This year the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) looked to the future for World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) by featuring ASLA student chapters, who are the next generation of landscape architects.
In 2018, ASLA continued its This is Landscape Architecture social media campaign. More than 1,638 users posted nearly 6,000 instances of their favorite landscape architect-designed spaces with #WLAM2018. These posts helped educate 2.8 million people around the globe about the profession.
To see a glimpse of the future of landscape architecture, ASLA asked a different student chapter to take over our Instagram each day in April. Arizona State University showed us how they are exploring the basics of design: sketching.
ASLA student chapters also work with their local communities on projects. Auburn University shared its Alabama Lab, where students “use design to help create and continue conversations about local issues across a larger geographical and disciplinary spectrum.”
In mid-April, the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) hosted Leading with Landscape IV: Transforming North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the latest in TCLF’s series of conferences designed to help communities better understand how landscape architecture can yield transformational change in the public realm. Ten speakers from the Triangle and nine from elsewhere gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, to unpack the region’s history, explore its landscapes, and pose questions about the role of landscape architecture in a region reconciling tensions between growth, equity, and ecology.
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of TCLF, introduced the notion that the Triangle’s landscapes represent a continuum of “cultural lifeways” — landscapes that have over time encompassed public squares and greenways, parkways, and freeways; agrarian values and modernist ideals; asphalt-dominated office parks and revitalized downtown cores.
Adriaan Geuze, ASLA, founding partner at West 8, is designing a sculpture garden for the Nasher Museum of Art on the suburban-feeling stretch of Duke University that lies between its Georgian East and Gothic West campuses. Geuze shared ideas about improving the journey from East to West, and his firm’s attempts to find inspiration in the site’s Piedmont landscape, which had been compromised by stream channelization and road construction.
Geuze joked that culverts are “America’s legacy to natural land,” and he described with humor his perception of Campus Drive, the Olmsted Brothers road that connects East and West campuses: “Everyone travels it — up and down, up and down. It’s pretty dumb. It’s not cool. The buses are noisy. And if you are a student on a bike, you are dead five times in a mile — it is very simple; you will not survive.”
Later in the day the same landscape features — the ubiquitous culvert and Duke’s Campus Drive — made it into the remarks of Alexandra Lange, Curbed’s architecture critic who grew up in Durham. For Lange, the “little wilderness” of the culvert near her family’s house was one of the most precious cultural landscapes of her childhood, as was Campus Drive, which afforded some measure of teenage independence when she was allowed to ride “the slowest, safest bus in the world.”
The distance between the remarks suggests the fertile ground on which the conference operated, seeking to make sense of a landscape continuum that can contain both definitions of a culvert — on the one hand a symbol of irresponsible design practice and an obstacle to ecological restoration, and on the other hand a vernacular feature, a site of memory and attachment capable of fostering genuine communion with nature.
Randolph Hester, FASLA, director of the Center for Ecological Democracy, is a North Carolina native and Durham resident. He described the Piedmont as “the land of the second sons,” dominated in its earliest European settlement by those who had not inherited the family plantation in Virginia and so moved south to become modest “dirt farmers,” inextricably tied to the land and characterized by “ragged edges.”
“How do we maintain that modesty as we become a place where everybody wants to be doing design?” Hester asked. “How do you get the essence when you come from the outside? And it makes me think — how do natives get the essence of a place when they take it for granted?”
The conference offered a venue for both outsiders and natives to grapple with questions of place and authenticity. The opening presentation by Birnbaum, followed by North Carolina State University faculty members Chuck Flink, FASLA, and Kofi Boone, ASLA, grounded the day’s discussions in the history and contemporary realities of the Triangle.
Flink, president of Greenways Inc., offered a sweeping view of the Triangle’s landscape spanning millennia. He traced over time the importance of local ecology in driving culture, economies, and development patterns. He reminded the audience that the Piedmont, before European settlement, was defined by a deciduous and pine forest so thick that, in the words of ecologist B. W. Wells: “One could travel for days without a good view of the sun, and at night the constellations could seldom be seen because of the interfering canopy.”
