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Archive for the ‘Waste’ Category

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Combined sewer overflow point, Anacostia, D.C. / Chesapeake Bay.net

While the Potomac and the Anacostia Rivers gave birth to the District of Columbia, they have suffered years of contamination from raw sewage, which spill into the rivers when the aging combined sewer and stormwater infrastructure overflows. To address this issue, in 2010 the District initiated the DC Clean Rivers Project (DCCR) and began constructing massive underground tunnels that will convey contaminated runoff into the Blue Plains wastewater treatment facility. While a deep-bore tunneling machine affectionately named Lady Bird digs its way 100 feet each day at great expense, D.C. is now finally able to move forward with a more cost-effective green infrastructure plan, like New York City and Philadelphia. A new agreement with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) finalized in May allows DC Water, the city’s water utility, to remove one of the proposed tunnels and instead invest in turning hundreds of acres of impervious surfaces into green, absorbent ones. However, it appears not everyone will benefit equally from the new green infrastructure plan.

Under the new consent decree with the EPA and DOJ, DC Water eliminated the previously-planned underground tunnel for Rock Creek and will instead build green infrastructure that covers 365 acres. Phases of this work will start soon and the whole plan will be complete by 2030.

DC Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2010 / DC Water

DC Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2010 / DC Water

New Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2015 / DC Water

New Clean Rivers Project Plan in 2015 / DC Water

The neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, Takoma, Petworth, and others surrounding the Rock Creek watershed will get rain gardens, bioswales, porous pavement, and green roofs designed to capture and clean runoff, replacing the originally-planned tunnel. Near Georgetown, there will still be a tunnel but gravity, rather than an energy-intensive pumping station, will passively transfer water to the wastewater treatment plant, explains CityLab. That stretch will also get some new green infrastructure.

However, as some local activists who attended a recent briefing at the National Building Museum made clear, there are deep concerns about whether the new green infrastructure approach will benefit the Anacostia River communities any time soon. Over the years, the Anacostia, which is considered one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, has borne the bulk of environmental abuse. This is why DC Water made creating a new tunnel to address the Anaocostia River’s problems the highest priority. However, the community won’t see the benefits until at least 2022 when the new tunnel finally opens. Then, it’s expected to remove about 98 percent of the river’s pollution, making it potentially clean enough to swim in.

Meanwhile, along the Anacostia’s 8 miles, combined sewer overflows continue to occur in 17 different places, reports CityLab. So, according to these activists, the new plan has raised some environmental justice issues: it’s about who reaps the many benefits of green infrastructure first, and who gains the most long-term.

This desire for green infrastructure isn’t simply about cleaner rivers. Green infrastructure creates additional green space for the neighborhoods, reduces the heat-island effect, and improves air quality while creating jobs and increasing property values. The discrepancy in property values and income levels between the neighborhoods that will receive these benefits sooner and those that will receive a mostly-grey infrastructure fix is clear.

Despite the fears that green infrastructure can lead to gentrification, many argue that access to green infrastructure empowers communities and further marginalizes those without it. Even with the slow progress of the Anacostia tunnel, green infrastructure projects should be started sooner along the Anacostia. There are so many opportunities.

For example, along Buzzard’s Point in Southwest D.C., there are opportunities to create a new waterfront promenade that can also capture runoff with natural systems. Vacant houses in the area could also be turned into stormwater cisterns or redeveloped as parks. But, as of now, the only real plans are to create a new D.C. United soccer stadium there, which will only increase impervious surfaces, unless green infrastructure is better integrated into the design. With new incentives, green streets and roofs could spread throughout these neighborhoods, too.

A green roof that was installed over an existing drinking water reservoir located at Fort Reno as part of the Clean Rivers Project / American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists

A green roof that was installed over an existing drinking water reservoir located at Fort Reno as part of the Clean Rivers Project / American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists

The new 11th Street Bridge Park will help restore the Anacostia River ecosystems, but this project is still many years away. The new South Capitol street corridor project will bring some green infrastructure to the Anacostia area as well, but perhaps not enough. DC Water, which has been pushing for its new green infrastructure approach for years, has limited resources to fulfill its mission, and the tunnel and green infrastructure plan are great expenses. It certainly wants to bring more green infrastructure to the District, but, hopefully, these green infrastructure opportunities can be widespread so everyone benefits equally.

