A New Look at the Trail Blazing David Williston

David A. Williston / TCLF
David A. Williston / TCLF


David August Williston
is a name little known today, even in the world of landscape architecture. But according to Dr. Douglas Williams, Student ASLA, Ph.D graduate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, he is one of the trail blazers of the field. One of the first African American landscape architects, Williston designed some of the major campuses of historically African American colleges like Booker T. Washington’s Tuskeegee Institute and Howard University in Washington, D.C. In his lifetime, he never experienced full integration, having passed away in 1962 at the age of 94, but managed to accomplish a lasting legacy of built work.

In a talk at Howard University’s School of Architecture, Williams wondered why Williston is so little celebrated. In part, he blames the lack of diversity in core landscape architecture texts, like the Landscape of Man, published in 1970, and Landscape Design, in 2001. “Where are the black people in these texts?”

He also pointed to the paucity of published books on African American cultural landscapes. Celebrated African American landscape architect Walter Hood, ASLA, published a book of his own work, but that was back in 1997. (Apparently, he is at work on a second book on his “hybrid landscapes”). The 2004 book African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945, an overview of some 100 designers, includes only 5-6 landscape architects. Williams bemoaned that mainstream attention to these designers only gets paid in a cursory fashion during Black History Month.

Williams highlighted a few examples of what he considers to be excellent African American scholarship on landscape: from J.B. Jackson’s The Necessity of Ruins and Other Topics, which states that “the garden landscapes of blacks are some of the least known and richest,” to We Shall Independent Be: African American Place-Making and the Struggle to Claim Space in the United States, a compendium edited by Angel David Nieves and Leslie M. Alexander, which explores the stories of African American communities displaced by Frederick Law Olmsted in the creation of Central Park.

Referring to Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, which argues that geniuses are less isolated phenomena than important nodes in deep and rich social networks, Williams argued that Williston also collaborated widely. He tried to imagine Williston’s African American contemporaries, many of whom remain unknown. He tried to imagine how Williston was able to create an entirely African American system to achieve his landscape designs in the segregated deep South. And he tried to imagine how Williston, without access to white-owned nurseries, could have sought out native plants in the woods and cultivated them on his own. (Williston was one of the first African Americans to earn a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Cornell University; there, his love of plants grew into a considerable expertise on plant propagation and cultivation.)

Williston taught horticulture to African American college students while also serving as a campus landscape architect for numerous historically black colleges. He spent 20 years at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, where he also worked with African American architect Robert R. Taylor to lay out the physical campus. According to The Cultural Landscape Foundation, he then settled in Washington, D.C. at the onset of the Great Depression, where he started his own firm. He designed the expansion of Howard University, and numerous other colleges, working well into his early 90s.

Williams’ hope is to completely digitize Williston’s archives and make them accessible online for future researchers, using them as a basis to create 3-D models of now-lost planting schemes, so more people can experience a Williston landscape.

University Landscapes Teach, Too

University of Virginia campus / Perfect Soccer Recruit
University of Virginia campus / Perfect Soccer Recruit

“Landscapes have long been essential to the transfer of knowledge,” said Daniel Bluestone, a professor of history, art, and architecture at Boston University at Dumbarton Oaks’ symposium on landscape and the academy. In ancient Greece, “Hippocrates taught the art of medicine under a tree. And in China, there has been a tradition of educational landscapes, including the book garden.” Fast forward to the founding of some early colleges and universities in the United States, and we see the beginning of a “distinctly American type of educational landscape,” with gardens, arboreta, and designed views. Early American university campuses were designed to “train the eye to outside beauty,” create a long-lasting appreciation for nature, and build important values like self-reliance. Today, some of those American universities are now at the forefront of education about sustainability and resilience. “University landscapes can create a profound connection with the ecology of our world. We need students who understand climate change. A university can make these issues manifest in the landscape.”

The symposium covered vast ground; here are highlights from some of the campus landscapes discussed:

The University of Virginia: This model American campus was laid out by president Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s. He envisioned a central mall surrounded by buildings, with “spaces for learning intended to promote the stewardship of knowledge, an academical village,” explained Bluestone. The idea was to give people “space to develop a sense of where they were” — in this case, the Virginia landscape, which was central to the original campus and became a sort of living learning lab, in today’s lingo, “where students could reflect on their place in the greater ecological scheme of things.” It was also a productive landscape: students would pass by kitchen gardens and know where their food came from. (The image below is of Jefferson’s kitchen garden at Monticello, but it perhaps gives an idea of what those would have looked like).