Flink spoke to the degradation of that forest to make way for farmland, which later made way for quarter-acre subdivisions. He addressed the “myth of an aristocracy” established by European Southerners to justify the brutal, economy-building exploitation of enslaved Africans. He pointed out that a young Frederick Law Olmsted was the first to broadly expose that myth through a series of articles for the New-York Daily Times.
And he pointed to the traditional push and pull between development and ecological design in the Triangle, represented on one end by the city-approved floodplain development of Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley Mall — which flooded the day before its opening in 1972 — and on the other end by growth since the 1970s of the city’s 115-mile, 3,800-acre riparian greenway system, which has become an international model.
Boone offered a crash course in regional history through a cultural lens. He described the economic engine of Research Triangle Park (RTP), a suburban office park that in the 1960s marketed its proximity — by way of forested highways — to three major research universities. RTP currently is seeking to retrofit its sprawl — to introduce an urban fabric that it sees as essential to attracting today’s top talent.
Boone then discussed the Triangle’s history of racism in the landscape — from plantation slavery to Jim Crow segregation, and the relegation of lower-wealth, African-American communities to floodplains. He spoke about the black communities that grew out of segregation, including the financial powerhouse of Black Wall Street in Durham, and the role of Raleigh’s African-American Chavis Park in hosting the early development of peaceful protest tactics by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which itself was founded at the segregated Shaw University.
But Boone reminded the audience that the Triangle’s cultural and demographic milieu is far from black-and-white. The Latino population is the biggest driver of growth in the Triangle, and the Asian population is growing in the suburbs closest to RTP. Boone pointed to evidence of this growth in the landscape, such as the Durham Green Flea Market and the growing number of Hindu temples in suburbs like Cary and Morrisville. “They’re bringing their cultural traditions with them, but right now they’re not represented in our public landscape,” Boone said. “What could that mean in 50 years, as these communities continue to grow and build resources? What will they think of our place?”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, professor of history at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, addressed representation in the Triangle’s public landscapes through the lens of Confederate monuments. He referred to the “physical manifestations of memory that came to clutter the landscape” in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when private activists with access to funds and political power were allowed to install their monuments on public land, creating landscapes that were “by design, permanently exclusionary.”
Durham’s Confederate monument, which made national news after it was toppled by protesters in August, 2017, was dedicated in 1924. Brundage said that when private fundraising efforts for the monument failed, Julian Carr, a Confederate veteran, tobacco executive, and white supremacist, lobbied the state to allow public funds to supplement its cost.
That same year in Durham, on land down the road that had been donated by Carr, Trinity College rebranded itself as Duke University following a $19 million gift from James Buchanan Duke. In 1927, construction began on West Campus. A Philadelphia-based, African-American architect named Julian Abele designed the buildings. His identity was kept a secret until the 1980s, and he is rumored to have never visited the campus, as Duke and North Carolina at that time were strictly segregated. The Olmsted Brothers designed the West Campus landscape.
Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, founding principal at Reed Hilderbrand, has worked on a range of Duke campus projects during the past decade. He addressed the challenges inherent in working on historic landscapes, including how to balance principles of design integrity and timelessness with shifting social and political contexts that demand an updated approach.
“While I would never say that it was easy for Julian Abele and the Olmsted Brothers to envision Duke’s campus from the start — it wasn’t easy; it’s never easy — we’ve seen how the narratives that drive renewal or expansion in our own time are colored by a far more democratic, more political and noisier world in which we negotiate for change; we negotiate for everything. I doubt if they had much of a committee back then, and it’s pretty unlikely that student groups were involved.” Hilderbrand characterized his firm’s approach as “building and rebuilding the negotiated campus, where many voices are heard, and where the challenge for design is to give voice to plurality without sacrificing conviction or deluding intentions.”