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Brightwater / Jared Green

Imagine a wastewater treatment facility where people get married, amid 40-acres of restored salmon habitat with designed ponds and wetlands. It sounds far-fetched but it’s reality in Snohomish County, Washington, near the border with King County, about an hour northeast from downtown Seattle. In a tour of the Brightwater facility during the American Planning Association (APA) conference by Michael Popiwny, the landscape architect who managed this $1 billion project for the King County government, we learn how wastewater treatment plants can become assets instead of drains on communities and the environment. The key to success was an interdisciplinary management, design, and construction team that was highly responsive to community feedback and deeply sensitive to environmental concerns. Plus, Brightwater was paid for by growth in the region. As new people are attracted to the quality of life the Seattle area offers, they move in and pay a $4,000 – $8,000 sewer hook-up fee. “The fact that new people were paying for the system helped us to sell it to the community.”

Brightwater, a 15-year endeavor that began operations in 2011, is a wastewater treatment facility, environmental education and community center, and ecological system rolled into one. It’s a 114-acre site, nestled in a wealthy residential area, with some 70 acres of trails and parks open to the public. There are 13 miles of underground conveyance pipes that direct wastewater to the plant. When it reaches the plant, the wastewater is cleaned through the largest membrane bioreactor system in North America, which makes the water 70 percent cleaner than conventional approaches. It is then sent out through a 600-foot-deep outfall pipe a mile out into the Puget sound. Excess materials are turned into “loop,” a biosolid that is sold to local farms and orchards at very low cost.

However, this description of the system doesn’t do justice the experience of being at Brightwater. Popiwny explained the critical role excellent design played in “selling this place to the community.” He said, “we realized that this place needed to be beautiful. We need it to be very well designed.” Just siting the project won King and Snohomish counties, along with CHM2Hill and Environmental Design Associates, an ASLA 2005 Professional Analysis and Planning award. Then, engineers with CHM2Hill and landscape architects with Hargreaves Associates and Mithun along with restoration ecologists and conservation biologists came together in an interdisciplinary design team to create a welcoming place that actually restored the ecological function of the landscape, turning into a place that aids salmon in their annual migration.

Popiwny briefly described the design and construction process: “We had separate contracts for the engineering and design teams. We needed the strongest engineering team and the strongest landscape architecture team. The teams completed their work separately and then we combined their efforts in the final design. Internally, we had an engineer lead the engineering team, and I led the design team. It’s important that you set up competitions for top notch talent in each category and then give them equal status.”

As the deep processing facilities were dug out of the landscape, the excess soil was turned into “decorative, geometric landforms,” by Hargreaves Associates. “These landforms alone took thousands of trucks off the highway, saved lots of carbon,” explained Popiwny.

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On the way to the North 40 acres, Brightwater / Jared Green

Amid these landforms in the “north 40 acres” is an elaborate system of forests, meadows, raingardens, wetlands, and ponds that hold and clean rainwater before directing it to the streams salmon use. What was once an auto depot is now a place that provides great environmental benefits.

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Restored forested habitat / Jared Green

The process of restoring the habitat and turning into a publicly-accessible park was complex, involving stream and wetland biologists, who guided ecological decisions, and landscape architects with Hargreaves. The team used 15 different types of rocks to create two different stream corridors that empty into ponds where salmon rest on their uphill climb to the places where they spawn. “The result is something similar to the original stream.”

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Restored stream / Jared Green

To restore the forested wetland, the Brightwater team made it an environmental education and community outreach project. Kids from the area helped plant over 20,000 native willows. “Native willows are easy for children to plant. We had about 4-6 busloads of kids from the surrounding area per week.” This effort really helped create community buy-in and grow a sense of greater investment in the success of the project.

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Forested wetland / Jared Green

As you walk out of the park and into the environmental education center, which was designed and built to a LEED Platinum level, you can see how an open-minded couple would actually want to host a wedding here. Popiwny laughed and said one comment he read about the onsite wedding online was, “it’s today — get with it!” There are pleasing views of the green infrastructure. One of the larger buildings is also a frequent host for local non-profits and community meetings.

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Environmental education center / Jared Green

All of this is a result of efforts to stave off protracted lawsuits that would have delayed the project from the beginning. The parkland, environmental education and community centers, were all part of the $149 million set aside as part of the “mitigation budget.” According to Popiwny, “budgeting this kind of work upfront meant saving money over the long run.” However, the Brightwater project was still sued by local sewer districts who argued that the project “spent too much on mitigation.” The state supreme court eventually sided with Brightwater. Popiwny said “lawsuits are an inevitable part of large projects.”

Now the challenges to projects like Brightwater are “often in the guise of environmental protection.” But Popiwny just sees this as part of the broader system of checks in a democratic system. “There needs to be multiple checks as these projects can affect communities. The region benefited from the opposition to the project as it pushed us towards a higher performance, but it also made it more expensive.” The Brightwater team included other forms of technical fail-safe systems, like multiple, isolated ponds to separate acid or bases if there was an overflow or accident caused by an earthquake, and engineering all pipes and systems to withstand high levels of seismic activity.