Vegetable garden at Monticello / UVA Green Dining
Vegetable garden at Monticello / UVA Green Dining

Harvard University: Joseph Claghorn, a fellow at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, gave a sweeping tour of Harvard Yard through the ages, arguing that the shift away from the grand Elm tree monoculture of Harvard Yard to a more diverse, resilient tree canopy, under the guidance of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is mirrored in shift away from being a white, elitist college to a more diverse one. (However, one could also argue that only elite institutions like Harvard can afford to be so resilient). Claghorn traces the evolution of Harvard Yard over the years, explaining that there had been three waves of Elm deaths before the move diverse planting scheme was created, which still features the stunning Elm roof but also includes blooming yellow woods and many other species.

Harvard Yard / Harvard Magazine
Harvard Yard / Harvard Magazine

Harvard, the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S., has largely had an organic evolution over the past 375 years. In the beginning, there was no masterplan for the campus. By the 1720s, the college had settled on an “open quadrangle, not cloistered like Oxford.” Claghorn says this distinction is important: In the United Kingdom, the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge had roots in monasteries — they were isolated, exclusive places for learning — but Harvard, in its early years at least, was open and directly linked with the Cambridge Commons, which “reflected the mutual dependence between college and town.” By the early 1800s, however, the college had become a university, with multiple schools, and become “largely segregated from the neighboring working-class community.”

Original Harvard Yard / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Original Harvard Yard / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The epitome of this segregation was the addition of a church on Harvard’s campus, which meant students no longer ventured into Cambridge to worship with their neighbors. Gates were added to further separate the campus. Those gates were later used to the defensive advantage of student protestors in the 1960s and 70s. In the past few decades, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates began to diversify the campus landscape, as the Elms were infected by Dutch Elm disease. Today, some subsidiary spaces even have apple trees — a far cry from the totality of the Elms. Diversity and resilience is now increasingly depicted through the campus landscape.

U.S. Military Academy at West Point: John Dean Davis, who is studying for his Ph.D at Harvard, delved into the landscape of the oldest continual military installation in the country. The early campus experience for the male cadets was “drudgery punctuated by moments enjoying nature.” The sprawling campus in upstate New York allowed for “roaming in the Hudson River valley.” In the early 1900s, the Olmsted brothers created a masterplan that featured an “active plane,” a vast central lawn, and the preservation of forested watersheds. Today, the active plane where marching drills were once held now contains sports field and a helipad. And instead of free immersions in the wilderness of the military reservation, cadets are bound in mediated REI-like experiences in controlled natural settings. Enjoyment of wild nature has been tamed in favor of safety and discipline.

West point campus / West Point.org
West point campus / West Point.org

Vassar College: In contrast with West Point, Vassar, the first endowed women’s college in the U.S., incorporated landscape exploration into the actual curriculum, said Karen Van Lengen, professor of architecture, University of Virginia. The campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, was separated from the town. Its ambitious landscape plan evolved incrementally over time, but was crafted to have “an effect on the students.” Some of the first women ecologists in the country led classes featuring the campus landscape. Each class at Vassar also contributed to the development of the landscape by planting trees. “Tree day was an important ceremony.” It grew to become a “nocturnal, cult-like event, with dances and poetry.” Commencements even involve constructed, ceremonial views of trees. Today, Vassar remains a “leading institution for environmental studies and uses its campus to teach about ecology and conservation.”

Vassar College Commencement / Webner House blog
Vassar College Commencement / Webner House blog

John Beardsley, director of the landscape program at Dumbarton Oaks, remarked how the landscape of Vassar was designed to encourage independent thinking, while West Point’s emphasized the collective, despite moments of freedom in nature.

Duke University: Mark Hough, FASLA, university landscape architect at Duke, and Linda Jewell, FASLA, a just-retired professor from the University of California Berkeley, explained the history of this picturesque campus in Durham, North Carolina, and the unique role it plays as both public garden and educational institution. From the beginning, Duke had “Ivy envy,” explained Hough. That resulted in massive investments by the Duke family, one of the wealthiest in the south, in creating a campus that “looked like it was carved out of pristine nature.” Today, the campus is wrestling with how to integrate more contemporary landscape architecture into the historic campus, and manage a $1 billion building campaign that will result in new projects by West 8, Reed Hilderbrand, and Stephen Stimson Associates.