Mark Hough, FASLA, university landscape architect at Duke, described the full range of distinct campus landscapes across the Triangle, including RTP and Durham’s American Tobacco Campus. He described the “dignified restraint” of the 18th-century University of North Carolina, which he said maintained its site’s gently rolling topography. North Carolina State, the land-grant university, had an early pastoral plan that was quickly abandoned in the chaos of postwar growth, leading to what Hough described as charm in a lack of cohesion and in a personal winding experience through campus. Duke’s West Campus, he said, was originally planned by the Olmsted Brothers to hug the ridge. When funds dwindled, that plan was replaced by a Beaux Arts version that flattened the landscape.
Hough argued campus landscapes have the potential to instill in generations of students an appreciation for aesthetics, ecology, and the designed landscape. And he argued the heart of campus landscape architecture lies in stewardship — in ethos and practice that preserve and enhance the integrity, purpose, and beauty of landscapes over time.
Presentations over the course of the day evoked the shifting cultural, political, and physical landscapes of the Triangle. Linda Jewell, FASLA, partner at Freeman and Jewell Landscape Architecture, grew up in Sanford, North Carolina; practiced in the Triangle during the 1980s; then spent most of her career in Berkeley. But for decades she has made regular trips to the Triangle to visit friends, colleagues, and family, and she shared her impressions over time.
“I get these little glimpses. It’s encouraging and discouraging. I’m very envious when I see people doing projects at Duke and projects around the area where — oh, my God — they allow people to eat on the sidewalks. Sam Reynolds and I constantly proposed letting people eat outside, and we weren’t allowed to do it. And we constantly proposed not having huge swaths of green lawn around everything, but we could not convince either the clients or the review institutions that this was a better way to go. So much progress has been made in terms of some of those things.”
But Jewell sounded a cautionary note about the Triangle’s larger landscape. She said she remembers the thick forests that used to line Interstate 40, which connects several communities throughout the Triangle and takes many people from the suburbs to RTP. Every time she comes home, she said, she sees more of the “suburban schlock” that lies behind the increasingly shallow treeline.
“It is a veil,” she said. “It is hiding all of that bad stuff that we’re doing behind the veil. Don’t forget about all of that suburban stuff we’ve built. We’ve got to do something with it.”
This guest post is by Lindsey Naylor, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, North Carolina State University.
Today, a revamped master plan for the Smithsonian’s South Mall campus cleared one of the last remaining hurdles — approval by the Commission on Fine Arts. First released to the public four years ago, the original plan by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and landscape architecture firm Surface Design, among other firms, was criticized for eliminating the beloved Enid A. Haupt Garden in favor of a more contemporary landscape. After years of refining the plan with significant public input, a revitalized garden, which is the legacy of the great philanthropist and horticulturalist Enid A. Haupt, is back at the centerpiece of the quadrangle framed by the Castle, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Ripley Educational Center, National Museum of African Art Museum (NMAAM), and the Arts & Industries building.
The updated master plan is smart: it proposes using a series of fully-accessible entrances to bring visitors down to a unified underground space that will seamlessly connect museums. This will also stop tourists and visitors from having to ascend and descend each time they want to visit a museum, going through security and checking bags over and over. The master plan will guide the 20-year-long $2 billion project.
Major updates made to the plan over the past four years:
The Castle acts a front door to the south mall campus, a portal into the more secluded quadrangle. According to Smithsonian Undersecretary Albert Horvath, more than 80 percent polled by the Smithsonian see the Castle as the central symbol of the museum and research system, so its enhancement as a hub is the first major project of the master plan.
BIG reduced the proposed excavation under the Castle by 50 percent, while still expanding the public space within the building and connecting it underground to the rest of the campus.
The 37-feet-tall Sackler and African Art Museum pavilions, which line Independence Avenue and hem in the south side of the quadrangle, will be removed in favor of smaller 26-foot glass pavilions at the north edge of the quadrangle. The pavilions were moved to the north end because “70 percent of the traffic” to the under-visited Sackler and NMAAM comes from the National Mall.
