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SXSW Eco light art installation / SXSW Eco

South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco, which has grown from a small off-shoot of the well-known SXSW music festival into a major sustainable design conference, is now looking for the “businesses, designs, and technologies that will drive global change” for its early October conference in Austin, Texas. SXSW Eco looks like the perfect place for landscape architects to present their innovative ideas, as this year the focus will be on architecture and the built environment; art and design; smart cities and transportation; and water and resources.

The conference organizers are looking for “content that inspires, educates, and informs, providing motivation as well as the tools to take action.” They want a real “diversity in perspective, opinion, and representation.” Furthermore, “self-promotion and advertorial presentations are not well-received.” Session proposals could include panels, workshops, debates, or any other creative format.

According to Forbes magazine, “creating that marketplace for exchange of ideas and progressive thinking is what South by Southwest Eco is all about.”

Submit your session proposals by May 1. Using the “PanelPicker” tool, the SXSW community will then vote on which sessions will make it into the conference.

For those just looking to attend some conferences and get some new ideas this spring or summer, here are a few of interest: Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) in Dallas, Texas (April 29 – May 2); Lightfair International in New York, NY (May 3 – 7); The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Second Wave of Modernism III: Leading with Landscape in Toronto, Canada (May 21-24); International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) World Congress in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia (June 7-15, 2015); and the Society for Ecological Restoration’s World Conference in Manchester, England (August 23 – 27).

See hundreds of upcoming conferences at ASLA’s continuously-updated free resource: Conferences for Landscape Architects.

Even the playground will look natural / Photo: Nelson Byrd Woltz, The Houston Chronicle

Master plan for Memorial Park, Houston / Photo: Nelson Byrd Woltz, The Houston Chronicle

Council OKs Plan to Reimagine City’s Marquee Green SpaceThe Houston Chronicle, 4/1/15
“The joggers, hikers, cyclists, equestrians and ballplayers who use Memorial Park will see the city’s marquee green space reborn over the next two decades, a process furthered with the Houston City Council’s unanimous approval Wednesday of a new master plan for the park.”

Beijing to Upgrade Green Belts to Combat PM2.5People’s Daily, China, 4/2/15
“This year, Beijing plans to upgrade some of the city’s green belts with plants that have strong dust retention ability, in an effort to combat PM2.5 and improve air quality. Eighteen types of plants have been selected for the trial program.”

In Chicago, Parks Are on the Upswing  – Grist, 4/8/15
“For three decades, residents begged for a verdant space where their children might play or where they could sit for a brief reprieve. Finally, weary of waiting for the Chicago Park District to cobble together such a site, they chose to do it themselves.”

California is Naturally Brown and Beautiful. Why Are Our Yards Green? – The Los Angeles Times, 4/9/15
“A few years ago, my wife and I decided to replace the mangy bit of lawn in front of our house with drought-tolerant dymondia, which was supposed to spread into an interconnected ground cover. Less water, no mowing, I thought. Easy call. But the dymondia struggled, and seemed to ebb in the hot summer and flow in the cooler, wetter winter.”

Hargreaves Presents Four “Approaches” to Downtown East Commons – The Star Tribune, 4/9/15
“Landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates for the first time revealed images for The Commons, a future park in downtown Minneapolis shouldering high expectations from the public for recreation and commercial growth in the area.”

Water Management Key for Urban Planning The Korea Herald, 4/10/15
“As water, life’s most critical resource, becomes scarce, strategic and advanced water management is emerging as a key policy task for cities. Cities in Denmark are spearheading the best practices in prioritizing water management in their urban planning policy development.”

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Native plants at private residence in Los Angeles / Tom Lamb Photography

California is a big state. To offer water saving techniques, we first need to understand the state’s unique climates and ecosystems. In broad terms, we have South Coast, South Inland, North Coast, Central Coast, Central Valley, mountain and desert climates. The Sunset Western Garden Book divides our state into 17 planting zones according to factors such as elevation, temperatures, and coastal influence. In Southern California alone, we have the Mediterranean South Coast region, the semi-arid Inland Empire, and the dry Mohave and Sonora Deserts. In our mild climates where almost anything grows if you just add water, we have spoiled ourselves into depending on imported water with an uncertain future. Now we have to adapt to rely on locally-available sources.

This is tough but doable in Los Angeles when we get an average 14 inches of rain a year. It’s tougher during the current drought when it can rain an average of just 5 inches per year. While many areas rely on harvested rainwater, we have only one rainy season in Los Angeles and it falls in the winter. That means any rainwater we store needs to last through seven months of hotter and hotter temperatures.

