“The Site Commissioning White Paper issued by the General Services Administration is a groundbreaking project that helps set verifiable landscape performance goals that can be monitored and maintained over time. Its methods will foster a more resilient built environment and help prove to decision makers the environmental, financial, and human value of well-designed landscapes. Developed in a rigorous process led by landscape architects, this highly accessible resource is poised to alter land development decisions well beyond the federal realm.”
– 2019 Awards Jury
Site commissioning—the process of establishing and then field-verifying performance goals—is a mechanism for proving that investment in constructed landscapes is environmentally, socially, and financially worthwhile. The Site Commissioning White Paper, published in 2017 by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), proposes an agency-wide, site-commissioning process for GSA’s future land development projects. This process has the potential to advance the effectiveness of the site design, construction, and management industries within one of the world’s largest public real estate organizations, which in turn could positively impact landscape performance at a national scale. The white paper was developed through a unique collaboration between policy-makers, landscape architects, and 89 industry leaders. While written as a policy tool, the white paper’s tone and graphic quality make it equally accessible to practitioners. The Site Commissioning White Paper uniquely demonstrates how landscape architects can help shape policy, thereby advocating for a more resilient built environment.
▲场地调试：在全国范围验证三重底线景观性能。Site Commissioning: Proving triple-bottom-line landscape performance at a national scale.
▲源于必要性：传统的开发项目通常假定景观能够按照预期运作，这有可能导致无效或低效的设计。场地调试为土地开发提供了一种新的模型，能够对环境、社会和经济效益进行实地测试和验证，而不是简单地假设。Born of necessity: Conventional development practice presupposes that constructed landscapes function as intended, which can perpetuate ineffective and inefficient design. Site commissioning offers a new land development model in which environmental, social, and financial performance is tested and proven, rather than assumed.
▲范式的转变：白皮书在评估场地调试的可行性之后才开始制定政策框架。它展示了景观设计师如何帮助制定联邦政策以改变土地开发的范式，同时在专业上不断精进。Paradigm Shift: The paper assesses the feasibility of site commissioning and then proposes a policy framework. This paper demonstrates how landscape architects can help shape federal policy that shifts the land development paradigm and enhances our profession’s criticality.
▲初步研究方法包括：1）对于相关主题的文献综述（包括建筑调试、场地监控和可持续性评级系统）；2）市场和行业分析（评估性能趋势和当前的调试缺口）；3）案例分析。在这之后，研究团队需要获取更充分的信息。Preliminary Investigation: Initial research methods consisted of: 1) A literature review (of building commissioning, site monitoring, sustainability rating systems); 2) Industry assessment (of performance trends and the current commissioning gap); and 3) Case studies. Afterward, the research team needed more information.
▲专家输入：由89位行业领袖组成的研究团队被分为7个主题工作小组（水、土壤、植被、材料、栖息地、人类健康、福祉和气候），分别进行在线调查和小组访谈。白皮书中纳入了来自这些专家的见解和建议。Expert Input: The research team engaged 89 industry thought leaders, divided into seven working groups—Water, Soil, Vegetation, Materials, Habitat, Human Health and Well-Being, Climate—to participate in online surveysand group interviews. The white paper incorporates these experts’ insight and recommendations.
▲发现：调查和访谈结果（n=89）显示了场地调试在三重底线方面的效益，并将对GSA的场地调试计划提供跨学科的支持。基于主要研究和次要研究，研究小组得出结论：GSA对场地调试的采用将产生重要的价值。Findings: The surveys and interviews revealed expectations of site commissioning’s triple-bottom-line benefits, and statistically significant, cross-disciplinary support for GSA’s adoption of site commissioning (n=89). Based on the primary and secondary research, the research team concluded that GSA’s adoption of site commissioning would be valuable.
▲相互关联的效益：通过场地调试的景观能够合理地被用作动态的资源，从而增强环境的可持续性、促进社会效益，同时做出明智的理财务资源管理。Interconnected Benefits: Landscapes delivered through a site commissioning process can function, justifiably, as dynamic resources that enhance environmental sustainability, foster social benefits, and wisely steward financial resources.
▲综合全面的资源：白皮书综合了主要研究和次要研究，并概括了具有普适性的场地调试框架和实施策略。尽管是为决策者撰写，白皮书图文并茂的内容同时也适用并开放于设计、施工和管理人员。Comprehensive Resource: The white paper synthesizes the primary and secondary researchand then outlines a broadly-applicable site commissioning framework and implementation strategy. The graphically rich publication was written for policy-makers, but designed to be relevant and accessible to design, construction, andmanagement practitioners.
▲案例研究：白皮书中的案例研究内容涵盖了地理位置、设施类型、尺度和项目交付方式等，它向读者展示了如何利用场地调试来达到建筑环境中的性能目标，同时也为项目的运作和管理提供了信息。Case Study Assessment: The publication’s case studies—spanning geographic location, facility type, scale, and project delivery approach—reveal to readers how commissioning can be leveraged to achieve performance goals in the built environment, while also informing operations and management practices.
