by Cheri Ruane
There are many terms that can describe the necessary collaboration in the design of a complicated project: interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary.
They all describe an approach that requires a diversity of expertise and a deep bench of knowledge. In the design and engineering (D&E) world, this typically includes landscape architects, a bevy of engineers and scientists, and a handful of supporting actors. The more complex the project, the more players on the stage. But how should you operate in a way that ensures collaboration, concurrent iterations that inform each other, and the most successful possible outcome? Often, with subject matter expertise comes a confidence that runs the risk of sideswiping, sidestepping, undermining, waylaying, and/or superseding the process of the collective.
A well-functioning interdependent team understands that they are truly dependent on everyone else’s expertise to create the best possible outcome to the problem. One firm or many, it doesn’t matter. It is critical however that the team have rapport and alignment of purpose in order to execute. This happens with intention, time, and experience, as with any relationship. One could liken it to dance partners who know when to step back, take the lead, or prepare for the lift from subtle cues.
It starts with the formation of the team. True collaboration and agile design take a specific attitude and understanding along with an ability to yield way to any team member who may have an idea with merit. When identifying potential team members, it is important to understand what motivates them. Problem solvers are more likely to work than people that thrive on being right. Firms that invest in the softer side of D&E will know who’s who. Motivational assessment tools like Enneagram, Strength Deployment Inventory, or 360’s will not only help individuals understand themselves (which has far-reaching benefits itself) but will also allow the larger organization to know which members are most likely to work well together. The bottom line is that people on an interdependent team must be willing and able to check their egos at the door and be open to solutions that come from anyone around the table.
A clear example of this type of teamwork can be seen in the redesign of Moakley Park in South Boston. Moakley Park started as a design competition and evolved into an RFP through the Boston Parks & Recreation Department, both of which were won by Stoss Landscape Urbanism (Stoss). The plan is an aspirational vision that goes beyond the redesign of a city park and extends to broader issues of social equity, environmental justice, and climate resilience. A former tideland turned park, the subsurface conditions are complex to say the least and riddled with significant aging infrastructure. For this project to be successful, it required the brain power of a large and diverse team.
Led by the landscape architects at Stoss and Weston & Sampson, the collaborative design unit includes landscape architects; hydrogeologists; geotechnical, structural, civil, traffic, and mechanical engineers; soil scientists; economic development specialists; operation and maintenance experts; and public engagement gurus. As the first phase of the project goes through design development and construction documentation, Weston & Sampson’s design studio will be leading the charge. We will be guiding the project leadership through an integrated and truly interdependent design process that seeks to provide a tightly coordinated solution to a wildly complicated and challenging site.
As the project’s vision plan begins to be implemented, the results of interdependent thinking have already made themselves evident. Elements of flood protection, operations and maintenance facilities, and active recreation features have been located with precision and consideration that touches every single park element. Ecological systems are being consciously combined with stormwater management and earthwork strategies. The total park is truly greater than the sum of its multitude of parts, which leads to a compelling landscape that protects, enhances, and improves the quality of life for park users and nearby residents.
We invite you to follow the website dedicated to Moakley Park at https://www.boston.gov/parks/moakley-park to stay up to date on the design process as it progresses towards construction and completion and to see how a collaborative, interdependent design process can result in a multi-benefit solution that is both beautiful and effective.
Cheri Ruane, FASLA is vice president of Weston & Sampson.