In addition to our climate challenges, urban Los Angeles is covered by impervious surfaces that create heat islands and interrupt groundwater recharge. But in a state where residences use nearly half of urban water — and landscapes consume over half of single-family home water use — there is a lot we can still do to save water through residential landscape design:

Copy nature: In nature, creeks and streams collect rain that falls on the mountains and hillsides. Trees and vegetation soak up the water, shade the soil, and drop leaves that decompose to become habitat, a protective layer of mulch, and eventually soil. The soil acts like a sponge, holding water for long enough periods of time for native plants to make it through the summer. You can mimic nature at home by reducing impermeable surfaces, grading to keep rainwater on site, planting climate-appropriate shade trees and plants, and adding a thick layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture.

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Shade trees at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum’s Nature Gardens / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Choose beneficial plants: Plant things that feed you or provide habitat for birds and beneficial insects, especially pollinators. Our food crops, whether at home or in the Central Valley, depend on bees to bear food. Choose plants that are adapted to your area’s climatic conditions. Check out the principles of permaculture and companion planting to encourage a healthy garden ecology. Test plants and look around your neighborhood to see what works with little care before planning your entire garden.

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Garden with plants for pollinators at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum’s Nature Garden / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Check your technology: If you have an irrigation system, check it for leaks and for overwatering. Look for rebates to convert older systems to more efficient drip irrigation or microspray systems. Install a rain gauge to stop the system when it rains. Research your plants’ water needs and check your timer or controller to make sure you aren’t over watering, which is shockingly common. If you are, wean your plants down to a less frequent watering schedule. Reuse your greywater in the landscape. Water from the washing machine or shower is a great way to irrigate fruit trees, water-loving shade trees, and small lawn areas for children and pets. Experts can install systems that direct the water from your shower or laundry through a filter and into the garden. Hire an expert or understand the requirements for managing greywater safely.

To sum up, here are our recommendations:

Work your soil for porosity.

Grade your garden to hold water.

Plant shade trees. Choose trees wisely.

Source local materials.

Incorporate regionally-appropriate vegetation.

Include edibles and plants for pollinators.

Check your pipes for leaks.

Employ state-of-the-art technology and irrigation products.

Investigate rain barrels, greywater re-use, and old methods of irrigation, like clay pots or “ollas.”

Minimize lawn to areas that are really used for play.

Think long-term. Know a plant’s mature size and make sure it won’t outgrow the space.

Garden without chemicals to preserve water quality.

Design matters. Use an expert or research design strategies to delineate space.

Live lighter on the land.

Find out more at your local cooperative extension, arboretum, botanical garden, water district, or from the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) or U.S. Forest Service.

This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.

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Uptown Normal Circle / Pinterest

Normal, Illinois, doesn’t sound like a typical spring break destination—but for me, it was the perfect getaway. Along with fellow urban planning students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I visited Normal in March 2010. We started our day with a walking tour of Uptown Normal and ended it by biking to its neighbor, Bloomington, via the Constitution Trail. The highlight of the tour was the town traffic circle (yes, a traffic circle!) called Uptown Circle, designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, which is a gathering place that captures and filters stormwater and simplifies a complicated intersection. On a sunny afternoon in 2010, it was easy to see why it’s the heart of the district.

Normal invested more than $90 million in this neighborhood, spending about half of its investment ($47 million) on a Complete Streets approach that considers all users—people traveling by foot, bicycle, transit, or car—of all ages and abilities. They widened and repaired sidewalks, reconstructed Constitution Boulevard, and built Uptown Circle and Uptown Station, a multi-modal transportation center.

Today, more than 40 percent of all trips in Uptown Normal are by foot or bicycle. Since these improvements, it experienced a boost in retail sales (46 percent) and attracted more than $160 million in private investment.

Perhaps the best outcome of all? “People love Uptown Normal,” said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. “They ride the bus, they bike the trail, they shop, they socialize, and they recreate in a wonderful urban center.” This project shows how Complete Streets principles can transform a place.

But neither Normal’s approach nor its results are unique. More than 700 cities, regions, and states have made a commitment to use a Complete Streets approach.

As a recent analysis by Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition demonstrates, using a Complete Streets approach is one of the best transportation investments a community can make.

Examining before and after data from 37 projects redesigned with Complete Streets goals, this study found:

Streets were safer: Automobile collisions declined in 70 percent of projects, and injuries declined in 56 percent of projects.