As we walk out of the environmental education center, which features flexible classrooms for groups of all ages and enables a range of hands-on learning about the water cycle, we head to the facility itself, which is strangely odorless. “There are three levels of odor control.”

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Brightwater wastewater treatment plant / Jared Green

Spread throughout the site is public art, as the project was part of the state’s 1 percent for art program. Climbing up a stairwell to the spot where the millions of gallons of cleaned water is sent out to the sound, there is artist Jane Tsong’s poem, which actively blesses the elements of the plant (air, water, biosolids) as “they depart from the treatment process and continue their life cycle into the natural world.”

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Poems by Jane Tsong / Jared Green

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Poems by Jane Tsong / Jared Green

Popiwny said the facility staff particularly connect with these poems, as it is reminder of how meaningful their work really is.

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Chrysanthemums grow at the base of Mount Hariya, a former landfill / Latz+Partners

Chrysanthemums grow at the base of Mount Hariya, a former landfill / Latz+Partners

The “Mountain of Crap,” the nickname for Hiriya landfill, and Freshkills share more than just evocative names. They are also two of the most outstanding examples of landscape transformation, in this case, urban landfills that have become parks – Ariel Sharon Park, outside of Tel Aviv, Israel and Freshkills Park, in Staten Island, New York.

Both were the wastelands of their respective cities. They began receiving garbage over 60 years ago, and closed at nearly the same time – Hiriya in 1999 and Freshkills in 2001. When complete, Ariel Sharon Park – like Freshkills – will be roughly three times the size of Central Park. The two parks signed a “twin parks” agreement last year to share information and plan cooperatively. Leaders from both parks will also present at April’s Greater & Greener Urban Parks Conference in San Francisco.

While much is known about Freshkills, less is known about the history of Ariel Sharon Park, at least in the U.S. Hiriya landfill is some 200-feet-high given because it sits on 25 million tons of waste. The landfill is located directly under the flight paths to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport. As massive flocks of birds swarming Hiriya caused a few too many close-misses and toxic runoff leached into streams adjacent to the landfill, public outcry to close the landfill grew.

By its final year of operation in 1998, Hiriya was receiving 3,000 tons of household waste per day. In 1999, it became a transfer station, and rehabilitation plans began in 2001. But even as park development move forward, the site continues waste operations. Municipal and agricultural waste is sorted and transferred at a large recycling center that captures methane from organic waste in anaerobic biogas digesters. The facility captures enough methane to power the entire recycling facility and sell back excess electricity to the Tel Aviv grid.

Anaerobic Biogas Digesters / Chris Tackett

Anaerobic Biogas Digesters / Chris Tackett

As much as 80 percent of incoming waste is reportedly recycled or reused by the Arrow Bio management company.

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Waste transfer & recycling station / Yoshi Silverstein

An environmental education center near the recycling facilities features landfill-derived art from sponsored competitions alongside other interpretive resources.

Landfill art in the environmental education center / Yoshi Silverstein

Landfill art in the environmental education center / Yoshi Silverstein

As a first step, landscape architect Peter Latz, who is famous for Landscape Park Duisborg-Nord in Germany, designed an innovative “bio-plastic” layer covered with gravel and a meter of soil to protect wildflowers and vegetation from the underlying methane and other contaminants. Rainwater collection pools between the bio-plastic and soil layers will provide a source for the irrigation system for trees.

"Mount" Hariya Landfill / Latz+Partners

“Mount” Hariya Landfill / Latz+Partners

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Water collection pool during construction / Yoshi Silverstein

Because it lies in the Ben-Gurion flyway and is in the center of the road connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the road connecting Tel Aviv to Haifa, the area is ill-suited for housing, even without the landfill. So in addition to the mountain capping the landfill itself, surrounding agricultural fields and waterways are being developed as wildlife habitat with man-made ponds, which will be accessible via bike and walking trails.

Pergola with views of Tel Aviv / Jessica Steinberg-Times of Israel

Pergola with views of Tel Aviv / Jessica Steinberg-Times of Israel

The paths winding through orchards, agricultural terraces, and native plantings will be laid on beds of recycled material. A lake and re-directed water systems will help alleviate flooding issues for South Tel Aviv and Holon, and a promenade and 50,000-seat amphitheater will draw people. Laura Starr, ASLA, Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects, led the initial international planning and design charette to create a vision for the park.

See a brief video outlining this vision:

Hiriya took its name from the former Arab village, al-Hariya, whose residents were evacuated prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. While its counterpart, Jaffa Landfill Park, designed by Braudo-Maoz Landscape Architecture of Tel Aviv, Israel, used the removal of a landfill and reconstruction of a seashore to ameliorate a painful past and serve as a springboard for social discourse, it’s unclear whether designs for the park include any official acknowledgement of Hiriya’s pre-landfill history.