Last year, the university’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens received over 300,000 visitors, explained Jewell. Considered the highlight of the campus, the gardens feature a designed pond — that is beautiful but also manages stormwater — and “exuberant flora.” In 2007, the gardens got the first full time director, who was put in “take it to the next level.” While the gardens clearly attract lots of visitors, they are also designed for the students. WiFi is now accessible to enable “passive study.” And then there’s the trickier student interactions to manage. Hough explained that “it has become a social ritual to have sex in the gardens before you graduate.” He laughed, “you can’t take the students out of the campus.”

Sarah P. Duke Gardens / Panorama Point
Sarah P. Duke Gardens / Panorama Point

Hough explained how students’ deep concern about sustainability led Duke to LEED-certify all their buildings in the early 00s and resulted in a shift away from manicured gardens to more ecological ones. A severe drought in 2007 also led Duke to reduce its dependence on the municipal water system, with a 12-acre pond that Warren Byrd, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz, unearthed and turned into a campus nature park, adding some 40,000 native plants. The new ecological landscape, which just opened last year, saves the university 100 million gallons in water use a year. Hough said this new landscape is an example of how Duke is “blurring the lines between infrastructure, student life, ecology, and engineering” while still making places that are “as beautiful as possible.”

Duke Pond / Mark Hough
Duke Pond / Mark Hough

Jewell said in the past five years, she has witnessed a huge increase in awareness about the role campus landscapes can play in sustainability. A simple question like, “do we have too much grass?” has “opened the door” to much broader conversations.

New Case Studies on Sustainable Landscape Design

Sherbourne Commons /
Sherbourne Commons / ASLA 2013 General Design Honor Award. Sherbourne Common / Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

A newly expanded and now mobile-friendly version of ASLA’s Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes online exhibition highlights real-world examples of sustainable landscape design and its positive effects on the environment and quality of life. These spaces use natural systems to provide ecosystem services, transform untapped assets into vital community spaces, and create new economic opportunities — they ultimately provide significant environmental, social, and economic value.

Ten new case studies that range from a coastal ecological restoration project to a volunteer-run urban farm illustrate just what sustainable landscapes are and how they provide important benefits on a variety of scales. In the process, the case studies, written in clear, understandable language, also introduce users to what exactly landscape architects do.

The new case studies were carefully selected to show a diversity of landscape types and scales and reflect geographical diversity. There are now a total of 40 case studies.

New case studies include:

Burbank Water & Power Eco-campus, Burbank, California, a sustainable landscape for employees and visitors in the midst of a working power plant.

Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments, San Francisco, California, a safe and welcoming apartment complex, with beautiful design elements, for the chronically homeless.

Lafayette Greens, Detroit, Michigan, a volunteer-run urban farm in downtown Detroit where 800 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown every year.

Living Breakwaters, New York, New York, an innovative coastal ecological restoration project that won $60 million in the Rebuild by Design competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse Sustainable Landscape Renovation, Albuquerque, New Mexico, an underused plaza that has become a model of sustainable landscape design in the desert.

Quarry Garden, Shanghai, China, a derelict, polluted quarry that was transformed into a garden visited by more than 3 million people in its first year.

Sherbourne Common, Toronto, Cananda, a multi-functional park and wastewater treatment plant that includes an underground Ultraviolet (UV) water purification system.

The Steel Yard, Providence, Rhode Island, an abandoned steel manufacturing facility that has become a beloved community arts space.

Sunnylands Center and Gardens, Rancho Mirage, California, an extension to the Annenberg Estate that captures every drop of stormwater, with some collected in underground cisterns for later use.

Woodland Discovery Playground, Memphis, Tennessee, an immersion in nature play for children that features surfaces made of recycled athletic shoes.

The Web site also 30 other case studies; 10 animations created by Daniel Tal, ASLA, using Google Sketchup; and companion sustainability education resources that enable users to explore sustainable design concepts in greater depth.

Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes was originally made possible with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 16 – 31)

The Xixi Wetland Estate in Hangzhou is the latest housing project by David Chipperfield in China / Simon Menges, Wallpaper.com
The Xixi Wetland Estate in Hangzhou is the latest housing project by David Chipperfield in China / Simon Menges, Wallpaper.com

The Spiritual and Spectacular Meet at an Ultramodern Community Center in Connecticut The New York Times, 10/16/15
“A group of friends and neighbors thought that this area could use a new community center with a spiritual underpinning. So they built one. But Grace Farms, as the project is called, will never be mistaken for a modest Amish barn-raising. In this corner of Connecticut, budgets are less tight than elsewhere.”

Wild Gardens That Grew Out From WashingtonThe Washington Post, 10/19/15
“Washington doesn’t export a lot of aesthetic ideas, and the exceptions only prove the rule. Yes, the city can lay claim to the Washington Color School, more than a half-century ago, but that always feels a bit like the region’s claim to culinary fame, the crab cake: predictable, ubiquitous and uninspiring.”

Putting the Wilderness Back in Houston Arboretum The Houston Chronicle, 10/26/15
“The incessant hum of Loop 610 traffic permeates the western edge of the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, like waves crashing on a beach. Just 75 feet from the state’s busiest freeway, rabbits scamper through the underbrush, purple beautyberries cling to the drooping canes of bright green plants and a dry, woodsy scent hangs in the air.”

Verdant Village: David Chipperfield Completes the Xixi Wetland Estate Wallpaper, 10/26/15
“For two thousand years, Hangzhou has been celebrated for its incomparable tableau of unruffled lakes at the foot of green hills, and ancient waterways lined with gardens, temples, and graceful buildings designed by a succession of dynasties enamored with the landscape.”

Landscape OperationsThe Architect’s Newspaper, 10/27/15
“An ongoing debate resurfaced at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. One critic in particular, Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects, criticized the curators, saying that it seems that “contemporary architecture [has] ceased to exist, the discipline’s guilt and bad conscience has sapped its vitality, and driven it to self-annihilation.”

America’s Green Giant The New York Review of Books, 11/15
“The nearly universal acclaim that greeted the High Line—the linear greenway built between 2006 and 2014 atop an abandoned elevated railway trestle on Manhattan’s lower west side—reconfirmed the transformative effect parks can have on the quality of urban life.”

Design a New Hub for Deaf Culture

gallaudet 2
Gallaudet University campus / Gallaudet University

Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts university in the world that teaches its students in both English and American Sign Language, has launched an international design competition to remake its 99-acre campus in Washington, D.C. into a hub for deaf culture. According to the university, design teams will be challenged “to rethink the sensory experience of the campus through the deaf perspective.” The $60 million project also aims to create a new campus gateway and “redefine the university’s urban edge as a vibrant, mixed-used creative and cultural district.”

University officials believe Gallaudet is leading an “emerging renaissance known as Deaf Gain: a paradigm shift that switches the emphasis from hearing loss to the cultural, creative and cognitive gains of deaf ways of being in the world.” To enable this paradigm shift, they are starting with their own campus, redesigning it using “DeafSpace,” design guidelines created by deaf campus architect Hansel Bauman.

gallaudet
Gallaudet University campus / Gallaudet University

These guidelines better enable visual communication among the deaf. Gallaudet explains: “When deaf people congregate the group customarily works together to rearrange furnishings into a ‘conversation circle’ to allow clear sight lines so everyone can participate in the visual conversation. Gatherings often begin with participants adjusting window shades, lighting and seating to optimize conditions for visual communication that minimize eyestrain. These practical acts of making a DeafSpace are long-held cultural traditions that, while never-before formally recognized, are the basic elements of an architectural expression unique to deaf experiences.”

Bauman goes into more detail:

While the university has already been remaking its buildings according to the new guidelines, the campus revitalization will be the first time they have been applied to the public realm, addressing spatial arrangements, wayfinding, and lighting conditions outside. The guidelines will be applied to the campus, including the 14-acre historic core designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1866.

Gallaudet is looking for multidisciplinary teams, including landscape architects, architects, and specialists in human behavior, performing and fine arts, communication technology, wayfinding and engineering disciplines, among others. First-stage competitors need to express interest by October 1. Second stage finalists will each receive a $50,000 honorarium to participate in a colloquium, design charrette, and generate designs for a public exhibition. Winners will be announced by February 2016.