Safety has financial value: Each collision that a safer street helps to avoid represents avoided costs from emergency room visits, hospital charges, rehabilitation, and doctor visits, as well as the cost of property damage. Within our sample, Complete Streets improvements collectively averted $18.1 million in total collision costs in just one year.

Complete Streets encouraged multi-modal travel: The projects nearly always resulted in more biking, walking, and transit trips.

Complete Streets are remarkably affordable: The average cost of a project was just $2.1 million—far less than the $9 million average cost of projects in state transportation improvement plans. And 97 percent of Complete Streets projects cost less per mile than construction of an average high-cost arterial.

Complete Streets play an important role in economic development: These findings suggest that these projects were supportive of higher employment, new business, and property values. Several projects saw significant private investment since their completion.

Particularly striking is what the projects achieved with a small public investment. For example, Portland, Oregon, spent $95,000 to re-stripe the streets, add plastic bollards, and new signage to NE Multnomah Boulevard. This project created 34 new automobile and 12 bicycle parking spaces. Cycling along the corridor increased 44 percent, and the number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit fell by half.

For some projects, the cost-savings from safer conditions alone justified their costs. For instance, after Reno, Nevada, added bike lanes in each direction and widened sidewalks along Wells Avenue, collisions fell by about 45 percent. The value of Reno’s safer conditions within one year’s time ($5.8 million) is more than its entire project cost ($4.5 million).

The before and after data shows the extraordinary effect low-cost, thoughtful street design can have on local communities. As more communities implement Complete Streets policies — with an explicit aim to make travel by foot, bike, and transit convenient and safe — we should measure our progress toward those aims and make sure we invest accordingly.

Read the full report, Safer Streets, Stronger Economies: Complete Streets.

Ready to get started on measuring your community’s Complete Streets work? Check out the Coalition’s latest guide: Evaluating Complete Streets: A Guide for Practitioners.

This guest post is by Laura Searfoss, Associate, National Complete Streets Coalition.

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Rate of drought / The New York Times

Scientists are calling the current wave of drought, which began to spread across California, much of the Southwest, Texas, and Oklahoma in 2011, the worst drought since the 1950s. While the drought has ebbed in Texas and parts of the Southwest, California and other states continue to bear the brunt of this epic change in rainfall. As of the end of March 2015, approximately 37 percent of the contiguous United States was still experiencing at least moderate drought conditions. The New York Timesanalysis of the Palmer index, which tracks rates of drought going back 100 years, found that the 10-year average for drought has been increasing for most of the last 20 years. In California in 2014 alone, the cost of the drought was $2.2 billion, with 17,000 agricultural jobs lost.

In the face of the crisis, California Governor Jerry Brown has instituted the first mandatory water restrictions in his state’s history, requiring all 400 local water boards to reduce water use by 25 percent — or face stiff fines. He has said watering lawns will soon be a thing of the past, but it’s unclear if everyone will heed the call. The Los Angeles Times points out that the wealthiest residents consistently use higher amounts of water, perhaps because they can afford to, ignoring the calls for conservation. More responsible homeowners have already gotten rid of their lawns in favor of native plants and other techniques that reduce water use for landscapes, while others are investigating “smart lawn sprinklers” that have built-in sensors.

Controversially, farmers, who use 80 percent of the state’s water, are exempt from these restrictions. But Brown has defended them, telling PBS Newshour: “Agriculture is fundamental to California. And, yes, they use most of the water, and they produce the food and the fiber that we all depend on and which we export to countries all around the world. So, we’re asking them too to give us information, to file agriculture water plans, to manage their underground water, to share with other farmers.”

A 2014 study from the University of California at Davis Center for Watershed Studies found that farmers have already been hit hard: a “6.6 million-acre-foot reduction in surface water.” According to The San Francisco Chronicle, one acre-foot is equivalent to about a football field covered in water. “That has meant a 25 percent reduction in the normal amount of surface water available to agriculture. And it was mostly replaced by increased groundwater pumping.” Last year, Gov. Brown also pushed through a new groundwater management law, putting in stricter limits on groundwater use that will take years to come into effect.

While some farmers have cut back on the amount of land planted, just given the lack of overall water or its extremely high cost, farmers of water-intensive almonds, walnuts, and pistachios have only expanded the land dedicated to these nuts. According to The New York Times, “the land for almond orchards in California has doubled in 20 years, to 860,000 acres. The industry has been working hard to improve its efficiency, but growing a single almond can still require as much as a gallon of California’s precious water.”

