Sustainable Design Innovation: Perez Art Museum Miami

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Perez Art Museum Miami / all photos by Robin Hill

The built and natural environments merged to form something new and amazing in Miami: The Perez Art Museum. One of the most fascinating recent uses of integrated design, the museum features a hanging garden and a complementary, tropical landscape filled with native plants and irrigated by the building itself. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and landscape designers at ArquitectonicaGEO, the museum is a prime example of multidisciplinary team-driven sustainable design.

Exploring the museum from the ground up shows us how the project just builds one sustainable layer upon the next. As ArquitectonicaGEO explains, given the museum is close to the Biscayne Bay, it first had to be elevated to meet flood and storm surge requirements.

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The designers ended up putting the garage underneath, which opened up opportunities for smart, multi-purpose design. The arrangement enabled the creation of a “design that integrates parking and planting beds with irrigation system water storage, storm water infiltration, temporary storm surge storage, and aquifer recharge. The innovative porous-floored parking garage, along with rain gardens, has been designed to capture rain water and funnel it into the ground water system, thus reducing local flooding and storm water runoff into Biscayne Bay.” This approach apparently saved the client money, too.

Examining the surrounding landscape, one discovers the varied yet native-rich landscape is also a journey of discovery, enabling visitors to explore new realms of both the plant and art worlds. ArquitectonicaGEO tells us: “A naturalistic planting style dominates throughout the ground level and Level 1 planters, progressing from South Florida natives mimicking endemic habitats outside the building, to a mix of plant types adjacent to the building, and finally a more constructed pan-tropical and exotic palette within the garage and Level 1 planters. The landscape sequence begins on Museum Drive along the new Science Museum and Art Museums, continues in the underground parking garage with a surprising display of plant material in an unexpected location, and continues above ground with the spectacle of the hanging vegetation, and the discoveries within the sculpture garden.”

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Landscape architects also saved ten of the large West Indian Mahogany, Black Olive, and Tabebuia trees found on the site, transplanting them to new spots.

The building itself maximizes its exposure to natural air flow and the cooling power of plants. There are “extensive roof overhangs,” providing access to the landscape and elements.

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Much like the first Brutalist buildings in France, which paired concrete and nature, here, the pan-tropical vegetation is a counterpoint to the Modernism of Herzog & de Meuron’s building. Laurinda Spear, lead designer of ArquitectonicaGEO, told us: “Native plants have been chosen to display the raw materials of our landscape as a contrast to the geometric architecture of the building.”

The hanging vertical green gardens only enhance the effect of the green counterpoint. They were created by green wall designer Patrick Blanc and horticulturalists Michael Davenport from Fairchild Tropical Garden and Jeff Shimonski from Jungle Island.

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ArquitectonicaGEO explains the original design just featured the hanging gardens, but was eventually expanded to include the sustainable system for the horizontal landscape. The result is a far richer place.

Community Resilience at the Edge

Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN and PennDesign
Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN & PennDesign

Is resilience ecological, economic, cultural, or social? For Red Hook and Hunts Point, two communities in New York City, the answer is all of the above, argued Barbara Wilks, FASLA, and Richard Roark, ASLA, at a talk at the Center for Architecture in New York City.

Wilks spoke about the Red Hook community in Brooklyn, which was the focus of their Commercial Corridor Resiliency Project, a proposal submitted to the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rebuild by Design competition by HR&A Advisors, Inc., with Cooper, Robertson & Partners and W-Architecture & Landscape Architecture, where Wilks is principal and founder. Their proposal, which unfortunately didn’t win, explains: “In Red Hook, resiliency involves integrating flood protection through measures that maintain and enhance waterfront maritime and industrial activity while allowing for public access to the waterfront.”

Focusing on public corridors could help create social resiliency and civic spirit. Re-integrating the historic maritime legacy more closely with other parts of the community could strengthen local identity. And embracing the importance of water as not only threat but also opportunity could be important in a community that had some streets under as much as five feet of water following Hurricane Sandy. “Every nook and cranny in Red Hook is different,” said Wilks, so many different solutions would be needed to create redundancies across scales.

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The Gowanus Canal, typically a source of flooding in Red Hook, could become a revitalized “Maker’s District” for manufacturing and production business. A raised promenade encourages access to the space for pedestrians / HR&A Advisors

The project could also bring the community closer to the waterfront edge to create pedestrian and recreational opportunities that blur the border between water and community, rather than trying to create hard separations.

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Renderings show a new wave barrier protection to reduce wave action in a storm events while providing recreational waterfront amenities during normal conditions / HR&A Advisors

A one-mile section of Hunts Point peninsula in South Bronx is “the hub of the food supply for 22 million people, a $5 billion annual economy, over 20,000 direct jobs, and livelihoods of people in the poorest U.S. Congressional District.” Up to 60 percent of New York City’s produce, meat, and fish supply comes from Hunts Point – also home to the Food Bank for New York City. And it’s all in a floodplain, said Roark, who works at OLIN. He presented Hunts Point Lifelines, a winning Rebuild by Design proposal from OLIN and PennDesign that will receive $20 million.

The community escaped major impacts from Sandy, but if the floods had moved differently during that event, the one million pounds of food Hunts Point provided to the region in the five days following the storm could have been decimated. This would not only impact New York’s food supply. The floodwaters combined with decaying food following power outages could turn the entire neighborhood into a toxic waste site.

