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Archive for the ‘Green Roofs’ Category

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The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has announced eight new projects that have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of built landscapes. These projects, as part of a group of 150 projects participating in an extensive, two-year pilot program, have applied the 2009 SITES guidelines and met the requirements for pilot certification.

The newly certified projects are Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley, Texas; Harris County WCID 132’s Water Conservation Center in Spring, Texas; American University School for International Service in Washington, D.C.; Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M.; Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center at Mesa Verde National Park, Colo.; George “Doc” Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Az.; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo. and Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, N.Y.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. SITES was created to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and maintenance. The voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks applies to sites with or without buildings.

“The effort and time these projects have spent to field test SITES 2009 guidelines and ensure their site is sustainable is commendable and has been a tremendous resource for informing the development of the SITES v2 Rating System, which will be released later this fall,” said SITES Director Danielle Pieranunzi.

Since June 2010, pilot projects have been testing the 2009 rating system created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The diverse projects represent various types, sizes, and locations as well as budgets. There are now a total of 23 certified pilot projects with more projects continuing to pursue pilot certification until the end of 2014.

A new rating system, SITES v2, will be published this fall, using information gained through the pilot project certification process. The projects certified up to that point will have qualified under the 2009 rating system. It includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve one through four stars by amassing 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of the 250 points.

The eight newly certified projects each incorporate sustainable features and practices and have received ratings listed below:

Blue Hole Regional Park, One Star, Wimberley, Texas (see image above). A beloved local swimming hole degraded by overuse was transformed into an environmentally sustainable regional park in the Texas Hill Country. The park seeks to strike a balance between preservation of the site and recreational and educational opportunities for users. Sustainable landscape strategies include managing storm- water through the use of rain gardens and cisterns, irrigating recreational fields with treated effluent, minimizing impervious surfaces, protecting trees and endangered species habitat and restoring shoreline. New vegetation is primarily native plantings, and the park features on-site composting.

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Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center, One Star, Houston, Texas. As Texas struggles with water shortages, WCID 132 created a community outreach project dedicated to showing alternative methods for reducing stormwater runoff and demand for potable water. This project transformed an under-used public campus into a series of gardens that educate residents on sustainable water use and landscape strategies. Features illustrate efficient water conservation, stormwater management, and soil-centered practices. Paths and planting areas were built with locally salvaged and reused materials.

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American University School for International Service, Two Stars, Washington, D.C. This entrance plaza is a gathering place for students and faculty that is integrated with a LEED® Gold building to manage 100 percent of stormwater on the site and, as a result, needs no irrigation. The site features a Korean garden with adapted plants, an edible herb garden, an apiary and regional materials. The university has a zero-waste policy that includes recycling and composting landscape clippings and debris and coffee grounds from the student- run coffee shop inside.

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Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center, Two Stars, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M. After finding contaminants from parking lot runoff, including motor oil and antifreeze, in cavern pools, Carlsbad Caverns National Park removed the existing parking area and rehabilitated it to a natural state using vegetation native to the park. All native plants used for the project were grown nearby from locally-genetic stock, and additional work was done to collect and treat runoff from the new parking areas. The park near Carlsbad, N.M., was one of several parks that participated in a National Park Service pilot program to develop monitoring standards for re-vegetation.

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Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
, Two Stars, Mesa Verde National Park, Co. The site-sensitive landscape design surrounding the center reflects the national park’s mission to educate the public about the archeological, biological and physical resources of the park and their interconnectivity. Stormwater from the site is directed through vegetated swales and retention ponds, and the area was re-vegetated with a mix of native and drought tolerant species, meanwhile addressing concerns about wildfires. The site produces 95 percent of its energy from on-site renewable energy sources and uses locally-quarried stone. The building has earned a LEED® Platinum certification.

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George “Doc” Cavalliere Park
, Three Stars, Scottsdale, Ariz. A primary strategy for the park, located on 34 acres of rugged desert terrain, was preserving and restoring its natural resources. The design uses 100 percent native plants, and all existing native trees, cacti and plant communities were preserved in place or salvaged and re-used onsite to restore desert upland and riparian plant communities. The park also incorporates a regional on-site stormwater management system. Other strategies include rainwater collection, permeable paving in parking areas and driveways, high efficiency LED lighting, net-zero energy consumption using a grid-tied 24 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, and exclusive use of high-content recycled steel without industrial finishes.

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National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility, Three Stars, Golden, Co. This federal research laboratory, a former National Guard training facility, consists of a 327-acre government research campus. The Research Support Facility, one of the newest campus additions, has achieved LEED Platinum certification for its innovative building design. The landscape framework for this net-zero energy facility includes establishing natural drainage for stormwater, minimizing impacts on local habitats, protecting habitat through conservation easements, providing hiking trails for staff and community members, using porous paving surfaces, restoring existing prairie and arroyo site features, using on-site  materials for the construction of retaining walls and installing energy efficient lighting. Regional materials and high recycled content were emphasized in the selection of site materials and furnishings.

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Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park
, Three Stars, Beacon, N.Y. This project transformed a 14-acre property on the Hudson River from a degraded, post-industrial brownfield into a major waterfront park that realizes themes of recovery, remediation, reuse and re-engagement. The project returned public access to the river, remediated contaminated soils, rehabilitated degraded wetlands, re-used found materials in innovative ways and restored ecological diversity to upland, wetland and intertidal zones. Features include decks and docks popular with anglers; ADA-accessible paths; areas for picnicking, river gazing, dog-walking, and Frisbee tossing; a kayak pavilion and an outdoor classroom.