In the 20th century, drought hit the U.S. in waves. From 1997 to 1998, a major drought, which affected 36 percent of the country, created $39 billion in damages. The northern Great Plains were worst hit, but the west coast and Pacific Northwest were also impacted. With the loss of rain, terrestrial systems dry out, raising the number of forest fires. According to Live Science, in 1988, 793,880 acres of Yellowstone National Park burned, prompting the first complete closure of the park in history. In the 1950s, drought conditions, at their peak, covered more than half of the country. The National Climate Data Center explains that this drought devastated the Great Plains region; in some areas, crop yields dropped as much as 50 percent. And during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the U.S. was hit by three waves of drought that at one point impacted more than 70 percent of the country, with mass migrations and a great loss in agricultural productivity for years after.

As The Washington Post meteorology team explains, just because the western and southern drought has officially ended in some places, it doesn’t meant it’s actually over. Communities will need double or triple the amount of water they would receive under normal conditions to undo the deficit, recharge groundwater, and restore incredibly low reservoir levels. It will take more than a few storms. Stringent water conservation is here to stay.

But in the meantime, California, the Southwest, Texas, and other states can make better use of their water resources — by applying water-efficient drip irrigation systems in the agricultural sector, like Israeli farms have been doing for years; replacing lawns with drought-tolerant native plants; getting rid of leaks, wasteful showerheads, and full-flush toilets in homes and businesses; and recycling and reusing all greywater and even blackwater.

Artist Peregrine Church has created Rainworks, a project that turns Seattle’s over abundance of rain into an opportunity to enliven street life. Using stencils and a non-toxic, biodegradable “superhydrophobic coating” made of nano-particles called Always Dry, Church has created a fun, do-it-yourself template, demonstrating how to use concrete pavement as a canvas for artworks, illustrations, and messages — but only when wet.

Church has created about 25-30 works of “rain-activated art,” featuring messages like “Stay Dry Out There,” a lily pond filled with frogs, a fun hopscotch game, and other natural patterns.

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Rain-enabled art / Rainworks

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According to Church, the coating of nano-particles only last about 4 months to a year, given wear and tear. “A rainwork is the most vivid during its first couple of weeks, then slowly becomes more subtle.”

Rainworks is actually legal, too. Church checked with the Seattle department of transportation, which gave the OK, because the works are “temporary, don’t harm the property, and don’t advertise anything.” Also, the concrete retains the same texture once it has been sprayed. The material leaves “zero residues and is 100 percent invisible, odorless, and doesn’t alter the texture of the substrate.”

In this brief video, Church says: “It’s going to rain no matter what. Let’s do something cool with it.”

Another D-I-Y way to improve street life and, really, a whole city’s approach to accessibility, is Walk [Your City]. This non-profit started by Matt Tomasulo, a landscape architect, enables communities to order and install their own signs explaining how far it is to walk to different locations. Cities like Santa Fe, New Mexico; West Hope, West Virginia; Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, have all used Tomasulo’s process and signs to create more walkable places. See Walk [Raleigh], which won an ASLA student award in 2012 — and really started it all.

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Forest Stewardship Council-certified plywood / Coastal Treated

In a new survey from GlobeScan / SustainAbility, more than 500 sustainability experts from around the world said multi-sector partnerships will be key to advancing sustainability, with major roles for multi-national corporations, non-profits, governments, and multilateral organizations like the United Nations. The experts, which hail from hail from all of these sectors, also believe multi-national corporations will play an increasingly major role within these coalitions leading change. Furthermore, the experts argue that multi-sector partnerships that use a systems-based approach will drive the “greatest progress.”

Overwhelmingly, respondents said “multi-actor, systems-based partnerships” will be the way to solve our problems. These kinds of partnerships, which are characterized by broad bases of support that attempt to create wholesale shifts in the underlying systems, are viewed as more effective than when governments simply collaborate with each other, businesses partner with themselves, or even when non-profits and businesses join together. They are also viewed as more effective than the independent efforts led by think tanks and forums as well.

The experts agree that multi-sector partnerships are best led by certain types of actors, depending on the focus. The corporate sector is best positioned to address waste, supply chains, and discrimination and labor conditions. Non-profits are more adept at leading the charge on slowing biodiversity loss. And governments are best positioned to form the coalitions needed to address climate change, poverty, water scarcity, food security, and access to healthcare. The key will be to form the coalitions that resonate with the widest range of organizations.

Some examples of admired multi-sector partnerships are the Forest Stewardship Council, a multi-stakeholder organization focused on the responsible management of the world’s forests; the coalitions the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has formed with multi-national corporations; and the Carbon Disclosure Project, which incentivizes companies to “measure and disclose their environmental data.”