Another fascinating opportunity: the Burning Man festival is looking for designs for “individual elements, conforming city plans, and non-conforming city plans” for its 2017 temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. Burning Man values like “radical inclusion and de-commodification” need to be represented. Given Burning Man just keeps getting bigger, more than 70,000 people are expected for the 2017 happening. As with past Burning Mans, the goal is to leave no trace when the city comes down. Designs are due to the Black Rock Ministry of Urban Planning by December 31, 2015.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (July 16 – 31)

Peter Schaudt / http://www.hoerrschaudt.com/
Peter Schaudt / hoerrschaudt.com

In Seattle, Framing Mount RainierThe Huffington Post, 7/16/15
“Gustafson Guthrie Nichol was called in to create a ‘fountain to mountain’ walking experience called Rainier Vista. It’s now a half-mile-long pedestrian mall that visually connects Red Square to Mount Rainier through the iconic Drumheller Fountain at the heart of the campus.”

Landscape Architecture Comes to the Fore in ChicagoThe Chicago Tribune, 7/18/15
“Given its preeminent role in the birth of the skyscraper, Chicago is often called a laboratory of modern architecture. This summer, the city has put on new mantle: It has become a nationally significant testing ground for public space.”

Peter Schaudt, Distinguished Landscape Architect, Dies at 56 – The Chicago Tribune, 7/20/15
“Chicago landscape architect Peter Schaudt, whose creative and collaborative approach burnished everything from iconic Midwestern football stadiums to outdoor plazas in downtown Chicago, died Sunday at 56 of a heart attack at his Villa Park home, according to his wife, Janet.”

Rotterdam Considers Piloting Environmentally-friendly Road Made From Recycled Plastic BottlesThe Architect’s Newspaper, 7/20/15
“Always an early adopter of innovative sustainability methods, the city of Rotterdam is considering piloting roads fabricated from recycled plastic. The creators of PlasticRoad wooed the city council with their proposal of an all-plastic road that is quicker to lay and requires less maintenance than asphalt.”

A Sad Goodbye to Peter Lindsay Schaudt – Planetizen, 7/22/15
“To say he will be missed hardly begins to cover the impact his loss will have on his family, friends, colleagues, clients, the city of Chicago, and the profession of landscape architecture. He was an amazing person, a good friend, and a terrific designer.”

Jackie Kennedy’s Handmade Scrapbook Offers a Rare Glimpse of Rose Garden’s Birth The Washington Post, 7/28/15
“A new exhibit at the White House Historical Association uncovers some insights into the iconic Rose Garden just outside the Oval Office.”

Envisioning a New Academic Commons

IMG 002
Fourth annual Vortex competition / UVA

Hundreds of students walked down Ivy Road in the middle of January, marking the kickoff of the fourth annual Vortex competition at the University of Virginia. Undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines at the School of Architecture gathered together for a week-long design workshop to envision a new academic commons along the Ivy Road corridor, an underused entry to the university. Focusing on improving connectivity to new student and faculty housing, the workshop examined how to bring academic and residential culture together in a new urban environment.

Thirty student teams, each advised by a faculty member, developed innovative approaches to the design problems: how to improve accessibility, connectivity, and sustainability. Using university founder Thomas Jefferson’s “academical village” concept — which called for deep interactions between students and scholars — as the basis for dialogue, teams also focused on how to further this relationship and extend it city-wide.

This year Sylvia Karres, founder of Karres en Brands Landscape Architects, which is based in the Netherlands, led the design workshop and served as the primary critic. With her expertise in campus planning, Karres called for using sustainable campus design approaches, wherein a balance between learning and living conditions is produced, enabling a holistic student experience. Desk critiques continued through the week as Karres extended the dialogue to university sprawl and the poor connections with the Ivy Road corridor.

IMG 003
Karres listens to a student presentation / UVA

The final charrette was held at Sunday morning, bringing the week-long chaos to an end. Students, faculty, and community members were all in attendance.

Team 2, which was led by landscape architecture professor Julie Bargmann, won the public, student, and faculty awards. The team envisioned connecting the community and university with Ivy Road by making the road an academic, environmental, and commercial hub for the western edge of Charlottesville. Using an existing culverted stream under the site as an organizational element, the proposal included a pedestrian mall, multi-level housing, and a bridge in memory of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student, who disappeared there in 2009. The team sought to create a place of empowerment and community.