In a presentation to the CFA, BIG project manager Aran Coakley said: “the Sackler and National Museum of African Art lack a presence on the National Mall. Moving the pavilions, so they can be seen from the Mall, will elevate their visibility.” Despite the criticism about the contemporary peeled-up glass pavilions found in early proposals, they make a re-appearance here, but in a more subdued form.
The landscape is also poised for a major overhaul, but not for another decade. The Enid A. Haupt garden will be re-made because it rests on a green roof structure that needs to be rebuilt.
But perhaps more importantly, with the removal of the pavilions, the scale of the garden has changed and therefore the experience of the landscape needs to be re-considered.
As CFA Commissioner and landscape designer Liza Gilbert, ASLA, explained: “Everything has changed. The gardens are so much more open now with an expanded street presence.”
Furthermore, given new skylights will stream light deep into the museums from the edge of green roof that holds up the Haupt garden, there is a new design opportunity to “show how this all works. Visitors will be able to see the landscape layers, so it’s important to make them apparent.”
Gilbert called for a rigorous “landscape investigation” along the lines of what has occurred with the campuses’ structures, in order to turn the current plan’s “notional ideas” into a design that enhances the intimate scale of the gardens, improves resilience and sustainability, and illuminates how landscape architecture works.
Other elements of the plan: a new entrance for the Freer Gallery on the west side of the museum; an integrated underground circuit for trucks delivering and picking up art works; a revitalized Hirshhorn building and landscape and new design for a new sunken sculpture garden and subterranean exhibition spaces on the north side of Jefferson Avenue; clearer surface connections between all the buildings and museums and down to the new Eco-District that will line L’Enfant Plaza; redesigned connections between galleries underground and reconfigured spaces for artworks; a fully-restored Arts & Industries building; expanded events and educational spaces in the Arts & Industries building and Castle; and, lastly, an expanded Mary Livingston Ripley garden.
Next up for the Smithsonian: finalize the programmatic agreement, which concludes the Section 106 historic preservation consultation process, and discuss in one last public meeting. And in the early summer, take the final version of the master plan to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) once more.
The Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) and Midtown Detroit Inc have launched a design competition to find a landscape architecture firm with “exceptional design flair” to create a new “DIA plaza,” which can better connect DIA with nearby institutions and form the basis for a coherent, accessible cultural district. Back from the brink of nearly having to sell its art holdings to pay off Detroit’s debtors, the DIA aims to remake its four-acre front plaza and grounds as a destination in themselves, perhaps like the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s iconic grand staircase and fountains. They also want the designers to forge greater neighborhood connections through urban and landscape design, so visitors are encouraged to explore.
The current landscape around the museum doesn’t help the DIA achieve its goals. According to the design competition organizers, “The Wall Street Journal hailed the DIA as ‘the world’s most visitor-friendly museum’ in 2015. However, despite the success inside the museum, visitor experiences on the exterior spaces that surround the museum tell a different story. Potential visitors have described the exterior and grounds as ‘impermeable’ and ‘standing separate from our community.'”
Furthermore, there is a lack of connection with nearby institutions, which seem near in the map below, but Detroit’s blocks are very big. Educational and cultural institutions adjacent to the DIA include: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College for Creative Studies, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Detroit Public Library, the Michigan Science Center, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.
The design team will be asked to create a “strong and innovative design vision that re-imagines the DIA’s grounds, making them highly visible, welcoming, flexible, and functional to support year-round outdoor programming.” Then, the team will be asked to extend this vision beyond the DIA through district-wide improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, way finding, public art, and parking.
The jury includes Salvador Salort-Pons, president of the DIA; landscape architect Julia Bargmann, ASLA, founder of D.I.R.T. Studio; and Maurice Cox, urban planning director for Detroit.
MVVA’s models and renderings for the $50 million park will be on display in Detroit over the coming weeks. One model will be found in the Prentis Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 6 and another will be found in the Wintergarden at the GM Renaissance Center through May 10.