In other environmental news, California has ordered the first mandatory water restrictions in the state’s history, as a four-year drought has reached “near-crisis proportions,” writes The New York Times. The State Water Resources Control Board will force 400 local water supply agencies to reduce water consumption by 25 percent, impacting nearly 90 percent of the state’s residents. “The order would impose varying degrees of cutbacks on water use across the board — affecting homeowners, farms and other businesses, as well as the maintenance of cemeteries and golf courses.” The New York Times adds that “Californians across the state will have to cut back on watering gardens and lawns — which soak up a vast amount of the water this state uses every day.” This is an example of a government taking the lead on water scarcity, but it’s clear Californian officials will need to work with the business and non-profit sector to change the underlying system that has led to wasteful water use.

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Simulation of obstacle configuration and Gilbert Delta formation / Eduardo Rico, Arup-Relational Urbanism, AA/ UCL

Now, perhaps more than ever, we understand our world is shaped by complex, interactive, dynamic systems. Increased climate volatility has shown us why we need to understand these complex systems when we design landscapes. While landscape architects have been fast to embrace ecological systems thinking, they have been slower to see how systems thinking can transform our ways of imagining, visualizing, and then intervening in the environment.

There have been significant advances in the tools we use to understand and represent the multitude of biological and physical factors that shape our environment, particularly in the areas of computational modeling and simulation. These advances were the focus of the recent Simulating Natures symposium, organized by Karen M’Closkey, ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and PEG Office of Landscape + Architecture, and Keith VanDerSys, also with PEG, and hosted by the landscape architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania.

While computers and suites of software programs have become integrated into classrooms, studios, and offices, they have largely been used to computerize manual drawing and modeling processes, despite their ability to move beyond the purely representational and into the realms of projection and speculation. As James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, stated in his keynote lecture at the symposium, “Because of the facility afforded by technology and software, it’s relatively easy to produce novel forms. Design has become easy if you only think it’s about form-making and aesthetic responses. It’s not so easy to start to think about how to make the world better. How do we think about tools that allow us to improve conditions rather than to just invent new forms?”

To date, we have embraced a simplistic view of ecology that trends toward modeling efficiencies, operating under the assumption that there is a singular universal truth, so we gear modeling efforts toward definitive answers. Presentations from the symposium challenged this notion: Each session demonstrated a different approach to the act of modeling and simulation, offering suggestions as to the roles new models might play and how they could be used to engage dynamic systems that evolve and change. These roles included the model as a choreographer of feedback loops; the model as a provocateur and tool for thinking; and the model as a translator of information.

Models as Choreographers of Feedback Loops

The first session focused on the capability of hydrodynamic models to chart and understand the relationships among various invisible processes, enabling us to register change over time. Hydrodynamic models can choreograph feedback loops through an interplay of physical modeling, sensing, analysis, and digital modeling. The work of panelists in this session nests different physical and temporal scales, simulating the impacts that interventions have on larger systems. For example, Heidi Nepf at MIT has a laboratory that models the small-scale physics of aquatic vegetation to simulate larger patch dynamics. Philip Orton, with Stevens Institute of Technology and who often collaborates with SCAPE / Landscape Architecture, focused on modeling the effects of breakwaters and benthic interventions on storm surge in Staten Island and Jamaica Bay.

Microsoft PowerPoint - 15-0318 Symposium_FINAL.pptx

Delaware River hydrodynamic simulation using Aquaveo SMS/ SRH-2D, PEG office of landscape + architecture

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Physical laboratory simulation of sea grasses / Heidi Nepf

Together, the models from the first session challenged our assumptions of what is permanent. Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, linked many of the session’s presentations through his advocacy for a shift from modeling for efficiency to modeling for resistance. Efficiency assumes a predetermined end goal while resistance leads toward adaptation, evolution, and new novel landscapes, which is critical to designing for resiliency. Working toward adaptability represents a paradigm shift that calls into question our idea of the fixed state.

Models as Tools for Thinking

Philosopher Michael Weisberg then offered the idea that the model can serve as a tool for thinking — an experimental mechanism for exploring new ideologies. The session examined agent- or rule-based modeling techniques that simulate the dynamic interaction of multiple entities, which can be used to simulate adaptive, living systems. Through a process of bottom-up, rather than top-down modeling, the interrelationships of individual agents can be used to explore the relationship between scenario and outcome. These models show potential for how we might engage complex socio-ecological systems, which is imperative as we enter the Anthropocene Era.