Image credits: (1) Blue Hole Regional Park / Tim Campbell, Design Workshop, (2) Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center / Ken Fraser, (3) American University School of International Service / Paul Davis, (4) Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center / NPS, (5) Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center / NPS, (6) George “Doc” Cavalliere Park / Chris Brown, Floor Associates, (7) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility / Robb Williamson, courtesy of RNL, (8) Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park / Reed Hilderbrand LLC

 

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At the Old Capitol Pump House, a restored building along the Anacostia River, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced the launch of the long-awaited Sustainable D.C. plan. The result of an amazing public outreach process that involved over 400 local green experts, more than 180 public meetings in front of 5,000 people, and 15 D.C. government departments and agencies, the plan is an attempt to make “D.C. the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the U.S.” by 2032.

Gray said D.C. is already a model for other cities. “We are what many cities hope to become.” For example, the district apparently already leads the nation in the number of green, healthy buildings, or LEED buildings, per capita. New schools must now reach the LEED Gold standard. But even more green buildings now seems to be the goal: the district has signed on to the National Better Buildings challenge, aiming for 20 percent energy efficiency improvements across all buildings by 2020. And they may be moving faster, getting 20 million square feet greener in 20 months. With the Sustainable DC Act of 2012 now signed into law, a new Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) program is underway, aimed at improving financing opportunities for greening commercial and multi-family housing.

The district wants to be greener looking, too (literally). There’s an accelerated tree planting campaign, with 6,400 slated to be planted this season alone. The goal is a 40 percent tree canopy, which would put D.C. in the top tier of major cities worldwide. Beyond trees, the city is implementing “high standard stormwater infrastructure investments.” For example, “we are now building more green roofs than anyone,” with 1.5 million square feet now in place. Green streets, like the first green alley built in Ward 7, are also being rolled out, with more potentially coming soon in Chinatown. Green infrastructure technologies may get a local boost, too, with the $4.5 million that has been dedicated to “innovative pilot projects.”

The district already has the biggest bike share network in the U.S., but “this may not be the case for long, as other cities are catching up.” The D.C. government now purchases 100 percent renewable energy. We have become a “number-one U.S. E.P.A. green power community.” All of this action has led to a 12 percent reduction in green house gas emissions over the past year.

Gray seemed to stress, however, that going green can’t just be the agenda of educated, liberal, white environmentalists. The diverse, multi-ethnic crowd seemed to underpin this point. “We need to focus on jobs, health, equity and diversity, and the climate.” So part of making D.C. more sustainable will involve “expanding access to affordable housing and economic development opportunities” for all, so that “we have one city.” Gray said: “We can’t push people out.”

The actual plan offers some 32 goals, 31 targets, and more than 140 proposed actions. Some goals are quite bold, like “a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River in a generation.” The Anacostia is currently one of the filthiest rivers in the U.S. Other goals: implement a zero-waste plan, with a 80 percent landfill diversion rate. Expand urban agriculture, with 20 more acres of land growing food, so that 75 percent of residents are within 1/4 mile of healthy, local produce. The city wants 1,000 new local renewable energy projects, with a dedicated wind farm for D.C. government operations.

Gray said “this is about nothing short than winning the future.” For a mayor still under federal investigation, Sustainable DC offers a positive way forward and certainly paints the city in a progressive light. As the mayor said, “who would have thought 10 years ago that we would have the biggest bike share network, 100 percent renewable energy for the district government, and 400 local people involved in crafting a new vision.”

But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Pointed questions from the media at the launch event asked whether the mayor and city council will actually put the funds and government personnel behind this bold plan to “change our society.” In a telling comment, Gray said the District will need to wait to hear the results of the debate in Congress on “sequestration,” which could potentially result in billions being cut from the federal budget. Much of the district economy depends on federal government spending, which is why the mayor said the city must “diversify” into new sectors in his recent state of the district speech. In fact, much of the resurgence of the district in the past few years can be attributed to the new federal money pumped into the district (see a great New York Times article on this).

Perhaps Gray’s broader case is that Sustainable DC will help the district’s economy and people become more resilient to economic, environmental, and social shocks, and diversify into greener industries. This seems like smart local leadership that goes beyond the vagaries of federal spending. Grey also made a point of saying regardless of who is mayor in the future, the plan “reflects the interests of our community.” The plan goes beyond the mayor.

Still, it will be up to the D.C. government, private sector, and non-profit organizations to implement the plan at a very high standard. The race is on, considering many other top-tier cities have similar goals.

Read the Sustainable DC plan and also check out Becoming Greenest: Recommendations for a Sustainable D.C., ASLA’s 30-page report produced last year, which seems to have at least inspired a few of the District’s targets and actions.

Image credit: Diamond Teague Park, Washington D.C. Landscape Architecture Bureau /Allen Russ

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Lakiya Culley, an administrative assistant at the U.S. State Department and mother of three, just moved into one of the most innovative, energy-efficient houses in the U.S. In Deanwood, a working class, primarily African-American neighborhood of Washington, D.C. that has recently struggled with foreclosures, Culley is now the proud owner of Empowerhouse, a home designed using “passive house” technologies by students at the New School and Stevens Institute of Technology. The home wasn’t just built from scratch though: it came out of the Solar Decathlon design competition, which was held on the National Mall in 2011. Developed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the house marks “the first time in the Solar Decathlon’s history” that a team partnered with civic and government organizations to make a house a reality in the District.