▲可运用的框架：白皮书为四个“核心属性” （水、土壤、植被、材料）和三个“辅助属性”（栖息地、人类健康、福祉和气候）提出了评估标准和监测频率。这些属性均吻合了GSA土地开发中已经要求的标准（SITES）。Actionable Framework: The white paper proposes assessment metrics and monitoring frequency for four “Core Attributes” (Water, Soil, Vegetation, Materials) and three “Supporting Attributes” (Habitat, Human Healthand Well-Being, Climate). These attributes dovetail with SITES, which is already required for GSA land development.
▲实施：场地调试能够被轻松地应用到各类项目交付模型当中。在所有的场景中，景观设计师都会尽早地（在建立景观性能目标之前）参与进来。项目的交接成为了问责管理和加速项目成功实施的关键环节。Implementation: Site commissioning could be easily integrated into various project delivery models. In all scenarios, the landscape architect is engaged early on (prior to establishing landscape performance goals) and project turn-over becomes a critical moment for managing accountability and fostering success.
▲高适应性的反馈回路：若要在GSA的范围内外通过场地调试来改善常规的设计、施工和管理流程，就需要采纳高适应性的反馈回路，随着时间的推移，它将使信息逐步积累同时让实践得以优化。Adaptive Feedback Loop: Advancing beyond conventional design, construction, and management processes through site commissioning, within and beyond GSA, requires an adaptive feedback loop. This would enable information to accumulate and practices to improve over time.
▲意义：场地调试能够为业主提供从设计到管理的经费节约。大量与建筑调试相关的文献展示了常见的直接节约手段（通过设施的生命周期、员工保有率以市政部门的驱动进行节约）和间接节约手段（通过生态系统服务和风险缓解来进行节约。Significance: Site commissioning offers owners financial savings from design through management. Extensive literature on building commissioning reveals common direct savings (through facility life-cycle savings, employee retention and performance, and municipality-driven savings) and indirect savings (through eco system services and risk mitigation).
▲提高专业地位：GSA对场地调试及其未来在开发和大型重建项目中的应用潜力的前瞻性研究将有可能证明：对人造景观的投资将带来环境、社会和经济上的效益，同时也将对景观行业产生革命性的影响。Elevating Our Profession. GSA’s forward-thinking investigation into site commissioning and its possible adoption for all future development and major redevelopment projects has the potential to prove that investment in constructed landscapes is environmentally, socially, and financially worthwhile, while revolutionizing our industry.
▲全国性的影响：作为全球最大的公共房地产组织之一，GSA的场地调试部署将在全国范围内对设计、建筑和管理行业产生积极的影响，类似于GSA引入LEED标准之后对市场带来的转变。National Impact: As one of the largest public real estate organizations globally, GSA’s deployment of site commissioning could positively impact the design, construction, and management industries on a national scale, similar to the market shift resulting from GSA’s adoption of LEED.
BORN OF NECESSITY
Achieving resilience in the built environment requires a land development paradigm shift. Currently, at best, conventional development practice presupposes that built sites function as intended—from managing stormwater to increasing employee retention—rather than testing and confirming that performance goals are met. This lack of verification within the built environment can perpetuate ineffective and inefficient design, construction, and management practices. As one of the world’s largest, public real-estate organizations, the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) office buildings, land ports of entry, courthouses, laboratories, post offices, and data centers are particularly at risk of deficient practices, which can result in liabilities overshadowing landscapes’ potential benefits to the public good.
Site commissioning is the process of establishing performance goals and then field-verifying that systems within the built environment perform as intended. Since the 1990s, commissioning has developed as a professional practice for verifying that building systems are performing as intended. Now, as a proven leader in sustainability, GSA aims to apply commissioning to the landscape. The resulting land development model enables practitioners to confirm landscape performance, thereby proving landscapes’ triple-bottom-line value and identifying system issues before they expand into liabilities.
The Site Commissioning White Paper—written by landscape architects and published by GSA—investigates whether investment in constructed landscapes is environmentally, socially, and financially worthwhile. Through a rigorous research process, the white paper: 1) Evaluates the feasibility of applying site commissioning to all of GSA’s future land development projects (as a compliment to the agency’s existing Total Building Commissioning and SITES-Certification practices); and 2) Details an agency-wide strategy for GSA’s adoption of the process.
GSA developed the white paper in partnership with landscape architects and integrative researchers within the private sector. Initial research methods consisted of a: 1) Literature review of related subject matter (including building commissioning, site monitoring, and sustainability rating systems); 2) Market and industry analyses (to assess the current commissioning gap, performance trends, and GSA’s Total Building Commissioning program); and 3) Case study analyses.