For artist and NYU professor Natalie Jeremijenko, agent-based modeling has led to an “organism-centric design” approach. Understanding intelligent responses to stimuli from non-human organisms could offer a more compelling way of understanding complex interrelationships than two dimensional quantification in graphs and charts.

Panelists discussed our tendency to model that which we know and can predict, which is problematic in that it leaves significant territory unexplored. The concept of “solution pluralism,” presented by Stephen Kimbrough, calls for an open-ended decision-making process that culls the number of possible outcomes in order to limit discussion to that which is determined to be reasonable, while leaving the final selection of a decision open.

Models as Translators of Information

Finally, we heard examples of how models might serve as translators, communicating environmental patterns that underlie the visible environment. Panelists presented new ways of translating information for delivery and consumption, linking the real and the abstract, which are driven by new methods of sensing and data collection.

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Slime mold network optimization as a simulation of urban growth through emergent collective behavior / ecoLogicStudio

Michael Allen’s work on monitoring microscopic activity in soil represented a departure from the traditional method of core sampling. Through the real-time monitoring of soil coupled with sensing water and nutrient concentrations, we can now understand the dynamism of production and mortality below grade.

The MIT Sensable City Lab’s Underworld project, presented by Newsha Ghaeli, aims to use sewage as a platform for monitoring public health, tracking disease, antibiotic resistance, and chemical compounds in real time. Combined with demographic and spatial data at the surface, the project has the potential to map our environment in a revealing way.

Unpredictable issues require unprecedented tools — but they, in turn, may yield unpredictable results. As M’Closkey stated, “Variability and change are built into the thinking behind simulations. The uncertainty inherent in many simulations reflects the uncertainty inherent to the systems they characterize.”

Watch videos of the entire symposium.

This guest post is by Colin Patrick Curley, Student ASLA, master’s of architecture and master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania.

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U.S. Federal Office Building, Two Stars, U.S. GSA with Atkins Global, Miramar, Florida / SITES

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has certified a dozen sustainable landscapes across the country for meeting rigorous standards for environmental design and performance, bringing the total number of certified projects to 46. These 12 landscapes include a historic Maryland house, a pocket park in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and a public children’s garden in Austin, Texas.

“Americans can directly address major environmental challenges we face today – diminishing water supplies, climate change, pollution and loss of wildlife habitat – by how they design and manage landscapes where they live, work and play,” said Susan Rieff, executive director of The University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “The SITES program approach, now increasingly adopted by landscape architects, designers and others, provides a practical blueprint for creating healthy landscapes, and recognizes exemplary projects to inspire others.”

These 12 projects are the last to be certified using a 2009 pilot version of the SITES Rating System. They join 34 others that have achieved certification for voluntarily applying the SITES system to incorporate sustainability into their planning, design, construction and maintenance. Each project received a rating from one to four stars. SITES, which is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), The Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden, has now certified projects in 20 states.

The pilot program has informed the June 2014 release of the SITES v2 Rating System and Reference Guide. Negotiations are underway with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide project certification to the requirements of the SITES v2 Rating System and a related professional credentialing program.

The 12 most recently certified projects include:

Anacostia Watershed Society Headquarters, Three Stars, Anacostia Watershed Society, Bladensburg, Maryland. This landscape on .35 acres surrounds the historic George Washington House (circa 1752). The building now serves as headquarters for the Anacostia Watershed Society, which developed a public demonstration of practical, aesthetic ways to address the flow, collection, and management of stormwater runoff from the site. Year of adjacent road realignments that raised the grades of surrounding land had created poor drainage patterns throughout the site. With the help of volunteers, interns, staff, and local business donations, the society was able to install permeable paving, a rainwater cistern, brick and dry-stream channels, and rain gardens. The project demonstrates how sustainable stormwater management can be successfully incorporated within historic sites challenged with a limited budget and very restrictive site constraints.

Evans Parkway Neighborhood Park, Three Stars, OCULUS – Landscape Architecture, Silver Spring, Maryland. The expansion of this neighborhood park with the addition of a vacant lot provided the impetus for developing a more natural treatment of park surfaces and restoring a 300 linear foot section of a concrete-lined stream channel. This rehabilitated stream is a model for future naturalization efforts within Montgomery County. The renovated park also includes an informal play field and lawn areas, playground, a picnic area and shade structure, loop walking trails, a pedestrian bridge with riparian overlook area, contemplative seating areas, interactive public artwork, interpretive displays, connections to regional bikeway and public transit systems, natural meadow areas, and shady woodland areas.