The University College Dublin (UCD), known as Ireland’s “global university” with some 30,000 students from 120 countries, has launched an international design competition for an “urban design vision” that will result in a more-welcoming 23-hectare entrance “precinct” or district. UCD seeks an integrated design team of planners, landscape architects, and architects for the campus where writer James Joyce once studied. A second component of the competition is to create a concept design for a new Center for Creative Design.
According to the competition organizers, the entrance precinct is expected to better link the university to the city but also make the university landscape a landmark and raise the profile of the university both in Ireland and overseas.
The new space must create a strong sense of place — with “creativity, innovation, and sustainability” at the core of the new identity. The new precinct must be attractive, inspirational, accessible, and encourage socializing and pedestrian flow, while creating space for up to 355,000 square meters of development in a footprint of 66,700 square meters. Furthermore, the new precinct must be net-zero in terms of energy use.
UCD contributes some €1.3bn ($1.6 bn) to the Irish economy each year. The university seeks to become a top 100 university in the world by 2020.
Each of the five finalist teams will receive a €40,000 ($49,000) honorarium. But bring your A-game: architect David Adjaye and others are on the prestigious jury. Submissions are due March 26.
Halprin’s Heritage Park Plaza in Texas Will Receive Complete Restoration– The Architect’s Newspaper, 12/19/17
“Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin loved cities, so it was only fitting that his cliffside Fort Worth, Texas, commission, Heritage Park Plaza (HPP), was the first-ever item on the National Register of Historic Places designated solely as landscape architecture.”
Preparing Trees to Go From Green Pastures to the Concrete Jungle– The Washington Post, 12/19/17
“The rolling hills of the Casey Tree Farm in Clarke County, Va., seem a million miles and a distant age from the real estate bustle of the District of Columbia and its constant reinvention, but these pastures offer the city future relief in a climate-changing century.”
Urban Planning Has a Sexism Problem – Next City, 12/19/17
“Take a moment to look around you. Really look. See the city — the streets, the buildings, the spaces between them — and realize for a moment that virtually everything you see has been designed and shaped by men.”
Good Design Is a Public Good– CityLab, 12/26/17
“If you asked 100 random people or even 100 designers, ‘What is design?’ you would get approximately that many different answers. In the most positive sense, this explains the pervasiveness of designers working in and touching every imaginable aspect of our lives.”
Miami Puts It All on the Line with New Park Project– Travel Weekly, 12/27/17
“When Miami unveils the first three of its 10 planned linear miles of parks and trails in 2020, the Underline will join the ranks of New York’s Highline, Atlanta’s Beltline, Houston’s Buffalo Bayou and Chicago’s 606.”
“There is no new water. We can’t make more. We have to recycle and manage it better,” said Josiah Cain, with Sherwood Design Engineers at the 2017 Greenbuild in Boston. The Earth’s water is 97.5 percent saltwater and just 2.5 percent freshwater. A very small amount of freshwater is actually available, given most of it is frozen or found in clouds. As the population heads towards 10 billion and agriculture demands only increase, every drop of water counts. We need to stop doing wasteful things like washing streets and irrigating plants with potable water.
As water becomes more precious, we can soon expect there will be different qualities of recycled water, used for different purposes. Black water, another term for toilet water, may soon be another type of reused water more widely used. As Clark Brockman with SERA Architects said, “we can go from ‘yuck to yay’ and reuse black water in a safe, feasible way to save water and energy and reduce costs.”
Cain sees a future in a highly-urbanized world where water is managed via “decentralized, adaptable infrastructure platforms.” Blending tanks will take in black water. After solid waste has been removed, the tanks will cleanse and dilute the black water with rainwater, so it can be reused as grey water for commercial, industrial, and agricultural uses.
According to Ronen Barkan with Fluence, it makes sense for large countries like the U.S. and Canada to use decentralized water recycling systems. The most effective use of recycled black water is agricultural irrigation. “That water doesn’t need to be the best quality.” With higher levels of purity, which also adds to the cost, recycled black water can also be used in “building cooling towers and toilets.” The technology for these systems is already there, but it’s the cost that’s the most important factor. If treating black water costs much more than using potable water, then it won’t happen.