What cannot be hidden is Hiriya’s mountain of crap. If all goes as planned, though, it will serve as a beacon for environmental restoration.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder of Mitsui Design.

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Waste Music Festival / Title Magazine

According to Mariana Mogilevich and Curt Gambetta, Princeton University Mellon Initiative, “the production of waste and the production of space go hand in hand.” As landscape architects, architects, and urban designers remake our cities, waste is created too. Moving this waste shapes our urban landscape. Putting all this waste somewhere often means the creation of segregated urban wastelands.

As Mogilevich and Gambetta explain though, “despite waste’s centrality to the design and imagination of cities, it is today understood as a largely technical problem about the management of its disappearance.” On March 7 at Princeton University, they will assemble a diverse group to look the opportunities in spaces “designed as waste or wasted.”

Sessions will explore questions like: “What is a wasteland, and what role does design play in its definition and reclamation? What is the relationship between wasteland improvement and social and economic transformation?”

Speakers include landscape historians, architects, geographers, urban designers, anthropologists, and artists.

Along with the symposium, the team has put together a new exhibition called Tracing Waste, which looks at “artistic works that trace the movement of trash and sewage.” The exhibition runs from February 23 to March 13.

The symposium on March 7 is free and open to the public.

And here’s a symposium for landscape architects interested in cutting-edge modeling technologies: Simulating Natures at the University of Pennsylvania, March 19-20. The organizers ask: “how can we better engage the invisible biotic and abiotic interactions and flows that exist outside of human creation but can only be understood through our systems of representation?” Speakers include Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, Harvard University; James Corner, ASLA, Field Operations; and Alex Felson, ASLA, Yale University, among others.

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1_30000 Dredge Anth + 2008 islands

Jamaica Bay / Drudge Design Collaborative

To dredge simply means to scoop up sediment, often underwater, and move it to another location. While this process is often associated with moving contaminated soils to a place where they can be safely capped, today, dredging is also increasingly about harnessing natural processes to create new landforms and ecological systems. New “dredge landscapes,” designed systems, offer opportunities for ecological restoration, said Brett Milligan, ASLA, Dredge Research Collaborative, at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver.

Sediment is dynamic and dramatically differs from place to place. Studying the natural flow of sediment in rivers and deltas, we can begin to understand how the movement of sediment can be “choreographed” to achieve ecological goals. However, given sediment flow happens within complex ecosystems impacted by human activities, like the deepening of channels for large ships, using dredge to create new landscapes is a highly complicated process.

As an example, Milligan pointed to efforts to dredge sediment into new landforms that can support wetlands in Jamaica Bay in New York. At current rates, “the wetlands will totally disappear in 10 years. Water regimes have changed due to stormwater runoff and deeper shipping channels.” While efforts are underway to rebuild the low-lying islands that can support wetlands in the bay, he asked how dredge can be used to restore a natural environment “where everything has changed?”

According to Hugh Roberts, Arcadis, we must “design with nature” when dredging, and a changing nature at that. Coastal land loss plus sea level rise means using dredged sediment to create wetland habitat is incredibly complex, hence the need for his job, numeric modeling lead. Wetlands require multiple flushings of water per day and they only exist at sea level, so there are “narrower number of places where they can survive. It’s a fine balance.”

In the Mississippi River delta, Roberts has been working on the White Delta diversion project, which aims to create the most efficient interventions for spreading out sediment in the widest possible fan from the river into the delta. Flow paths are dredged to enable the reconstitution of sediment far into the delta plains. All of this is part of an effort to undo the built system of containing the river, which looks like “a plumbing diagram,” in favor of letting the river flow and deposit sediment where it’s most needed, ecologically.

Roberts also pointed to the innovative Sand Engine project in the Netherlands as a great example of how dredging can work with nature. The Dutch have created a “changing land form that distributes sand along the Dutch coast.” They have placed large “nourishment mounds.” Nature then “spreads out the sand where it needs to.”

This process is the opposite of the conventional approach of pumping sand directly onto eroding beaches, an approach often called botoxing beaches. Like botox, this pumping approach only works for so long before the beach needs to be re-sanded.

The Sand Engine, Roberts says, is about “increasing resilience through nature.” Models, like the ones he creates, can help nature optimize its efforts. Today, one can see the Sand Engine has actually resulted in “natural dune formations” and the return of endangered plant species.

Zandmotor vlucht-30 10-01-2012 foto: Rijkswaterstaat/Joop van Houdt

Dutch Sand Engine / Topos Magazine

Milligan said up to 45 gigatons of earth is dredged per year, about 30 tons per person in the U.S. According to engineer and dredger Chris Dols, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, there are a number of different dredging technologies. There’s the cutter suction dredge, which turns mud underwater into a slurry then moved through massive hydraulic pumps. Then there’s hopper dredging, which involves using a mobile dredging vessels that vacuums up material then stores it within the boat only to be sprayed or pumped to other locations. Both can be used to support restoring ecosystems.