Boeddeker Park, Two Stars, The Trust for Public Land, San Francisco, California. This one-acre park developed by The Trust for Public Land and San Francisco Recreation and Parks provides the largest open space in San Francisco’s poorest, most dense and diverse neighborhood. What had been an undesirable, unsafe area for 50,000 nearby residents has become an inviting space that is open daily. The pocket park includes a state-of-the-art clubhouse, walking path, adult fitness equipment, children’s play area, lawn and plazas for community gatherings and a garden. Sustainable systems were prioritized from the start and are integrated throughout the site. Project partners conducted extensive community outreach at nearby senior and youth centers and elsewhere, and worked closely with local community partners to ensure a safe park that provides programs and activities for all ages. Key design and programming decisions were made through these community forums. The result is a model of civic engagement, inspiration, resource conservation, and adaptability.

Hempstead Plains Interpretive Center, Two Stars, RGR Landscape Architecture & Architecture PLLC, Garden City, New York. This is the only naturally occurring prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains. The design and development of HPIC – a low-impact building and site – in a heavily developed suburban area, secures the integrity of the parcel as a natural preserve and historic landmark. In addition, the Plains are located on the Nassau Community College campus and near several universities, providing classes with a learning lab about native prairie habitats and sustainable techniques and an experience for general visitors interested in experiencing prairie life. An entrance through native plantings leads to the new visitor’s center topped with a green roof; open and closed classrooms are provided. Handicapped-accessible and stabilized-soil trails lead to the natural paths in the native prairie. A cistern helps reduce the need for potable water. Solar energy provides power and the building is completely “off the grid.”

Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Two Stars, W. G. Smith Design, Austin, Texas. This garden showcases Texas native plants and landscapes while offering a unique, beautiful space for children and families to appreciate nature through exploration and to learn about plants, wildlife and water, and sustainable landscape design elements. The 4.5-acre space features more than 180 native Texas plant species and interactive features such as a nectar garden, a wildlife blind and pond, a “stumpery” made for tree climbing, and an area for building structures from natural materials. Sustainable practices are part of the fabric of the garden, and include plants that were salvaged pre-construction and replanted, and a rainwater harvesting system and rain gardens to demonstrate water conservation. Locally-sourced pecan shells and crushed recycled glass are among the mulches. Stone harvested on site is used in features such as two caves, and non-potable water feeds a waterfall flowing into a recirculating creek with fish and tadpoles.

U.S. Federal Office Building, Two Stars, U.S. GSA with Atkins Global, Miramar, Florida. This new building houses a key federal agency on a secure campus that includes a parking garage with a green wall and solar panels, pond and other sustainable features on a site that minimizes impacts and harmonizes the landscape with the nearby Florida Everglades. The site design incorporates wetlands throughout the project and in interior and exterior courtyards. These wetlands are visible from within the building. A jogging path occurs around the reconstructed wetlands and there are locations for gathering and relaxation. Structures are made of locally sourced materials with high-recycled content and FSC-certified wood. Native and adaptive plant species occur site wide, creating a sustainable native plant community on aesthetically appealing grounds. The grounds also provide water-quality treatment for the project area.

Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education, One Star, Alrie Middlebrook, San Jose, California. This former concrete parking lot in downtown San Jose has become a shared garden space used for educational purposes. The tenants include a sustainable landscaping company, The California Native Garden Foundation and its nursery, and an on-site aquaponics farm. The Environmental Laboratory is used to teach schools how to build a sustainable garden education program and showcases a healthy land-use model. The site demonstrates urban food technologies such as vertical food towers, pallet gardens, composting, and gardening with perennial food plants. Drought-tolerant native plants reduce water use and provide wildlife habitat, restore soils and more. Drip irrigation is used for plantings, and water is reused through greywater systems. Many landscape components are made with recycled or reused material. The goal of ELSEE is to have this type of garden model adopted by 10,000 California schools by 2020.

HELIX Environmental Planning Inc. Headquarters, One Star, HELIX Environmental Planning Inc., La Mesa, California. Landscape conversion of the environmental planning firm’s headquarters entailed the conversion of the landscape to a more regionally appropriate one. The project reduced potable water use for irrigation through rainwater harvesting and the use of native plants, and created a more usable outdoor space for employees, which has increased social interaction and supported healthy activities. The project is unique because it used the expertise of HELIX’s own employees in designing and implementing water-conserving and low-maintenance landscapes.