After some criticism that Solar Decathlon homes were getting out-of-control-pricey to build and therefore weren’t realistic real-world models, the organizers added a “affordability” category in which teams could earn points. Empowerhouse scored really high in that category in comparison with a home from Germany, which cost upwards of $2 million. In fact, according to a spokesperson at New School, each unit of the actual Empowerhouse in Deanwood (there are two apartments in the mini-complex) cost just $250,000, making it affordable in that neighborhood. The model has been such a hit that six more are being planned for Ivy City, another inner-city neighborhood in the District.

This “net-zero” home itself is a marvel. The home produces all its own energy needs and consumes 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the conventional home. The bright, bold exterior lights up the whole block.

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But the fine exterior and healthy, light-filled interior built out of sustainable, recycled materials shouldn’t distract from the great landscape architecture components, which were integrated into the project from the beginning, said Professor Laura Briggs, faculty lead of the project, at the New School. As Briggs explained, the home is designed to capture all rainwater that hits it and surrounding homes.

Each unit has terraces with green roofs and small plots for urban agriculture that are designed to capture some water.

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In the rear of the building is a rain garden that captures any rainwater that escapes from the roof gardens. On top of that, each unit has its own underground cistern, where rainwater is collected and then used to water the property.

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The integrated system also synchs up with the front and sides of the home. There’s the District’s first residential green street, a deep trough filled with dirt and plants designed to soak up street runoff and deal with the oily pollutants that the runoff collects on streets.

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At the sides of the house, the parking space is actually made up permeable pavers that allow stormwater to sink into the underlying soils.

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In terms of social sustainability, the piece so often left out of the puzzle, both the homes and landscape were co-designed with the community. Students met with community members, local organizations, and Culley, the owner, in a series of design charrettes. The result of all that outreach and collaboration will be more projects in the neighborhood, including a new community “learning garden.”

The project then is not only a powerful model for how to bring sustainable, affordable, community-based housing to the District, but also how to create real stormwater management solutions that address the truly local environmental problems: the heavy runoff that impacts the already polluted rivers.

Another benefit of the project worth noting: Habitat for Humanity now knows how to build out these passive house homes in a low-cost way.

While the house was built by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, all of the landscape work was done with a few amazing local organizations: Groundwork Anacostia and D.C. Greenworks.

Image credits:(1) Lakiya Cullen and sons / Martin Seck, (2) Empowerhouse / Martin Seck, (3) Roof terrace / Sarah Garrity, (4) Rain Garden / Ashley Hartzell, (5) Green Street / Ashley Hartzell, (6) Permeable Pavers / Ashley Hartzell

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Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard has undergone an unbelievable transformation in the past few years. What was once an isolated naval base and seedy area made up of industrial buildings and strip clubs has become home to a real neighborhood — a mixed-use mecca composed of a new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a residential and commercial complex, which is also a LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) Gold project. The new complex, which is called the Yards, features a great new riverfront park by M. Paul Friedberg and innovative green streets by AECOM. These amenities are near a super-sustainable boat pier by local D.C. landscape architecture firm Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB). Now, the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of upwardly-mobile urbanites, has the new “Canal Park,” a model neighborhood park by landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm STUDIOS that has transformed a three-block brownfield into a simple yet enchanting space.

In recent years, the space was a drain on the neighborhood, a parking lot for buses. But way back when — before it was paved over in the 1870s — the place was part of the historic Washington City Canal, which connected the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. According to OLIN, the new $20 million park is meant to evoke that historic waterway, with a “linear rain garden reminiscent of the canal, and three pavilions, which recall floating barges that were once common.”

Achieving the clear simplicity of the park clearly took a lot of effort. Lining the long, narrow park are lots of space for lounging on nice lawns, metal kinetic-feeling sculptures by David Hess, curved benches, and, in winter, an ice-skating rink.

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The rink area is flanked by a cafe covered in publicly accessible green roof. The green roof features what must be a first: signs letting people know to curb their dogs around the sedum.

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Underlying the space are some complex green infrastructure systems that help this place give back to the neighborhood on the environmental front. “Contaminated soils were replaced with a healthy growing medium and the native plant habitat was re-introduced.” A linear rain garden, which runs the length of the park, has signs saying “Water is reclaimed and recycled,” helping to explain its role to the visiting public. The rain gardens work together with deep tree pits and underground cisterns to collect, manage, and treat “almost all stormwater runoff on site” and from the neighboring blocks, some 1.5 million gallons of water each year. Treated, recycled water collected in the park is used to “satisfy up to 95 percent of the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets and the ice skating path.”

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Also, this truly-green park has 28 geothermal wells underground to provide a “highly-efficient energy supply for park utilities,” reducing park energy use by 37 percent. And the park is there to provide sustainable transport solutions for the broader neighborhood, too: it features the first electric vehicle charging stations this blogger has ever seen in person. Two stations with spaces for four cars (we think) can be accessed with a swipe of a credit card.

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The wood structures in the park, which were designed by STUDIOS, feature “reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood from black locust trees.” Black Locust is a great alternative to unsustainable rainforest hardwoods like Ipe. The use of this wood in these pavilions is an excellent development really worth applauding.

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Additional clear-plastic pavilions scattered at the edges of the park are opaque and both there and not there. They are apparently interactive “light cubes” that can display art and photography.