Sean Burkholder, ASLA, a landscape architecture professor at University at Buffalo, wants landscape architects to see dredging as a real design opportunity. Today, in the Great Lakes region, only 25 percent of sediment is reused; the rest is dumped on land or sent out to sea. Instead of treating contaminated sediment as merely waste that needs to be moved and capped, contaminants can be separated out, leaving material to create new dredge landscapes. “We can use this material more creatively in our own work.”

Also, existing dredged landscapes can become environmental education opportunities. These landscapes are typically near cities. “We can create access and interpretation for legacy sites.”

For those interested in learning more about dredge landscapes, Milligan organizes DredgeFest every year.

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2013 is the Year of Public Service at ASLA. The goal is to highlight the wide-reaching public service activities performed by landscape architects and advocate for a deeper commitment by all to community service. ASLA invites current members to submit 2013 projects. Selected projects will be highlighted in the campaign’s Web site and outreach materials. Descriptions, quotes, and multimedia content may be used – with proper credit – on the YPS2013 web site, blog and The Understory Facebook page. Here are three recent public service projects just submitted by ASLA members:

Melissa Evans, ASLA: Members in Arkansas coordinated a one-day charrette as part of the year of public service to determine the best location, size, and form of a green wall to be installed this year at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. The garden received a donation for a green wall and reached out to ASLA for help. The landscape architects involved in this charrette were able to use their expertise to design two potential green wall installations for potential installation later this year.

The first solution is elegant and simple, allowing the garden staff to implement the design as soon as their schedule permits. The charrette team provided a section, elevation and a perspective view of the proposed wall design. This particular design would be integrated into the entrance to the event room at the garden with two small green walls situated at the edge of the covered entry.

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The second wall design is larger in scale and would be constructed north of the butterfly house and west of the garden shed.  It consists of two sweeping walls with the path between.  Designers provided a perspective view of this wall and will continue to work on more detailed drawings in the next few weeks.

Kim Douglas, ASLA, Philadelphia University: In West Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia University landscape architecture and architecture students presented design concepts for a neighborhood to a group of interested government officials. Among the attendees were Councilman Curtis Jones; Richard Redding, Director of Comprehensive Planning Division at Philadelphia City Planning Commission; SEPTA officials; ward leaders of the West Allegheny neighborhood; and community members.

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The students outlined design initiatives for sites in the neighborhood that ranged from a new community center to redesigning Allegheny Avenue. All the initiatives were part of a bigger planning effort in the studio to treat the neighborhood as an EcoDistrict. The concept illustrates the opportunities for shared resources, performance goals and measures that “scale up” the sustainability initiatives. The designs all considered the need for a comprehensive framework plan that provided opportunities for shared stormwater, waste and energy management, healthy food options, economic endeavors, open space and park systems as well as social gathering spaces, all at the grass-root level.

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The students’ work gathered quite a bit of attention from the city agencies as well as private developers and community organizations. Among the initiatives being explored based on the student work are a retrofit of a bus turnaround that includes rain gardens, permeable paving, new street furniture and lighting; a new gateway park that provides farmers markets, gathering areas, stormwater mitigation and signage;  and a streetscape design for Allegheny Avenue including bike lanes, stormwater bump-outs, street trees, seating, bus shelters and pocket parks. All of these initiatives have prompted City agencies to work together to pool resources and expertise.

This project illustrates the University’s commitment to its neighbor, the West Allegheny community, as well as the City of Philadelphia, to use its knowledge and expertise to help with the many issues of urban areas. We are also providing our students with hands on learning for “real work with real people with real impact.”

Lastly, a project started in 2009 is finally being completed during the year of public service. Brian Templeton, ASLA: In the Spring of 2009 design students in the landscape architecture department at Mississippi State University developed concepts for the re-development of the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum’s site. The result of the effort was a refined 5-phase plan which could be designed and implemented over several years by students.

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The plan had three overall goals: improve the museum’s landscape to create a community-wide amenity; implement sustainable site and stormwater management techniques to create a regional model for good site design practices; and provide hands-on design-build opportunities for landscape architecture students.

Two of the efforts were multi-disciplinary efforts where landscape architecture students worked with graphic design and architecture students to work in a real world working environment. In total, the efforts have involved six separate landscape architecture classes, two graphic design classes, and an architecture studio.

The five phases of the site’s development called for a rain garden, a sand filter and outdoor amphitheater, a new entryway and porch, a cistern and educational kiosks, and a green roof pavilion.