FINAL BOARD
Team 2 proposal / UVA

Team 26, led by architecture professor Peter Waldman, won the main prize, given by Karres, with their development of a campus collage. The team’s proposal focused on merging the various layers of university life and better connecting the community through public transportation and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The team proposed placing several more train stops along the existing railroad. Taking cues from the existing historic sites, railroad organization, and cultural points of interest, the proposal also links this area with new housing and public spaces.

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Team 26 proposal / UVA

In a single week, the competition took a creative discussion beyond the walls of the School of Architecture into the Charlottesville community. This year, students acted as their own client, designing new models for sustainable academic life at the University of Virginia.

This guest post is by Jasmine Sohn, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia.

Landscape as Sponge


In one session at the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting, “Landscape as Sponge: Re-engineering a Historic Campus to Absorb the Rain,” Nicole Holmes, Nitsch Engineering, and Robert Rock, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), explained the ways landscape design plays an integral part in Princeton University’s 2008 Campus Plan.

Holmes described how the evolution and expansion of the Princeton campus have impacted hydrology. Most significantly, explosive growth over the past century has led to buildings creeping into the ecologically sensitive zone along Lake Carnegie, to the south of campus. With Princeton’s recent decision to only expand only within existing campus boundaries, the university is faced with the challenge of how to grow without compromising its character or ecology.


Thankfully, with its 2008 Campus Plan, Princeton took a progressive stance toward planning. According to Holmes, “for the first time, landscape became a critical part of the planning process.” Instead of trying to remove water as quickly as possible, or maintaining the status quo of slowing and detaining stormwater, Princeton aims to improve conditions by viewing water infrastructure as a campus amenity.

To improve the campus stormwater system, Princeton looked to the campus’ pre-development conditions. Before development, most water infiltrated into the ground or was dispersed through evapo-transpiration. Since development, the vast majority of stormwater became runoff. Integrating landscape design and stormwater into the campus plan, Princeton aims to reduce its impervious cover, preserve open space, and reduce runoff. To accomplish these goals, it calls for stormwater management to be integrated into landscape-based solutions.


Robert Rock, MVVA, showed examples of his firm’s efforts on the campus. Rock described their work on the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment as an “intricately co-mingled landscape and building project.” Faced with the challenge of integrating a 60,000 square foot building into a relatively small site, the project required an intense collaboration between landscape architects, architects, and engineers. The resulting design is a layering of landscape and building, using green roofs and highly designed soils, ultimately exceeding stormwater goals for the project.


For the Frick Chemistry Building, MVVA had to address a site that had problems with runoff, stream bank erosion, and water quality. The architects working on the project proposed the building be sited adjacent to existing woodlands. Instead, at MVVA’s urging, the building was pushed back, allowing the woodlands to expand and avoiding potential impacts. Stormwater on the site is collected and directed into rain gardens, enabling the removal of two of the three existing outfalls into the nearby stream and dramatically reducing erosion. Additionally, pedestrian pathways are included in this landscape design, improving the human experience of the site.


These examples at Princeton University demonstrate the power of integrating landscape design and landscape-based stormwater solutions into the master planning process. By using landscape as infrastructure, communities can not only become more efficient, but also ecologically and aesthetically vibrant.

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) Princeton University (2-5) Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates 

A Model of Integrated Design: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus


In the heart of Seattle, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the wealthiest private foundation in the world, with assets of more than $34 billion, opened a new campus with little fanfare last year. Winning a rare LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the building is a model of integrated design. Symbiotic landscape and building systems harvest rainwater, reduce potable water use, maximize solar use, and minimize energy use overall. Native plants, local materials, and “natural processes” were used by the architects, NBBJ, and landscape architects, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN), throughout the site. 

Working with the Gates, GGN replaced a parking lot with a man-made landscape inspired by Seattle’s natural setting. Design partner, Shannon Nichol, ASLA, said: “The materials and functions of the landscape are informed by the site’s distinct natural history, as a dark-watered bog in a plateau meadow that absorbed and filtered rainwater.” But here, perhaps the less-appealing aspects of the natural bog have been omitted. A plush campus landscape, filled with native plants like blueberries and Big Leaf Maples, surround a central courtyard said to “float” in a water gardens filled with reeds and cattails.