New Orleans Festival and Recreation Complex, One Star, Torre Design Consortium, New Orleans, Louisiana. A 55-acre abandoned golf course in New Orleans City Park was re-purposed to provide a public space, in conjunction with a Community Development Block Grant. Community input led to opportunities for exercise and outdoor play, and gathering spaces for families, schools, and formal events. The project includes four multi-sport fields, a one-mile walking/biking path, a workout area with adult and child exercise equipment, a large constructed wetland area with meditation paths and a boardwalk, a playground, and a large “Reunion Pavilion” for seating, eating, and socializing. Many oak and cypress trees were retained for shade and enjoyment.

Perot Museum of Nature and Science, One Star, Talley Associates, Dallas, Texas. This 4.7-acre site on a former industrial brownfield is just north of downtown Dallas and west of the Arts District. An elevated freeway determines the site’s southern boundary and is among nearby constraints. The project dovetails with the museum’s primary mission of working to “Inspire minds through nature and science.” To achieve this, the site design was conceived as an abstraction of several native Texas landscape environments that are seamlessly integrated with the building’s architecture that covers much of the space. Starting at the southeast corner of the site, the podium structure of the building was planned to incorporate a vegetated roof system. The roof features plantings that depict different regions of Texas’ ecology: West Texas Caliche, Upland Prairie, Blackland Prairie and East Texas Forests/Wetlands.

Swaner EcoCenter, One Star, CRSA, Park City, Utah. The EcoCenter provides visitors a starting point to experience the 1,200-acre Swaner Preserve, both of which are overseen by Utah State University. The preserve and building serve as places for teaching environmental science. Visitors also hike, bird watch and pursue other nature activities on site. The EcoCenter building demonstrates sustainable features such as solar panels and a cistern for rainwater collection that eliminates potable water use for irrigation and for flushing toilets. Visitors can also learn about an innovative boardwalk that minimized disturbance to land around the piers. Rather than using metal helical piers that produce such damage, these are made from salvaged trestle wood preserved by sitting in the Great Salt Lake for decades. Other approaches included selecting sustainable materials for outdoor seating, bike racks, and pathway pavers.

Tuthill Corporate Headquarters Campus, One Star, Conservation Design Forum, Burr Ridge, Illinois.  The campus provides a workplace environment that honors the human psyche and improves the environment. The building was established on a minimal footprint and oriented to allow employees to easily access a pond/wetland and view it while indoors. Rainwater is collected and directed from the roof to the landscape. The entire site, except for the building footprint, pavement and small Buffalo grass turf edge, has been restored to hardy, native plant species obtained locally wherever possible. Locally sourced limestone was used in a terrace and patio that creates an authentic connection of the building to the local landscape. Invasive species have been removed, allowing the restoration of native grassland prairie and wetland fringe. The restored or recreated on-site landscaping and other elements virtually eliminate surface stormwater runoff and localized flooding.

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WATERFRONToronto / Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign, Janet Rosenburg & Studio

New City Design Can Help Reclaim a Lost Way of Life – China Daily, 3/18/15
“When landscape architect Sean O’Malley finds himself on a site for the first time, he looks for what stands out, what defines the place. This could often mean a mountain, a river, a system of wetlands. Whatever it is that defines the landscape’s character. Case in point: the Shunde New City Plan, located at the Pearl River Delta, and hour-and-a-half ferry ride from Hong Kong and the second-largest bird migration delta and estuary in Southeast Asia”

Give Hong Kong’s New Towns Character, Says Architecture Academic The South China Morning Post, 3/23/15
“A landscape architecture academic has demanded new towns are given ‘character’ to avoid replicating developments from the 1970s. Assistant professor Vincci Mak Wing-sze, of the University of Hong Kong, unveiled alternative designs for the new towns after she asked her final year undergraduate students to come up with more creative ideas.”

5 Proposals Reimagine Toronto Ferry Terminal and Waterfront ParkArch Daily, 3/24/15
“Waterfront Toronto has unveiled five proposals for the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal and Harbor Square Park design competition. The finalists were tasked with transforming Toronto’s waterfront by revitalizing the existing ferry terminal and park through an extensive gradually-implemented master plan”

How Good Old American Marketing Saved the National Parks – National Geographic, 3/24/15
“When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill creating Yellowstone in 1872, he established the first national park anywhere in the world. But 40 years later, the parks that exemplified ‘America’s best idea’ were a mess.”

Landscape Architect Kate Orff Takes the Helm of Columbia’s Urban Design Program – Fast Co. Design, 3/31/15
“Landscape architect Kate Orff, ASLA, has been selected as the next director of Columbia University’s urban design program, within the school’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.”

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