The economic value – and vulnerability – of Hunts Point is clear. But Roark also asked the audience to consider the social and cultural value of Hunts Point: “We sit at a tipping point where communities can become incredibly bifurcated: either wealthy places, or islands of extreme poverty.” In wealthier communities, residents who can afford flood insurance can either take a hit and rebuild, or leave altogether. With both historically impoverished residents and a large influx of poor immigrants, Hunts Point residents have neither of these luxuries. But the economic disadvantages belie the cultural contributions the area has given to not just the region but the world with a thriving street art scene and its historic legacy as the “birthplace” of hip-hop.

Hunts Points is a test site – a “crucible,” in the language of the design proposal – for the sort of future we want. For OLIN and PennDesign, the future includes a flood protection levee lab that combines protection of Hunt Point’s food hub with recreational and research opportunities.

A proposed open market honors Hunt Point's food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign
A proposed open market honors Hunt Point’s food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign

There will be new jobs associated with stormwater infrastructure, maritime emergency supply lines, and a state of the art “trigeneration” plant, designed to meet the district’s large refrigeration demands. These jobs will be accessible via “cleanways.”

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Urban “cleanway” / OLIN & PennDesign

Both projects drive home an important point: resiliency is ultimately about the people at the heart of the places we’re trying to keep safe. Both Wilks and Roark called for using resilient design to improve social equity, preserving community identity and historical legacies, and embracing multiple solutions across scales rather than attempting to find one catch-all “universal” solution.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

SITES Certifies New Set of Landscapes

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Kirke Park / Sustainable Sites Initiative

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) program has certified four new landscapes. These include: Kirke Park, a pocket park in Seattle (two stars); 38 Dolores, a grocery store and housing complex in San Francisco (two stars); West Point Foundry Preserve, a historic Civil War-era preserve in New York (one star); and the office of Perkins + Will, a design firm, in Atlanta (one star). The four projects join 30 other pilot projects certified by the SITES program, the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable land design and development. All 34 certified landscape pilot projects met the 2009 Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, developed by the SITES program in collaboration with dozens of sustainability experts, scientists, and design professionals from across the nation.

The four newly certified pilot projects incorporate sustainable features that were evaluated using a rating system with certification levels of one to four stars:

Kirke Park, Two Stars, Site Workshop, Seattle, Washington (see image above). This pocket park was designed to reflect the site’s past, incorporating structural elements that were remnants from a church that previously occupied the site, while enhancing the neighborhood. A community garden recalls the site’s history of producing food while a secret garden offers a quiet space inside the preserved walls of the historic church. A gathering plaza contains other park relics and is connected to an open lawn, providing structure for community events and informal play. A playground and an “adventure trail” that uses logs and boulders promote an active, natural play environment.

38 Dolores, Two Stars, April Philips Design Works, San Francisco, California. This greyfield project in the diverse Upper Market community in San Francisco has become a mixed-use development with 81 residential units and a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor. The LEED® Gold certified project improves the use of city systems and reduces its carbon footprint. To achieve SITES recognition, the developer added sustainable features including rainwater harvesting, alternative energy technologies, and green roofs that provide habitat for the endangered mission blue butterfly and a haven for city visitors. In addition, the site has edible and rain gardens and features such as education components to promote eco-awareness.

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38 Dolores / Sustainable Sites Initiative

West Point Foundry Preserve, One Star, Scenic Hudson Inc., Cold Spring, New York. The preserve is at a former turn-of-the-century manufacturing facility, which later was declared an EPA Superfund cleanup site. The work of a community advisory group, informed by years of archaeological studies, helped inform the transformation of 87 acres into a publicly accessible outdoor museum and heritage destination with interpretation and restored habitat. The site’s existing artifacts and previous history manufacturing Parrott guns credited with winning the Civil War, steam engines and mill equipment were incorporated into the design. The preserve includes a restored tidal marsh that supports wildlife habitat. Salvaged materials found on site such as brick fragments and stone were used in the project. Uniquely, the project included an archaeological monitoring plan to address unexpected features found during construction. The preserve is the second SITES-certified project of Scenic Hudson Inc. along the Hudson River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Preserve America site.

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West Point Foundry Preserve / Sustainable Sites Initiative

Perkins+Will Office, One Star, Perkins+Will, Atlanta, Georgia. This design firm’s new home is a living model for small urban sites that emphasize sustainability. Essentially “upcycling” an outdated office building on Atlanta’s signature boulevard, the site now showcases elegant stormwater solutions and innovative use of materials on a highly constrained urban location. Where a parking deck and driveway once focused on auto access at the front of the building, a new civic plaza was created as an open-air living room for tenants and the community that reconnects the building to the street. The site provides walkable transit access for employees and clients, creates tenant space for civic uses and additional outdoor spaces for social engagement. The newly renovated building is also certified LEED® Platinum with the highest score in the Northern Hemisphere at the time of certification.

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Perkins + Will office / Sustainable Sites Initiative

The SITES program is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

Based on the experiences of the 100-plus pilot projects that field-tested the 2009 rating system and input from hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, a refined set of guidelines and rating system was released in June 2014. Known as SITES v2, it was developed over seven years and is now available for use by anyone who works in land design and development. The SITES v2 Rating System and scorecard are available for free.