OLIN says programming will be ramped up to really maximize use of the new park. “The Canal Park Development Association, in partnership with the Capital Riverfront Business Improvement District, will host numerous events throughout the year, such as movies and concerts, holiday and seasonal festivals, farmers markets, art expositions, educational and environmental programming, storytelling events, and more.” The neighborhood clearly benefits.

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Image credits: (1-3) OLIN, (4-5) Phil Stamper / ASLA, (6-7) OLIN

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In a session on measuring regenerative design at the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting, Danielle Pieranunzi, Affil. ASLA, LEED AP, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin; Joel Perkovich, ASLA, Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens; Jose Almiñana, RLA, FASLA, Andropogon Associates; and Michael Takacs, ASLA, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc., discussed recent developments in the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) pilot program.

Pieranunzi began the session by describing the development of sustainable landscape metrics for the SITES rating system. Aiming to improve ecosystem services while bolstering natural systems that we typically view as free, the SITES program is envisioned as a stand-alone rating system, operating on a 250-point scale with 4 levels of certification. This certification system could be applied to projects ranging form small-scale residential sites to parks and streetscapes.

The 2-year pilot program, which ended last June, tested the program metrics on locations spread across the U.S. Of course, developing a landscape sustainability metric is not easy, and the SITES program must define measures for hydrology, soils, vegetation, and materials. The pilot program allowed for critical testing of these measures, which can now be adjusted and refined.

Perkovich discussed one pilot project: the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) in Pittsburgh. The CSL grounds are located on the 15-acre Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden campus. Opened in 1893, the initial plant collection for the conservatory came from the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Phipps Conservatory touts itself as the world’s “greenest” public gardens and it was the first to become LEED certified.

The new CSL headquarters is on a 2.65-acre site, the former location of a City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works salt storage facility. The new design includes a 24,350 square foot building and is designed to be net-zero energy and water. In fact, the building is expected to be 80 percent more energy efficient than a conventional building.

Almiñana explained CSL’s design. The integrated design process included nine months of design charrettes with the local community and local designers. This process established a need for the site to be both an extension of the Phipps campus and to fit into the larger landscape. Almiñana discussed how the design offers natural air circulation by connecting the building design into the site, zero-waste energy through the deployment of interventions to generate energy and moderate temperature, and net-zero water by exploring the potential of every site surface.

Takacs talked about the hydrological design of the CSL site. To achieve a 100 percent, net-zero water level, 100 percent of water on the site must be captured or reused. Therefore, the design used pervious paving, bioretention areas, an open water lagoon, underground storage, a green roof, and rain gardens to dramatically reduce runoff. This system even captures runoff from the upper campus Botanical Gardens, which requires a tremendous amount of water to function.

For sanitary water treatment, the CSL design uses an array of tools including a septic tank, constructed wetlands, sand filters, and a solar distillation system. By employing these treatment elements, the CSL site generally doesn’t release anything back into the public sewage system.

As more landscapes like the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes are designed, built, and monitored, the more refined and sophisticated the SITES rating system will become. Each SITES project provides vital knowledge and creates incentives for the construction of future regenerative sites. The session ended with this thought: “What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?”

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer associate.

Image credits: (1, 3, 4, 6) Landscape Voice, (2, 5) Andropogon Associates

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Presenting as part of the TEDxWDC, a day-long discussion between Washington D.C.’s creative leaders, landscape architect Jeff Lee, FASLA, talks about the need to recognize the continuity between man and nature, striving to raise awareness of “planning and design strategies for creating new cities and rejuvenating existing mega-cities.”

Lee expresses the need for more environmentally-conscious urbanism. The world is urbanizing at a rapid pace, with “a majority of the projected 12 billion people to live in cities by 2050.” Stunningly, by this time “China alone will build 300 new cities the size of Chicago.” Given the ecologically devastating effects of urbanization to date, “we must find a better way” to build and live.

On a local level, the environmental consequences of reckless urbanization are undeniable. In the 64,000 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, urbanization has created vast impervious surfaces that prevent rainwater from recharging aquifers. Additionally, runoff from impervious surfaces creates an anaerobic dead zone in the Bay. In Washington D.C., stormwater systems are overwhelmed by the volume of runoff about 40 times a year, sending raw sewage into the Anacostia River.

According to Lee, to address these problems we must look to nature. Instead of collecting water into drain pipes, we can store and filter it using ecological systems. For instance, the first low-impact development in Washington D.C. was the Barracks Row streetscape, which utilizes tree pits as sponges to collect and slowly release water to reduce strain on the city stormwater system.

On a larger scale, the DC CityCenter project, a six-building mixed-use development, will use a terraced network of green roofs and streetscaping where all the water is “collected, treated, and reused.” Lee states, “We upped the ante on this one, where not only are we treating the sidewalk water, but we’re also treating the street water, too.”


At the broader urban scale, Lee described his work in Suzhou, China. Tasked with designing an entirely new city, Lee and Associates envisioned a 4,000 acre settlement that integrates urban infrastructure with the existing ecosystem. In order to not disrupt the rice harvests, which are highly dependent on the careful control of water, the infrastructure is placed at the lowest point of the site. This location also enables the city to use its municipal solid waste to achieve a dramatic increase in energy efficiency. Lee describes how “there are new technologies for treating that biomass – drying and burning it – to create fuel.”


