Characterizing sustainable performance and human thermal comfort in designed landscapes of Southwest desert cities
During summer 2014, a study was conducted as part of the Landscape Architecture Foundation Case Study Investigation to analyze features of three sustainably designed landscapes. Each project was located in a southwest desert city: Civic Space Park in Phoenix, AZ, the Pete V. Domenici US Courthouse Sustainable Landscape Retrofit in Albuquerque, NM, and George "Doc" Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, AZ. The principal components of each case study were performance benefits that quantified ongoing ecosystem services. Performance benefits were developed from data provided by the designers and collected by the research team. The functionality of environmental, social, and economic sustainable features was evaluated. In southwest desert cities achieving performance benefits such as microclimate cooling often come at the cost of water conservation. In each of these projects such tradeoffs were balanced by prioritizing the project goals and constraints.
During summer 2015, a study was conducted to characterize effects of tree species and shade structures on outdoor human thermal comfort under hot, arid conditions. Motivating the research was the hypothesis that tree species and shade structures will vary in their capacity to improve thermal comfort due to their respective abilities to attenuate solar radiation. Micrometeorological data was collected in full sun and under shade of six landscape tree species and park ramadas in Phoenix, AZ during pre-monsoon summer afternoons. The six landscape tree species included: Arizona ash (Fraxinus velutina Torr.), Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata L.), Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis Mill.), South American mesquite (Prosopis spp. L.), Texas live oak (Quercus virginiana for. fusiformis Mill.), and Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia Jacq.). Results showed that the tree species and ramadas were not similarly effective at improving thermal comfort, represented by physiologically equivalent temperature (PET). The difference between PET in full sun and under shade was greater under Fraxinus and Quercus than under Parkinsonia, Prosopis, and ramadas by 2.9-4.3 °C. Radiation was a significant driver of PET (p<0.0001, R2=0.69) and with the exception of ramadas, lower radiation corresponded with lower PET. Variations observed in this study suggest selecting trees or structures that attenuate the most solar radiation is a potential strategy for optimizing PET.