Institute for Water Resources: Leadership through Collaboration

Recently, we helped to organize a workshop, hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Institute for Water Resources (IWR), in order to explore new ways of improving coastal resource projects. The focus of the workshop centered on improving cross-industry collaboration between landscape architects and coastal engineers. While landscape architects and coastal engineers have different goals and ways of solving problems, we saw this as an important opportunity for value-added collaboration and leadership in the industry. We believe that if we could improve the communication between these two different disciplines, then we would be able to implement improved coastal resource projects, improving the quality of life for coastal communities.

raised house on coast

Leading Collaboration

The workshop began with a discussion of workshop goals as follows:

  • Improve collaboration and communication between landscape architects and coastal engineers
  • Start to develop a common vocabulary
  • Conclude with a better understanding of how landscape architects and coastal engineers can leverage each others' skills effectively for the betterment of coastal resilience

I facilitated a breakout session, and retired Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh spoke about the need for increased emphasis on coastal engineering and resilience in both the professional and educational realms as well as contributed to the lunchtime roundtable discussion. Cheryl Ulrich was also one of about 45 professionals to participate in the workshop. Breakout sessions focused discussions on broad-based questions related to how to perform the following:

  • Define and scope the issues to be addressed by a project
  • Incorporate both engineering and landscape architecture approaches to develop solutions to coastal resource challenges
  • Establish a common lexicon
  • Identify ways for landscape architects and coastal engineers to work together in the future

During these conversations, we began to develop a roadmap for how we can foster partnerships between the two groups. The breakout sessions provided some key insights and takeaways for the next tasks. Both groups of professionals wanted to test their collaboration efforts by identifying a scalable, short-term project to utilize both skillsets in order to find demonstrable and reputable results.

people meeting


This desire to undertake a pilot project was a pivotal takeaway, as there has been limited quantitative research conducted to verify if natural and nature-based features or hybrid solutions can provide similar levels of protection as "hard" engineering solutions while providing additional ecosystem benefits. Other important takeaways from the breakout groups included the need for metrics that would be acceptable for both coastal communities and decision makers, in order to effectively benchmark future projects; and the need for a more holistic approach in fusing of both landscape architecture and coastal engineering principles into academic curricula to produce graduates who are able to leverage the features of both green and gray, or hard-built infrastructure, to create effective solutions to coastal challenges.


Forward Thinking

We believe that by facilitating these large industry collaborations, we can push the boundaries of what's been done and create the best practices for the future of coastal resilience and resource management. Currently, there are many parallel programs looking into this kind of collaboration between the two industries, which is why we believe that it's not a matter of if this collaboration will be done, but rather a question of when and how. We want to be at the forefront of this movement, helping to lead the charge.

  • Laurel McGinley
    Laurel McGinley
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