Throughout all of his examples, Lee stresses the importance of recognizing man as part of nature and the ways good design takes inspiration from nature. He continually refers back to the golden ratio – a set of proportions that appears throughout nature and human design – as evidence of our continuity with the natural world. Not only can integrating our designs with natural systems mitigate or even reverse the destructive impacts of urbanization, it can also provide a more enriching and beautiful experience for people. Lee describes how “nature shows us the way to build and the way to live. With our awareness that we are part of nature and not over it, and with our ability to communicate and connect as never before, we can leave our grandchildren’s children something of awe and inspiration.”

This guest post is by Benjamin Wellington, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Louisiana State University, and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) Urban Places and Spaces, (2) Gustafson Guthrie Nichol + Sir Norman Forster, Lee and Associates, (3) Lee and Associates

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After two years of internal debate among 17 different federal agencies and the D.C. government, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) released its long-awaited plans for a new Southwest Eco-District designed to undo the worst damage of the massive “urban renewal” projects inflicted on L’Enfant neighborhood over the past decades. Designed to transform the spooky, almost pedestrian-free area just south of the Mall into a highly sustainable, people-friendly cultural and business destination, the Eco-district plan means to take on many challenges at once. As Elizabeth Miller, ASLA, the intrepid landscape architect who is guiding the project, explained, this 110-acre, 15-square block project is meant to showcase “high performance buildings and landscapes” while creating space for 19,000 new federal workers and solving some of the worst pedestrian access problems.

At the beginning of the hearing today, NCPC Chairman L. Preston Bryant, Jr said the project can go a long way to “breathing new life into the city.” While the whole Eco-District may take 20 or 30 years to design and implement, “we have a once in a generation opportunity to make this happen.” He added that NCPC and its many federal partners are eager to move forward because there are some synergies that make the timing right: The Department of Energy (DOE) building is “coming to a lifecycle decision,” meaning that it’s ready to be torn down because it’s now highly inefficient in terms of energy and water use; the Southwest waterfront plans are moving forward, with $2 billion in private sector investment set; and the D.C. government-led Maryland Avenue redevelopment project is on its way.

Miller outlined a vision for an Eco-District that provokes the imagination, at least among sustainable designers. She said the new District will “capture, manage, and reuse water, energy, and waste” and work beyond a single building, leveraging clusters of buildings to create a new system. At the same time, the plan will take aim at the incredible lack of public access — the barriers, the highways, and grade changes — that keep people away, except for the federal workers that have to go there for work.

Diane Sullivan, sustainability planner for NCPC, said a sustainable mixed-use community will arise out of a set of new “guidelines, objectives” that will frame neighborhood development efforts and the creation of new environmental systems.

On developing the neighborhood, Sullivan said that a user survey of D.C. residents found that the lack of amenities was the overwhelming reason why people didn’t want to move down there or even hang out there. So the goal is create a new tree-lined 10th street (or L’Enfant Place) that can connect the Mall to the new Southwest waterfront development while also making that connection itself an exciting cultural destination, lined with 1.2 million square feet in new space for up to 5 new museums, along with farmers’ markets and other draws.


Better pedestrian access is also key to making all this work. In the new plans, Miller said Virginia and Maryland Avenues will re-appear, carving new paths through new buildings as park-like avenues for promenading. Sullivan said the new local street designs cutting up the mega-blocks are still being worked out. She asked, “which streets should be monumental? Which should be local?”

To better get those pedestrians — all those federal workers — to the area, a “better inter-modal system” will be put in place, with a revamped, solar roofed-L’Enfant station, offering both commuter rail and Metro. To ease pressure off Union Station, more commuter rail may be directed there somehow.


The saving grace of the scary L’Enfant Place now is the fountain in Dan Kiley’s Modern-era Benjamin Banneker park, with its dramatic overlook across the Washington Channel. Unfortunately, the rest of Kiley’s park was not well realized. With spaghetti loops of highways cutting through, it’s a matter of taking your life in your own hands to go from the park to the waterfront. In the new plans, Kiley’s park will be completely redone but the area will still serve as a monument to African American surveyor Banneker. The new, more sustainable park will more easily connect to the waterfront while providing a new visual identity for the “eco” part of the district.


Now, on the systems that will make the district more eco: First, many of the old federal buildings will go, getting a revamp so they meet the goals of Obama’s Executive Order 13514, which calls for federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy use. The ones that stay, like the famed Brutalist HUD building, will be updated to be more efficient.

Sullivan said the goal is to have “zero-net energy district as measured in carbon.” Pretty near impossible unless fully renewable power is the rule for the new Eco-District. Sullivan said solar PVs and solar thermal systems (for hot water) will be added to the roofs of the new buildings wherever possible, while ground-source heat will also be tapped. A central facility run by GSA, which runs on natural gas, will still be used (but that won’t get them to zero emissions).

Heading down towards the water, the freeway that cuts off the connection between Benjamin Banneker park and the waterfront will be capped with a new layer covered in solar panels.

For water, the goal is to reduce potable water use throughout the Eco-District by 70 percent and manage all stormwater where it falls. All building greywater will be reused while blackwater will go to the new anaerobic plant. Rainwater will be caught by acres of green roofs (including edible ones), green streets, trees, and planters. What isn’t caught will be funneled into cisterns underneath 10th street and used later. Green infrastructure is then clearly a central part of the strategy. Permeable areas overall are to grow to 35 percent, while the tree canopy is to reach 40 percent (a solid target). (Right now, the barren area has just 8 percent tree cover). While we didn’t hear anything substantive about creating a wildlife-friendly landscape designed to attract diverse species, we hope that’s in the works.


There are more ambitious goals for waste reductions: Some 75 percent of construction materials for the new buildings will be reused, and 80 percent of everyday waste will be diverted from the landfill. A composting program will be put in place, too.