Rainwater is smartly captured and reused on site by two acres of green roofs. Any runoff from paved aspects of the campus are channeled into a “million-gallon cistern,” which fills the water gardens and is used to irrigate the site. GGN says these technologies were crucial to achieving the LEED Platinum rating: “These systems, along with efficient plumbing fixtures, reduce the campus’s potable water use by nearly 80 percent, saving approximately two million gallons of potable water per year.” The site now minimizes potable water use in the landscape, with the eventual goal of completely eliminating potable water use for irrigation.


The campus buildings also use 25 percent less energy than code requirements, incorporate recycled and local materials, and provide ample sunlight to the foundation’s employees and visitors.  


Another nice aspect of this project: The campus gives a boost to the streetscape of downtown Seattle. Keeping the city’s grid in place, the Gates Foundation improves the public street design, perhaps offering visitors a preview of the careful design extended into the visitor’s center, which offers exhibits for the Seattle community and tourists.


Nichol believes the campus manifests in landscape form the Gates’ mission: “The environmental qualities of the campus landscape are the natural outcome of designing for the Foundation’s strong philosophy of ‘local roots and global vision’.”

Learn more about the campus and watch a fly-through.

Image credits: (1) Timothy Hursley, (2) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (3) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (4) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (5) Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Sierra Club’s Top 100 Green Schools


The Sierra Club’s magazine, Sierra, issued its 2010 rankings of the 100 greenest schools. According to the magazine, the index is meant to measure a school’s commitment to sustainability and includes a range of indicators, such as: energy efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments, and a catchall section titled ‘other initiatives.'” This year, Sierra weighted energy efficiency more heavily, which caused significant changes to the top tier in comparison with the 2009 list.

The school sent a 11-page questionnaire to 900 schools and universities and more than 160 responded. On their methodology, Sierra writes: “Although we worked hard to apply rigorous, objective standards when evaluating the questionnaires, a certain amount of subjectivity was inevitable, and we hope that readers (and the growing legion of college sustainability officers) will bear that in mind. The point, after all, is to create competition, to generate awareness, and to celebrate that so many colleges even have a sustainability officer.”

All the schools seem to be integrating innovative features like campus-based renewable energy systems and composting toilets into their campuses and environmental curricula. All schools have some sort of sustainable landscape program aimed at ending the use of chemical fertilizers and sustainably managing water.

Some ambitious schools are aiming for carbon neutrality. Others like College of the Atlantic have actually accomplished net-zero.

The top ten schools are: 

1. Green Mountain College Poultney, VT
Sierra says: “GMC excels in most categories, and it’s the MVP when it comes to creativity. The campus gets power and heat from biomass and biogas (a.k.a. cow power) and plans to be carbon-neutral by next year.” Learn more about the college’s new $5.8-million biomass facility that runs on locally-harvested wood chips.

2. Dickinson College Carlisle, PA
Read Dickison’s overall strategy for becoming carbon neutral by 2020.

3. Evergreen State College Olympia, WA
Learn more about Evergreen’s 1,000-acre sustainable campus, which includes 800 acres of woodland, gardens, a beach, and organic farm.

4. University of Washington Seattle, WA
Check out the University’s guide to environmentally-sustainable facilities services, which is part of the campus’ broader climate action plan.

5. Stanford University Stanford, CA
“Stanford’s $225 million Global Climate and Energy Project focuses on diverse cutting-edge technologies to help lower carbon dioxide emissions.” Check out the comprehensive “Sustainable Stanford” site, which outlines the school’s climate action plan and goals for a range of areas.

6. University of California, Irvine Irvine, CA
On UC Irvine’s 1,400-acre campus, grounds administrators have “adopted numerous environmentally sound practices, such as recycling plant waste into mulch, reducing fertilization, and implementing water savings measures.”

7. Northland College Ashland, WI
 Check out campus initiatives in sustainable landscaping.

8. Harvard University Cambridge, MA
Harvard is also now using compost to restore the soils on campus, ending its use of chemical fertilizers (see earlier post).

9. College of the Atlantic Bar Harbor, ME
The school says it became the first carbon-neutral campus in 2007.

10. Hampshire College Amherst, MA
The college’s 800-acre campus features a number of LEED-certified buildings.

Check out the top 100 green schools and other campus sustainability resources schools can tap. See other major green school rankings, The College Sustainability Report Card and The Princeton Review.

Schools that didn’t make the cut should consider signing-on to and implementing the guidelines of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

Image credit: Green Mountain College Woodchip Biomass Energy Plant / Matte Network