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Over the past four years the projects have received 3 major design awards, raised over $50,000 in private donations, and been described in dozens of publications. Though this project has run for many years, the final construction phase will be completed during the year of public service.

Learn more about the year of public service and submit your project today.

Image credits: (1-2) Melissa Evans, ASLA (3-4) Kim Douglas, ASLA (5-6) Cory Gallo, ASLA.

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At AIA New York’s Center for Architecture, finalists for a student design competition took on a new audience: the public. Urban SOS, a student competition sponsored by AECOM and hosted by AIA NY, offered the chance for three remaining teams to present their design solutions in front of judges, the president of AECOM, and the curious residents of NYC. Three teams who focused on vastly different places — a slum in Nairobi, Kenya; a Mexican-American border site near Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas; and a slum in Bogotá, Colombia — waited impatiently to take the stage and give their final pitch. An energy filled the room as the audience crammed in the space, all of whom knew what was at stake for the victor: $5,000 and $25,000 towards the realization of the work. Unslumming Kibera, a multifaceted proposal for Kibera in Nairobi was awarded the grand prize.

Urban SOS: An Open Ideas Student Competition is AECOM’s seventh annual student competition aimed at fostering conceptual thinking around important global themes. The charge to the students is to be as creative and diverse with the make-up of their teams, ideas, and processes in order to formulate truly original projects. This year’s theme, Frontiers, aims at finding today’s borders, be they economic, social, cultural, physical or any combination. Students choose their own site through a framework of self-guiding principles of what constitutes a “border” and then begin a site-specific investigation. The investigation (and the proposal) would then be judged against the ethos set forth by each team.

In keeping with AECOM’s belief that “urban challenges are best met when multiple disciplines are at the table,” Unslumming Kibera took home the Moleskin trophy (oh, and $5,000). The four students came from a wide range of backgrounds and coalesced to present a robust, energetic, well-researched proposal to create a new type of multi-use community space in Kibera, which has a population of more than one million. Kibera, which is covered in detail in this excellent article from The Economist, is an “informal, neglected” settlement, but a place that is also full of life and provides a vital economic function in Nairobi. It’s home to many of the low-income workers (often migrants) who provide services to Nairobi’s burgeoning middle class. But, within this place, there’s no legal system of land rights. There’s also no legal electrical or sanitation system. The goals of the design team were to examine how a site in Kibera could “provide flood protection, enhance commercial activity, maximize constructed open space, and reuse ‘waste’ materials.”

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The students had met while interning in Kibera the previous summer and teamed up at the announcement of AECOM’s student competition. Team members include design MBA student Adam Broidy (California College of the Arts), landscape architecture student Jack Campbell Clause (Leeds Metropolitan University), development studies student Jamilla Harper (University of Nairobi) and urban planning student April Schneider (University of Illinois Chicago). The group had clearly worked hard on their presentation, a succinct and concise narrative of Kibera’s conditions and first-hand photo documentation of the students engaged in the community.

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Donna Walcavage, FASLA, principal, design planning, AECOM and one of the judges, reiterated the AECOM mission and how it was met by the successful team. “The finalists looked at how best to engage very complex problems and come up with a dynamic process in terms of urban solutions.” Adding, “their proposal is extremely community-based. They hit all of the essentials of cities: community, economic, and social exchange.” Bill Hanway, executive vice president, AECOM, said in a statement that “Unslumming Kibera best illustrated a solution driven from the team’s personal experience in that community. The heart of an informal community, no matter how small, becomes the inspirational driver for change.”

The work of the other two finalists is also worth exploring. Green Terraces, in its physical essence, is a low-tech terrace and house system to be built and set into the irregular landscape of the Bogotán slumscape. Its guiding purposes however, are many. The two Colombian students, Guillermo Umana (Macquarie University) and Juan Camilo Pinzon (Universidad de los Andes), tackled the devastating and endemic issues of their home country: poverty, displacement and landslides, which made for a monumental design effort. The team succeeded with their analysis of the site and the conditions that hold weight on the border of Ciudad Boliviar and Socha. An animation of the analysis was certainly a nice touch as the students demonstrated a command of presentation technology. However, the framework of their problem may have been too ambitious.

The structure proposed didn’t address all of the issues presented by the students. There was an ambiguity in the house-terrace system that was emphasized in the ambiguity of the model and section. Much of the presentation focused on the hazards of landslides and the unemployment factor of the area, but the proposal made only timid strides at correcting these issues. One juror explained her hesitation about the hillside structure. “Inexpensive housing is not always a good idea…It’s like building an inexpensive bridge.”