So, how will this all actually work? Sullivan sees some government buildings first getting a light rehabilitation and then others will undergo a full rehabilitation. Three federal buildings will be “re-purposed” as major infill development begins. Then, big redevelopment will start over the freeway. At the same time, critical projects like a new Banneker park and a new 10th street landscape will begin next year.

What’s this all going to cost? Miller and Sullivan said an economic feasibility study only provided some high-level numbers, but they did say the federal government would make back its multibillion dollar investment over 20 years through reduced energy, water, and waste fees; increased revenues from private sector developers; and improved local tax gains.

While we hope this project is a sure thing, new governance structures and partnership and financing agreements will need to be worked out among all the partners, including the private sector developers who are key to making this all happen. Let’s hope this is not a protracted process. As the Eco-District gets moving, it can become an innovative showcase for how to revamp government hubs across the U.S.

Learn more about the bold plans. D.C. residents can attend a public hearing on the proposals on July 19. The comment period will be open for three months. Comments will be incorporated into a final plan ready to go by early 2013. By the end of next year, NCPC hopes to have design competitions launched for a new Banneker park and 10th street, its two priority public projects.

Image credit: ZGF Architects, courtesy of NCPC

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To celebrate High Performance Building Week, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is hosting a Congressional green roof reception and tour. Policymakers, design professionals, local media, and interested members of the public are encouraged attend.

In a presentation, ASLA CEO / Executive VP Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, will be covering the economic and environmental benefits of green roofs and green infrastructure. Somerville will explain how green infrastructure is a less expensive solution for controlling stormwater runoff, conserves water and improves water quality, reduces the urban heat island effect, lowers building energy use, improves air quality, stores carbon, and creates biohabitat.

The event is part of an annual set of discussions and tours organized by the High-Performance Buildings Caucus Coalition, a private sector group that works with the High-Performance Buildings Caucus of the U.S. Congress to showcase best practices in building and site design. The Congressional Caucus is focused on increasing awareness among policymakers about the “major impact buildings have on our health, safety and welfare and the opportunities to design, construct and operate high-performance buildings.”

When: Monday, May 14, 2012, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Where: ASLA Headquarters’ Rooftop, 636 Eye Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001

RSVP at governmentaffairs@asla.org by Friday, May 11th.

For questions or more information, please contact Roxanne Blackwell, Director, Federal Goverment Affairs, ASLA, at rblackwell@asla.org or 202-216-2334

This is a widely-attended event so attendance is permissible under both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate rules.

Image credit: ASLA Green Roof / ASLA

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At a historic church in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray said there are either two future directions for the city: “The gaps between us could further divide our city,” or the city could become “greener, more equitable, and more prosperous” for all. Outlining a bold vision for a Sustainable D.C., Gray said he wanted the city to not only be the greenest in the U.S. but among all world cities. D.C. is currently ranked 8th in a recent ranking of North American cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit so the city has quite a ways to go to get to number one in this continent, let alone the world. In the near term, can D.C. beat New York City, Vancouver, or San Francisco? That’s a stretch and only possible with deep collaboration with the non-profit and private sectors.

Gray is giving the city one generation — 20 years — to accomplish his ambitious objectives, which weave in health, economic, employment, and environmental goals. The idea is that D.C. will not only become greenest but healthiest, with the most number of green jobs. On top of this, Gray wants to continue to grow the city’s population in a big way. Gray said “sustainability will need to be a continual process.”

In terms of carbon dioxide, the city wants to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2032. In presenting the goals, Christopher Tuluo, head of D.C.’s Environment Department, said “climate change is happening. If someone says it isn’t, they are flat out wrong.” A key part of achieving this goal will be reaching objectives on energy use and efficiency. The city seeks to cut district-wide energy use by 50 percent while increasing renewable energy use to 50 percent. Given some 75 percent of emissions come from buildings, the District will push for adaptive re-use of old buildings so they can become greener. The idea is to maintain and improve the current building stock and increase the number of LEED buildings (the city is already number one for that metric). Another way to fight the effect of climate change: strengthening D.C.’s already considerable urban forest, which stores much of the city’s carbon, reaching a 40 percent tree canopy by 2032. Here Tuluo added that “trees are important when it’s 100 degrees out because of climate change.”

Investing in more sustainable transportation systems is also key to both reducing transportation-related emissions and adapting to a carbon-constrained world. The district seeks to make 75 percent of all trips walking, biking, or transit in 20 years. Harriet Tregoning, D.C.’s planning director, said “this is a stretch goal but these trips already make up 50 percent of all trips right now.” She discussed how more young people may be moving to D.C. because the city’s transportation system is so affordable. This younger generation is so in debt with college loans they can’t afford cars. In fact, just 60 percent of D.C. residents own cars and that number is falling.

Sustainability means improving D.C.’s waterways, which are amongst the most polluted in the country. Gray wants 100 percent of District waterways to be fishable and swimmable, and 75 percent of D.C.’s green space to be used as green infrastructure that captures and filters rainwater for reuse. Tuluo wants the city to become much “spongier.” He wants the city to become “a much more natural place — not just for the environmental benefits. We want return on investment” in terms of stormwater management benefits.

The process for dealing with waste, which the Economist Intelligence Unit report said was among D.C. weak points, will need to be totally transformed if the city is going to reach zero waste in 20 years. Tuluo asked, “is zero waste a pipe dream?” Perhaps not. Organic waste is already turned into compost as a matter of practice in San Francisco, one of the best cities at dealing with waste. He sees D.C. residents “becoming urban farmers,” using their compost daily, and other waste consumed by digesters that turn other garbage into energy.