Upon completing this initial investigation, insufficient evidence existed to assess site commissioning’s feasibility. The research team therefore engaged 141 industry thought leaders—representing governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector—to join seven, subject-matter working groups: Water, Soil, Vegetation, Materials, Habitat, Human Health and Well-Being, and Climate. Eighty-nine participants (63% of those initially invited) joined the working groups, which each contained 11-15 cross-sector members. The research team then developed and administered an online survey specific to each working group, which was completed by all 89 members (100% participation). After analyzing the survey data, the research team conducted group interviews with each working group, totaling 58 participants (65% participation). The white paper’s resulting recommendations are directly informed by these experts’ critical insight, and further enhanced by the input of three commissioning advisors, three white paper reviewers, and a literature review-driven cost-benefit analysis. According to Christian Gabriel, PLA, ASLA—GSA’s National Design Director for Landscape Architecture—“the team conducted themselves to the highest standards from both an administrative and research perspective, producing an outstanding, world-class research report by any professional standard.”
The survey and interview results revealed statistically significant, cross-disciplinary support for GSA’s adoption of site commissioning. Furthermore, the majority of working group members (n=89) believed that site commissioning would positively impact a facility’s triple-bottom-line performance. One potential bias in these findings is that 30% of participants represented governmental organizations, however, only 10% of participants represent GSA, the agency that could directly benefit from positive findings.
The Site Commissioning White Paper provides a data-driven, triple-bottom-line-benefits justification for verifying landscape performance in land development projects. Anyone who has sought facts to support their advocacy for verifying landscape performance will find it in this seminal publication, which remains the most comprehensive resource on the subject matter of site commissioning. Christian Gabriel attests that, “[the white paper] very thoughtfully aggregated and contextualized many disparate GSA policies and procedures and utilized those resources to justify all recommendations for pursuit of this policy vehicle.”
GSA’s implementation of the white paper’s recommendations has the potential to shape federal, state, and local land development policy, thereby advancing the effectiveness of the site design, construction, and management industries. This, in turn, would enhance the triple bottom line performance of constructed landscapes, at a national scale.
The white paper’s uniquely, broad impacts are poised to change the trajectory of land development within federal facilities. Since the publication was written as a tool for GSA’s policy-makers, it is designed to first and foremost impact policies surrounding the agency’s development practices. One example includes dividing site maintenance into two, separately-funded phases in order to enhance plant establishment and system resilience: 1) “Early-stage management,” financed by the facility’s capital budget; and 2) “Long-term maintenance,” financed by the operational budget. The white paper recommends that GSA’s site commissioning process dovetail into the agency’s existing Total Building Commissioning Program, thereby expanding the scope of performance verification beyond the building skin and elevating the criticality of landscapes in providing essential environmental, social, and economic services. GSA is currently using the paper’s findings to ground-truth the performance of operations at a variety of facilities, and the agency’s first site commissioned federal pilot project is underway. Beyond the realm of GSA, production of the white paper directly engaged policy-makers within five additional federal agencies and three city governments, thereby planting the seed for a site commissioning process within multiple jurisdictions.
2) DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION + MANAGEMENT INDUSTRIES
Implementing the white paper’s recommendations has the potential to positively impact not just one landscape, nor the GSA’s nearly 150,000 owned and leased acres, but all constructed landscapes. The breadth of this potential influence is unprecedented. GSA’s scale has historically steered markets—from design through product manufacturing—when adopting LEED, in 2012, and SITES, in 2016. GSA’s progressive adoption of a site commissioning process will undoubtedly shift the design, construction, and management markets further as the industries and owners realize site commissioning’s triple bottom line benefits for their own projects. These shifts could result in growth for the landscape design and management industries, which were valued by IBIS World in 2017 at $5 billion and $83 billion per year, respectively.
3) LANDSCAPE PERFORMANCE
Site commissioning involves establishing landscape performance goals, designing and building to meet those goals, and then field-verifying that performance is maintained through time. Goals are tailored to meet the unique needs of each project, and can span the triple bottom line. For example, a port of entry in the arid southwest might establish a goal of sourcing 100% of irrigation water from air-conditioning condensate, whereas an office building in the densely-populated northeast might aim to decrease absenteeism by 2% over 5-years by providing views and access to green space (which research findings demonstrate improve workplace satisfaction and health, thereby decreasing absenteeism). Site commissioning serves to verify that relevant systems are designed, built, and operated to achieve these goals. By its nature, this process increases the accountability of a site’s design-construction-management team and elevates the chance that each constructed site will provide environmental, social, and financial services.
APPLICABILITY TO LANDSCAPE PRACTICE
While the white paper was written for policy-makers, it was designed to be relevant and accessible to design, construction, and management practitioners. The concepts are also relevant to, and easily replicable by other institutions such as state university systems, corporate campuses, and regional governments. Never before have landscape architects had the opportunity to help shape federal policy that’s capable of shifting the land development paradigm from assumed to field-verified performance. This advancement helps pave the way for the next generation of landscape architects, who can feel empowered to excel, advocate, and continue broadening the criticality of our profession.