Sara Navrady’s (Delft University of Technology) focus was on the Mexican border community of Hueço Bolson between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. The Rio Bravo, the physical border between the two towns, suffers from problems common all over the world. Industrialization of the river has caused severe ecological and environmental damage, not to mention the sharp decline of the region’s population. Navrady’s solution embraces one of the area’s most pressing problems: sewage. The construction of wetlands as a complement to the Rio Bravo, would engage two of the critical issues — water quality and open space availability. The heart of the proposal is a constructed wetlands that would have the capacity to treat the dwindling water resource, which are predicted to be in extreme shortage in 2015. The wetland would also provide a public amenity worthy of attracting a greater population of residents.

Sewage Ecologies/Economies was also a strong proposal. Navrady had previous experience with the site but essentially drafted the proposal in a short time frame leading up to the submission by herself. The presentation was masterfully crafted and crystal clear. Her solution was a precise declaration of objectives and a linear narrative of phasing. One juror commented on its clarity. She “wished our politicians could speak to problems the way Sara does.” However, in the end, as diverse the solution and valiant the effort was, Sewage Ecologies/Economies was a team of one.

The jury included Bill Hanway, executive vice president, buildings places, AECOM; Donna Walcavage and Chris Choa, principals, design planning, AECOM; Rick Bell, FAIA, executive director at the Center for Architecture; Galia Solomonoff, founder and creative director, Solomonoff Architecture Studio and assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; and Alexandra Hardiman, director of mobile products at The New York Times.

This guest post is by Tyler Silvestro, a master’s of landscape architecture candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY) and writer for The Architect’s Newspaper.

Image credits: (1-2) Unslumming Kibera, (3) Winners / Stacy Sideris

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That’s at least one definition of this innovative practice, explained Jillian Hovey, the Toronto-based head of Sustainable Living Network at the 2012 Greenbuild in San Francisco. Another possible definition: “a holistic design methodology to access the intelligence of natural ecosystems.” Really, the goal of the ever-growing tribe of permaculturists is to “co-create with nature.” Permacultural projects include organic food, edible landscaping, forest farming, and other small forms of urban agriculture.

Hovey said one of the central tenets of permaculture is regenerative design. While sustainable design involves simply mitigating the negative impacts of humans on the planet, regenerative design goes beyond and seeks to create a “positive role for people on earth.” Practitioners of permaculture seek to merge landscape, people, and technology to create “food, shelter, and energy.” Hovey said it’s a “philosphical approach to land use” in which “intricately conducted ecosystems, consciously designed” are put to work. (Still, she said some critics argue that, in these permacultural systems, humans are at the center of the regenerative effort, so the approach is still too human-centric, and doesn’t truly benefit “life in all forms,” as permaculturalists say they do).

Bill Mollison, the Australian founder of the movement, wrote Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, back in the 1980s. Early permaculturalists  in Australia wondered whether it could actually be replicated in other places, but they decided that other temperate climates could make the systems work. So a slew of Australian books came out, followed by American and European guides. Recent how-to literature includes Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscapes Naturally and Edible Forest Gardens.

Standing on Greenbuild’s oddest “dog-bone”-shaped center stage, Hovey walked in circles showing off photographs of permaculture projects being designed and built. One practitioner she showed, Austrian outlier Sepp Holzer, is well-known for his “crater gardens,” stepped, terraced landscapes, which involve moving earth to dig out gardens, creating more surface area for agriculture and microclimates for different plants.

Holzer was recently brought in by Hovey’s group to help build a stepped crater garden at a school in Detroit. With the use of a translator, Holzer communicated to the bulldozer operator to create a set of steep walls out of the earth, adding in wood joints made of out sticks to “increase the productive edges.” Wood was also put in so that it decomposed and made richer soils. Once the area was seeded, straw was put on top. As Hovey described, “nature hates bare soil. Weeds happen when soil is left bare.”

The project, and others like it, demonstrate how “nature can be used as a model.” Hovey said permaculturalists use a design process wherein “everything is connected, every function should be supported by multiple elements, and every element should serve multiple functions.” This type of design process “builds in redundancy and resiliency.”

Permacultural design also enables feedback to be incorporated throughout the process. “This is a cyclical, iterative, spiral approach.” This kind of approach allows permaculturalists to “eliminate pollution.” While waste is abundant in nature — because it produces so much — pollution is not. Pollution is the “concentration of waste to such a degree that nature can’t handle it.” Interestingly, Hovey said lawns are a form of pollution because they “suppress existing ecosystems.”

Hovey went into great detail on the benefits of compost (if done right, it shouldn’t smell), along with the application of permaculture in parks, small urban plots, and even windowsills. 

Closing with a thoughtful take on regenerative design, Hovey argued that if these systems are designed to be self-sustaining, “the agricultural output is theoretically unlimited.” And if designers understand “ecological succession,” these landscapes can be “self-maintaining and even replicating.” Hence, permaculture as a state of permanent agriculture.

