With SITES, Regenerative Design Moves Forward

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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