The front end of the reuse chain is local food production, which will also need to ramped up if the 75 percent of all food is to be grown within a quarter-mile of the population eating it. Tregoning argued that “it used to be really difficult to find a supermarket in the District.” While that has changed, improving the availability of local produce will be sped along by a network of food-productive roofs. She wants one million square feet of these vegetated roofs in place funneling produce to local shops and co-ops. (According to Gray, the city is already number-one in terms of green roofs so this may be possible). Getting local produce to D.C. residents seems to be a key focus. Health must be at the top of a sustainability agenda in a city where 22 percent of the population is obese. Gray wants to cut that rate in half in 20 years. 

D.C.’s plan won’t work without more equitable economic and employment growth. Right now, the unemployment rates in the city differ dramatically from ward to ward. In Ward 3, it’s as low as 2 percent, while in poorer parts of the city, like Ward 8, it’s 24 percent, among the highest in the country. Gray wants to boost the number of green jobs by five times — providing opportunities at all levels, from the PhDs experimenting with biofuels to the landscape architects designing parks, from the green roof installers to the maintenance crews keeping green infrastructure and waste reuse systems working.

Explore the plan. There are a few short, medium, and long-term actions listed. As Tregoning said, “the vision is a painting of what’s possible in the District.” A design and implementation strategy with hundreds of actions comes next. To see some actions that should be considered, explore ASLA’s 30-page set of recommendations: Becoming Greenest. One big focus of ASLA’s report was the need for a climate adaptation plan. If local species in D.C.’s great urban forest were to die off due to higher temperatures, none of the other goals related to water, air quality, or health will be possible.

Image credit: City Center, Washington, D.C. / SWF Institute

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Dr. Diana Balmori, FASLA, Ph.D, is principal of Balmori Associates. Balmori also teaches at the Yale School of Architecture and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and has served as a Senior Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington, D.C for seven years. She serves on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Balmori’s most recent books are
Groundwork (Monacelli Press, 2011) with Joel Sanders and Landscape Manifesto (Yale University Press, 2010).

In Groundwork, your new book with architect Joel Sanders, you argue that designers must “pursue a new approach that overcomes the false dichotomy between architecture and landscape.” How did this false dichotomy begin? What are architects and landscape architects doing to perpetuate it?

Architects think of architecture as an object, and of landscape as background to that object, just something you put the object on but not something that has anything to do with the object itself. The famous dividing line given is five feet from where the building ends is where the landscape starts. That explains the separation in a very graphic way. While many arts have really been moving away from the object, architecture has really become more and more object-oriented.

The change in the relationship between the two has a lot to do with the fact that space has become more important than the object. That elevates the status of landscape on the one hand and diminishes the status of the object. That’s the beginning of the change. It’s quite evident that this is happening now so architects have suddenly become more interested in landscape.

It is now space that interests us. And landscape is the discipline in which artistic ideas are being debated. It has become the place in which to have the debate. Now I’m saying this as if it had already happened. You’re going to see places where it’s not happening at all, you’re going to see places where a little bit is happening, and you’ll find places in which it’s very clear has happened.

You and Sanders also argue that if architects and landscape architects got on the same page, buildings and landscapes could perform so much better and work as “linked, interactive systems that heal the environment.” How can these disciplines meet up? What are the points of agreement?

The real points of agreement are outside of both professions in a way. It lies in the new definition of nature, a definition that has dramatically changed. One of the most dramatic changes is that suddenly we are part of nature. Before, we were outside it, nature was out there, we did things to it, it did things to us, but we were outside. Now we know that we’re totally integrated and whatever we do to nature affects us, too. This new way of looking at nature suddenly changes the basis of our thinking.

There will be no remedy but to put the architecture and landscape together. Both architects and landscape architects are starting to work in ways that imitate nature in the way that it functions. Buildings are trying to become much more like living things. Their facades can move so that at times of sun this happens and at times of rain this other thing happens. They’re becoming like breathing animals, too. You bring the air in and expel it in a different way, like a living being. We’re now looking at living systems to see how the building could imitate them better.


Landscape architects have been working with living things for a very long time so they’re very much more attuned to how difficult it is to maintain life and have it prosper. However, at the same time, they would like to find ways in which they can engineer things to work like natural systems. So they’re working much more with inert materials that they didn’t use before because they had this false naturalism. Engineered systems are fine as long as they work like nature. You don’t imitate the surface or the looks of the landscape but you imitate how it works. So there’s a big shift, a colossal shift. Suddenly, landscape architects and architects are much more on the same page because of these ideas. It’s now possible to cross that line.

Instead of embedding nature in the city, which can be accomplished by adding urban parks, you say “the city must now be embedded in nature.” What’s the difference? How can landscape architects accomplish this?

In a way, the answer to this lies in my answer to the earlier question. The city needs to begin to work like nature. That’s what embedding nature really means. All of its systems need to become like natural systems. For example, in the 19th century, when water had to be dealt with, you gathered all of it, drained in a sewer line, and emptied it into a river. The conveyance of water and sewage was an incredible invention, incredibly important for cities; these systems allowed cities to grow. But we now have natural systems by which we could gather water project by project, treat it in place, clean it, then reuse it as gray water, and return a part of it to the atmosphere through the evapotranspiration of plants. These systems only require something like a city block to be justified. We don’t need to think of putting in a system for a city of ten million because that’s going to take centuries to change. If we can change cities by adding in localized systems that work like nature, then the city would be embedded in nature.

