Meet Benjamin


Benjamin Shirtcliff, PhD is an assistant professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at Iowa State University and conducts research on “Performance Landscapes for Active Youth” (PLAY). He received his Doctorate in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans in 2012 with a dissertation that used observational methods to document the unstructured activity of adolescents in New Orleans. LA.

Ben uses social media tools (e.g., YouTube videos) to observe, research, and teach play in place. Big data from social media permits access to adolescent activity previously inaccessible. His class, City Play!, explores how locally disconnected, global communities are increasingly learning about and creating opportunities to access, participate, and test the boundaries of public space through social media. YouTube and social media create an open forum for global communication and social participation.

Ben employs video observation coupled with site reconnaissance as an ecological approach to understanding adolescent play in public space. The research setting is ecological (based in real-world, uncontrolled settings), qualitatively and quantitatively measurable, and produces statistically meaningful results. He examines adolescent risk-taking and prosocial behaviors through indirect observational methods, through YouTube videos, and then analyze the physical contexts in which activity occurs.

Ben calls upon his extensive and award winning professional design experience from Ken Saiki Design landscape architecture in Madison Wisconsin (2004-2008) to teach urban design at ISU. While at Ken Saiki, he was able work with the ideas of adolescents and their environmental surroundings in the Madison West High School design. Another notable project was an award winning historic restoration design for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. Prior to professional practice, Ben received a Master of Arts and Landscape Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts and Landscape Architecture from Pennsylvania State University in 2004. Ben received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Oregon in 1999 where he completed a senior thesis “it can’t happen here” which explored the place and contextual response of a community to the Thurston high school shooting.

Key expertise:

  • Adolescents, Play, and Public Space
  • Environmental Justice and Built Environments
  • Landscape Architecture and Urban Design for City Play!


Benjamin Shirtcliff