Check out Sepp Holzer’s book on permaculture at the small-scale.

Image credit: Powell Street Promenade, San Francisco / Hood Design / image copyright Marion Brenner and Beth Amann

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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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Chinese landscape architects are buffeted by two trends changing the planet: the information technology revolution coming out of the U.S. and one of the largest mass migrations in history, the current process of urbanization in China, said Liang Wei, PhD, a landscape architect and professor at the Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning & Design Institute (THUPDI), at the American Institute of Architects convention in Washington, D.C. Liang said 10  million new residents are moving into Chinese cities each year, with one billion new square feet being built to accomodate the influx. By 2020, China will be 65 percent urban, which means landscape architects, planners, and architects have an unbelievable amount of work to do to make these new cities more livable, sustainable, and scalable while also undoing the worst environmental damages.

The incredible rate of urbanization has led to changes in how design is taught in China. Since the 1980s, the number of landscape architecture, architecture, and planning programs has exploded, with 10,000 students now being taught in 200+ schools. There are now 100,000 architects working in China (some 40,000 are licensed). About 40 percent are found in Beijing and Shanghai, which means it’s harder to find a design professional in the rest of the country. With all the development, each architect is doing something like 10 million square feet of new buildings each year. Similarly, China’s landscape architects are working with thousands of hectares annually.

Tsinghua, which is equivalent to a top Ivy league school in the U.S., has adapted itself to address the market demand for designers. Forging connections with the market, much like M.I.T. or Stanford does, Tsinghua has set up a set of institutes that “bridge the school and market and fill in the gaps by addressing practical problems.” THUPDI, where Liang teaches and works, scaled up from a staff of 30 in 2000 to more than 800 these days, with 1,000 or more Tsinghua design students coming through to learn about how design is actually practiced.

Putting the landscape in the center of one of his models, Liang explained how landscape architecture connect urban development, ecology, architecture, and infrastructure. Liang said instead of starting with common infrastructure issues as the basis for planning new developments — roads, housing, stormwater pipes — perhaps green space can become the point of creation. “Through landscape, we can create a new structure for the city.” Outlining a few examples of landscapes that provide multiple ecological services, Liang said “landscape architects can also be infrastructural engineers.” 

One example of this is the new 680-hectare Beijing Olympic Forest Park, designed by Hu Jie, ASLA, head of the landscape architecture department at THUPDI. The project, which has picked up an ASLA professional award among others, was a team effort led by Hu that included some 200-300 experts from many disciplines. A new mountain, Yangshan Hill, was built out of the reclaimed debris from the new Beijing subway and Olympic stadium construction projects. In the same way, the new 20-hectare lake was filled with reclaimed water. The lake water, which is residential grey water, as well runoff, rain, and flood water, is cleansed through a man-made 4-acre wetland, where it’s then used to maintain the landscape. Hu said this system also helped preserve the native “mountain and water tradition” while creating a new landmark.


There are incredible benefits for a city engulfed by new development: 300 new species of plants spread throughout the site, which create new habitat for birds and insects, produce 5,400 tons of oxygen, detain more than 4,900 tons of dust, and suck up 32 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The team even created the kind of ecologically-rich wildlife corridor that many communities in the U.S. only dream of.


Another remarkable project by THUPDI is the Tangshan Nanhu eco-city central park, which won the Torsonlorenzo international prize last year. According to Hu, a 630-acre wasteland was turned into the “largest central park in northern China in three years.” A deeply polluted site, the area was a place to dump coal mining waste. Using a GIS system, Hu and his team found that among all the layers, there were some 4.5 million cubic feet of trash, which was then covered, contained, and turned into a hill, where trees were planted. A new ecologically-restored park starts at the base and works its way up the top of the trash-filled mountain, which is a new scenic destination.


At the edge of the water, willow trees took root and actually create a new habitat in place of the old brownfield. Throughout, the landscape architects only used “low-cost material with low-impact.”


Then, landscape architect Zhu Yu-fan, PhD, explored some of his beautiful sites using his “depth of field” theory as a guide. The Quarry Garden in the Shanghai Botanical Garden used to be “dangerous to use,” but a new stairwell, walkway, and terraces were created, which offer a safe path down to the deep pools at the center. The entrance provides a portal into another ecologically-restored landscape. 


Zhu said “now, you can experience a thrill but there will be no danger.” 


THUPDI clearly demonstrates that landscape architects all over the world are now taking aim at brownfields, and beautiful, high-performing ecological designs aren’t just being built in the U.S. and Europe. Learn more about THUPDI’s ambitious projects (12 MB).

Image credits: THUPDI

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