to design work (e.g. AutoCAD, InDesign, Photoshop, etc.). However, students are not expected to have graphic background. Students will build upon previous understanding of sustainable design strategies that address the ecological, water, energy and food system links between buildings and their supporting sites, as exemplified by the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). Many real world examples will be discussed to help inform student design projects.

This will be an introductory design studio course focusing on practice of sustainable landscape design and planning. It is assumed that students have completed Stocksch 386 (formerly 397S) Sustainable Site Design & Planning or equivalent introductory design course with permission of Instructor. During the first half of the course students will prepare Draft Planset which will be reviewed and critiqued in interactive online format. In the second half of the course students will integrate comments received from the Draft phase into Final Planset for a final review and critique.

Course Objectives:

  • Gain understanding of sustainable landscape design process and practices including site analysis and design progression from vision through detailed design
  • Relate sustainable landscape/site design to energy, food and natural resource issues and the built environment
  • Promote understanding of, and hone verbal, written and graphic communication skills related to, professional- client and design-contractor relations
  • Gain experience preparing and perfecting a coherent sustainable landscape planset

Course Structure:

 The course will be divided into six learning modules. Most modules will be one week in length, but some will be two weeks long.  The first module will review the Design Process presented in Stocksch 386 to provide a structured approach for student design work to follow. The second module will cover basic topographical design focused on site grading and drainage concerns. This module will emphasize integrating “green infrastructure” for stormwater management. A grading and drainage Assignment will follow. Two modules will consist of student presentations, the student Draft Planset presentation (weeks 3-4) and the Final Design Project presentation (weeks 7-8), and discussion about each presentation. Plansets may typically include an Existing Conditions Plan, Site Plan or Landscape Plan, Layout and Materials Plan, Grading and Drainage Plan, Planting Plan and Construction Details. We will also discuss how to prepare technical specifications (written format) and cost estimates/opinions (spreadsheet format). Instructor will conduct online design progress reviews individually during weeks 2-3 as students prepare Draft Planset and weeks 6-7 as students prepare Final Planset. Progress reviews may be interactive (e.g. chat format) if students desire.

Grading Criteria:

  • Site Grading and Drainage Assignment = 10%
  • Class Participation/Review and Comment on Student Projects = 25%
  • Draft Planset Project = 25%
  • Final Student Planset Project = 40%

Class Session Content:

Recommended Textbooks:

Harris, Charles, and Dines, Nicolas, Timesaver Standards for Landscape Architecture, 2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1998. (Note: Students who have access to a university with a professional design program may be able to find this book in the university library).

Thompson, J. William, and Sorvig, Kim, Sustainable Landscape Construction, Island Press, 2008. may have for as little as $38.00.  (Note:  Students who have completed STOCKSCH 397S may still own this book).

Reed, Sue, Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for your Home and Garden, New Society Publishers, 2010.

Brown, Robert D., and Gillespie, Terry J., Microclimatic Landscape Design: Creating Thermal Comfort and Energy Efficiency, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995.

Course Expectations

Students can expect to put in a minimum of 8 hours per week to complete course assignments.

The course will be located and taught entirely within the course’s UMass Online Blackboard Learn website. The one exception to this includes the course’s recommended textbooks, which student’s must purchase or find in a library and read on their own.

When logging onto the course Blackboard site, always check “Announcements” and “Messages” first!! Additional assignments and other important information will be posted to Announcements or emailed via Messages!

Technical Support


Online Etiquette. Due to the online format’s inherent communication limitations, all interactions between students and instructor will be polite and professional following current “netiquette” standards. The vast majority of student- instructor and student-student interactions will happen via email and chat provided within on the course’s Blackboard website. Online tone should be like professional at all times (similar to LinkedIn and not like Facebook). Instructor  will be identified as “Prof. Benjamin” in all communications. If you have any questions related to course format or content please contact Instructor via email!

Instructor and Student Biographies (Bios). Instructor will post his biography and picture on course website as a standard discussion that all students enrolled in the course will see. For our first week of class students will prepare a short bio (e.g. one page max) explaining why they have chosen to take the course and what they hope to get out of the course. Students should add any relevant details about their academic, professional or personal backgrounds that led them to this course. Student bios help the instructor understand student levels with regard to course material and can greatly enrich interactions and networking opportunities within the classroom “community.” Student photographs are welcome but not required. Student bios will be posted to the course’s Blackboard site as a standard discussion that all students enrolled in the course will see. Student bios must be uploaded by 11:59 PM on the first Friday of the course. New students will be added as necessary thereafter.

Instructor Lectures will be accessed via the course’s Blackboard site using the Blackboard Wimba program, which allows for the video and audio recording of lectures.  Lectures will be posted to the course’s Blackboard site as “archives.” A full module’s lecture will typically consist of a series of two-three archives which should be viewed in chronological order. A single archive will typically be about 30-45 minutes in length. Lectures will only be included in the first few weeks of class, the remaining balance of the course will be dedicated to preparing student design projects.

Lectures will be available at 12:01 AM on Monday at the beginning of the week that they are assigned.

Online Studio will occur as Assignments and Discussions. Students will prepare weekly progress updates to their design projects and post for general “pin-up” Discussion, similar to informal presentation or interaction in a live studio class.

Student will submit plansets as Assignments four times during the 8-week session, Week 2 (progress set), Week 3 (Draft Planset), Week 6 (progress set), and Week 7 (Final Planset). Instructor will return comments to students within 1-2 days of receipt of Assignments.

Students’ Discussion comments on progress sets, Draft and Final Plansets will be due by 11:59 PM EST on Friday of the week following original posting. Discussions will occur in the form of Discussion posts and/or chats on the course’s Blackboard site and should be thought of as the online equivalent to “live” discussions in class. Discussion comments should be concise, to the point and thoughtful. When responding or referring to previous instructor or student comments, “Ditto” will NOT be an appropriate response, but rather providing a reason for supporting or adding to previous comment(s) will be acceptable. Providing relevant resources/references to help your classmates’ design work is highly encouraged!  Please use spell check for spelling and grammar!

Student Presentations. Presentation Assignments will include: 1) Draft Planset; and 2) Final Planset for a site/landscape design project of their own choosing. Presentations will consist of a graphic-oriented Powerpoint slides featuring the various components of a planset. The Draft Planset will include site analysis of existing conditions and proposed design work to the equivalent level of 50% design (aka. “Design Development”). Proposed design sheets may include a general Site Plan, and also Layout and Materials Plan, Grading and Drainage Plan and Planting Plan. Final Planset will provide proposed design work to the detailed 100% level (aka. “Final Design” or “Contract Documents”).  Draft Planset slide show should be limited to 10 slides (10 minutes) and Final Planset slide show should be limited to 15 slides (15 minutes).

In addition, students may add an audio component to their presentation by using audio function in Powerpoint or other methods, but adding audio is completely optional. Please note that adding audio to a powerpoint presentation can increases the file size a lot. Please keep final presentations to maximum 100 MB file size (and much smaller file size is much better).

Late Assignment Policy. Students will be allowed one late posting for discussions only. This one late assignment allowance is for the entire semester. Late assignments must be posted by 11:59 PM EST on Wednesday of the week following the assignment’s original due date. NO OTHER LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED INCLUDING GRADING & DRAINAGE EXERCISE, PROGRESS, DRAFT AND FINAL PLANSETS. Requests for late assignments must be communicated via email to the Instructor at least one full day prior to their due date. Late student Drafts or Final Projects will NOT be accepted!

Instructor’s regular online office hours by email appointment only.