December 5, 2023
Outdoor Amenities Resource: 25+ Guides to Designing Better Outdoor Amenities
When you think about the “outdoors,” you’re likely visualizing vistas of undisturbed nature or beautiful city parks—products of careful stewardship or rigorous design processes. But amenity spaces—outdoor work areas, small plazas, gardens, pocket parks, and open-air cafes—are the underappreciated gems of the urban outdoors. In New York alone, more than 3.8 million square feet of public space is privately owned and attached to commercial buildings as vital amenities, with many more millions of square feet of outdoor space reserved for private use. These spaces deserve the same care and attention lavished on large civic projects because they are just as critical to thriving communities and cities.
Outdoor Amenities Encourage Healing and Propel Change
The biggest value of small outdoor amenities is access—giving people the space to interact with nature where they already are, providing critical moments of rejuvenation, relaxation, socialization, or healing. They also extend the use of buildings, providing a return on investment to owners and developers and amplifying opportunities for communities: “People are designing these spaces as outdoor rooms, and are spending more money on them,” says David Schutte, president of Tuuci.
Like all landscapes, outdoor amenity spaces can also contribute to broader planetary goals—address climate change by sequestering carbon, manage and replenish our water systems, build and support biodiversity, and reconnect humans to nature through biophilia. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” says Eustacia Brossart, research director, Climate Positive Design. “Can we design plazas smarter for both carbon emissions and biodiversity?”
How Designers and Architects can Push for Better Outdoor Amenities
To help you leverage all these benefits when you design amenity spaces, we’ve gathered a host of existing tools, guides, manuals, and certifications in five sections. Each section contains a brief introduction, links to resources, and suggested reading from METROPOLIS’s past coverage.
How to Improve the Function and Experience of Outdoor Amenities
This section of the METROPOLIS Outdoor Amenities Resource offers tools, guides, and manuals to help you improve the function and experience of outdoor amenities.
How to Engage and Include Communities While Designing Outdoor Amenities
This section of the METROPOLIS Outdoor Amenities Resource offers tools and guides to help you take community engagement and inclusion outdoors.
Why Product Performance and Maintenance Are Vital for Outdoor Amenities
This section of the METROPOLIS Design for Equity Primer offers resources to help you promote fairness and justice within your firm.
How Outdoor Amenities Can Help With Climate Action and Resilience
This section of the METROPOLIS Outdoor Amenities Resource provides resources and tools that deal with resilience, climate adaptation, and decarbonization.
How Outdoor Amenities Can Incorporate Both Biophilia and Biodiversity
This section of the METROPOLIS Outdoor Amenities Resource offers tools, guides, and manuals to help you incorporate biophilia and biodiversity into outdoor amenities.
The Origins of the METROPOLIS Outdoor Amenities Resource
The Outdoor Amenities Resource was created through a virtual hackathon, with the inputs of many landscape architecture, architecture, interior design, sustainability, and manufacturing leaders who are striving to leverage the benefits of nature in spaces of all sizes and typologies. A full list of acknowledgements is at the bottom of this article.
The Outdoor Amenities Hackathon was organized in partnership with Expormim, KFI Studio, Landscape Forms, and Tuuci, who not only produce materials, furnishings, and fixtures, but also provide deep expertise on the application, performance, maintenance, and benefits of their offerings. Learn more about them below.
The resource descriptions were written by Timothy Schuler, with introductions to each section by METROPOLIS editors Jaxson Stone and Lauren Volker. The Outdoor Amenities Resource was designed by design director Travis Ward and designer Robert Pracek. The hackathon sessions were organized by VP of marketing and events Tina Brennan and events manager Kelly Kriwko.
This is a living resource, and will be updated with additional tools and manuals as they become available. We hope you will find it a useful source of support as you bring harmony to the built environment with the natural environment. —Avinash Rajagopal, editor in chief
Intended to inform and expand the design approach known as creative placemaking, this field guide from the Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance begins by orienting readers to the history and purpose of creative placemaking in park spaces, then outlines the various components of any cooperative, community-based process. Comprehensive in scope, it offers practical guidance on details as small as how to write and disseminate a request for proposals, or the types of contracts typically used by municipal departments. The second half of the field guide is devoted to in-depth case studies, from formal activations in existing parks such Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway to the transformation of vacant space into a venue for arts-based programming, as in the 8th Street Arts Park in Washington, D.C.
Landscape architects and urban designers, as well as planners, policymakers, and community advocates, will benefit from the objectives and targeted actions laid out by the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Climate Action Plan and accompanying Field Guide. To meet the action plan’s ambitious targets, including the requirement that all designed landscapes undertaken by ASLA members achieve net zero embodied and operational carbon emissions by 2040, the field guide outlines practical steps individuals, organizations, and communities can take toward decarbonizing the construction of outdoor spaces while also supporting environmental justice. Organized around broad themes of Practice, Equity, and Advocacy, the document is full of resources and practical guidance on simple ways to lower embodied carbon and increase natural carbon sequestration, as well as how to accurately measure them
The landscape equivalent of LEED, the SITES rating system is a voluntary site-certification program that helps designers maximize the ecosystem services provided by designed landscapes in the areas of land use, planning, water, human health, materials, soil and vegetation, construction, public education, and operations and maintenance. Like LEED, SITES certifies projects as silver, gold, or platinum based on the number of credits achieved, but the rating system, which was first established in 2007 and updated in 2014, can also be used as a resource to guide the design and development of landscapes in ways that protect biodiversity, support human health and well-being, and restore ecological function to denuded ecosystems. SITES maintains a free online catalog of certified, pre-certified, and registered projects that can serve as case studies and connect designers to exemplary projects in their geographic areas
Outdoor Amenities Hackathon Participants
Abby Stone, RIOS
Amy Syverson-Shaffer, Landscape Forms
Ana Cubillos, Marvel Architects
Bill Hynes, SWA Group
Chris Smith, KFI
Dan Affleck, SWA Group
David Schutte, Tuuci
Devika Tandon, Perkins&Will
Emily Gordon, Matthews Neilsen (MNLA)
Eustacia Brossart, Climate Positive Design
Jason Shinoda, RIOS
Jeff Theesfeld, KFI
Jeremy Ianucci, Marvel Architects
Johanna Phelps, Matthews Neilsen (MNLA)
Kristin Adams, Tuuci
Maria Gil, Expormim
Mausi McDaniel, Tuuci
Tammy Bonner, Tuuci
Outdoor Amenities Hackathon Partners
National Wildlife Foundation, Native Plant Finder
NYC, Active Design Guidelines
NYCParks, Design and Planning for Flood Resilience Guidelines for NYC Parks
NYCParks, High Performance Landscape Guidelines
Sasaki, Carbon Conscience
SITES Section 5: Materials Selection
SITES Section 8: Operations and Maintenance
Smart Surfaces Coalition, Smart Surfaces Coalition
Steelcase, Taking the Office Outside
SWA, Field Guide to Life in Urban Plazas: A Study in New York City
Terrapin Bright Green, 14 PATTERNS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN: Improving Health & Well-Being in the Built Environment
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You might be interested in METROPOLIS’s other resources:
What Is and Is Not Biophilic Design?
If design doesn’t focus on aspects of the natural world that contribute to human health and productivity in the age-old struggle to be fit and survive, it’s not biophilic.
Design for Equity Primer: 20+ Resources to Help You Design Inclusively and Fairly
This primer is a handy guide to toolkits, manuals, certifications, and indexes that can help you design with justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in mind.
Embracing Differences: Understanding and Designing for Neurodiversity
When we design for neurodiversity—be it autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder—we design for everyone.