Some of your projects change how people interact with nature in the city. Your firm created plans for Farmington Canal in New Haven, a 14-mile stretch of abandoned railroad track, and actually transform one segment in front of Yale University’s Malone Center. How did this linear park, one of the first ever, work? How do you find people are using it?

Well, it’s very successful. It was 14 miles but it only reached the edge of the city because the land that belonged to Yale. The four blocks that took you to the heart of downtown belonged to Yale. I did this study of the whole canal, which was created first then in turn was abandoned. It was going to be sold off in pieces as parking lots and other buildings, etc. Bringing it back was totally a community effort. They asked me to help and said, “Well, look, if you’d produce some drawings maybe we can convince somebody, because we’re not able to convince them now.” So I did a study for them and explored what these things could become over time, over a long stretch of time. I took the whole 14 miles, particularly one chunk just going out of New Haven, and said this thing is like a centipede with many, many legs. Where it intersects with streets, that part of the city can change. You could turn buildings’ entrances around, open different streets, close others.

The community group was able to convince the city. They got the Trust for Public Land to negotiate with the railroad to buy the land. The city chose a local engineer to build those 14 miles. All of the linear parks have been built as essentially a 10-foot wide asphalt top with vegetation along the sides. It’s great it’s been saved from being sold off in pieces.

At the very beginning of these linear parks, it was considered a way of banking land in a continuous line for a future system of transportation. However, no one really seriously considered that this could become a park. Well, you should try to take this away from the citizens of New Haven because what happens is that this linear park, like most of them, has become very, very popular. It’s used for running, biking, walking, and going places. It still has problems in areas where there’s a very high crime rate, but the crime is diminished by the fact that the linear park is there. It’s constantly used as a transit network and it’s monitored.

Downtown, Yale then decided to do the four blocks of linear park. These four blocks are really a wonderful way to bring this park all the way downtown. We finished the first two blocks last year and the next two blocks will be finished next year.

 
Another project you designed, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Forth Worth, upends the idea of a parking lot, blurring the lines between nature and transportation infrastructure. Instead of hard, dead space, this parking lot offers densely planted “water-gathering rills.” Getting out of the car is just the beginning of the “botanical experience.” What will it take for these types of parking lots, which offer multiple benefits, to go mainstream? What’s the cost of doing something like this compared with a regular parking lot?

The cost of these parking lots is higher but only by a bit. When you look at them over a chunk of time they are cheaper. Parking lots are often done at the end of a project, and developers don’t want to spend any money on them. So they become these wastelands, the least sustainable parts of our environment. With just a bit more effort we can make these parking lots assets that give back.


Besides parking lots, there are other ways to use nature to transform the city. In Bilbao, we won a garden design competition to participate in the Bilbao Jardin Garden festival. We were among 20 designers invited to create a garden on a 30 x 30 feet square space. We asked the city if we could change the form but keep the same dimensions. So we created this garden that climbs the stairs and turns a space you move through into an experience, a destination. It was a temporary project but it transformed a piece of the city for five months.


Many of your residential projects, particularly the rooftop gardens, still feel cutting-edge. Can you talk about how you designed the rooftop garden on 684 Broadway, which maximizes biodiversity, and the Solaire, which was the first green roof on a residential high-rise in the U.S.?

When I first designed the rooftop garden on the The Solaire I wanted lots of bamboo, but we had this landscape contractor who didn’t really know how to do this. I wanted to create this poetic effect, because with bamboo, you have the wind moving through, which creates this lovely sound. But bamboo, which is a very strong plant when it’s in the ground, can only be moved about one week during the year. Well, our contractor missed the date so the bamboo all died. We replaced it with Amelanchier trees which are much easier to plant.


The 684 Broadway project is a good example of what Joel Sanders and I were talking about in Groundwork, it’s a real merging of the landscape and building forms. We used a sustainable strategy that aims to maximize biodiversity and sustainable design by extending green space both horizontally and vertically within the renovated apartment and exterior roof space. I used lots of native grasses to create a quiet space.


In your bold recent book, Landscape Manifesto, you offer 25 rules on how to think about and work with nature. Which guides you the most? Which is the most important for all of us to remember?

I can’t say which is the most important out of all of them. These aren’t meant to be rules but guidelines. All 25 are important, which is why they are in the book. I can only say which is most important to me at the moment.

#24 Landscape can be like poetry, highly suggestive, and open to multiple interpretations.

#15 Landscape can create a meeting place where people can delight in unexpected forms and spaces, inventing why and how they are to be appreciated.

I think this sense of invention, of not knowing how my landscapes are going to be used is exciting. People use spaces in ways I hadn’t imagined. I love that. 

Image credits: (1) Diana Balmori / Image credit: © Margaret Morton, (2) Hudson Yards, New York. Image credit: © Balmori Associates and Work AC, (3) Farmington Canal at Yale University, New haven, CT. Image credit: © Balmori Associates, (4) Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth. Image credit: Beck / Aerial Photography, Inc., (5) The Garden that Climbs the Stairs. Image credit: © Iwan Baan, (6) The Solaire, Battery Park City, New York. Image credit: © Balmori Associates, (7) 684 Broadway, New York, Balmori Associates and Joel Sanders Architect. Image credit: © Mark Dye

Interview conducted by Jared Green

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