Beyond getting the cost right, there also needs to be trust that recycled black water is safe to use. Regulators want assurances that water recycling systems will function as engineers claim they will. At the Codiga Resource Recovery Center at Stanford University, Sebastien Stilmans said, firms, developers, and regulators can test systems and gain confidence that they work. He helps manage the facility, which pushes 1,000 gallons of black water from Stanford’s campus through test beds every day. “We then analyze the results and give objective feedback.” Already, there is a network of testing facilities that are helping regulators accept and approve decentralized waste water treatment systems.
Google is already looking into black water recycling for its California headquarters, as it assesses the amount of every type of water that comes into contact with its site. To reduce potable water use in its landscape, Google remade it with native plants. Drew Wenzel with Google said “the goal was to recreate the natural habitat of the region.” In evaluating the creation of a blending system for rainwater and blackwater in order to further reduce campus demand for potable water, they are uncovering the regulatory landscape is complex. To achieve scale with these water recycling systems, “lots of rethinking is required.”
Saving the Tamarind – The Bangkok Post, 2/7/16
“For over a century, 783 tamarind trees have encircled the sacred ground of Sanam Luang. They were there, like stoic sentinels, during ceremonial pomp and political upheavals, come rain or shine.”
Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple Seeks Design Perfection at New ‘Spaceship’ Campus– Reuters, 2/7/17
“Apple Inc’s sprawling new headquarters in Cupertino, California, will be a fitting tribute: a futuristic campus built with astonishing attention to detail. From the arrangement of electrical wiring to the finish of a hidden pipe, no aspect of the 2.8 million-square-foot main building has been too small to attract scrutiny.”
Waterfront Upgrade Phase 2: Time for Public to Pipe up–The San Diego Union Tribune, 2/13/17
“Three years after jacarandas, a hip cafe and a widened bayside promenade transformed a section of the downtown waterfront, the San Diego Unified Port District is jumpstarting talk of Phase 2.”
“Top tech companies now expect their campuses to do the heavy lifting in retaining talent,” argued Aaron Ross with BNIM in a session at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Along with Ross, Stephen Spears, FASLA, Design Workshop, and Rene Bihan, FASLA, SWA Group, showed how leading tech companies are trying to hold on to their top talent by creating exciting little bits of urban life in suburban environments. These firms are attempting to further merge work and home and create spaces for fun as well. And they may be creating new models for working that may filter out to other suburban corporate campuses in coming decades.
In northwest Austin, Texas, one of the booming tech hubs of the south, Design Workshop transformed an out-dated 1980s IBM campus into a new headquarters for Charles Schwab, which features a sustainable landscape design with more natural stormwater management, and a neighboring community called The Domain for those employees to work, live, and hang out (see image above). There, an old IBM chip manufacturing plant became 1.5 million square feet in office space, 1.9 million square feet of retail, and 2.5 million square feet of multi-family housing. “Schwab benefits from having these amenities so close by.”
Design Workshop focused on connectivity. Workers at Schwab can now easily take a quick walk via nature trails to the office or to a bar after work for happy hour. Inside the new community, particularly the night-life corridor, there are “purposefully-narrow” streets set in grids that create a sense of intimacy and community. “The injection of social life into a corporate environment is a paradigm shift.”
For the Pacific Center campus in San Jose, BNIM created a new campus master plan and added two new buildings in a space next to Louis Kahn’s famed Salk Institute. Pulling in the existing nature trails that wind through the valley into the new campus, BNIM wove elements of the surrounding landscape into the new development, which features 250,000 square feet of new office and lab space. The landscape is the inspiration for the ecological design found in small outdoor “chill spaces.” The landscape became a “virus” that infected other places on campus, said Ross.
Employees, who are mostly scientists, wanted more intimate spaces rather than larger gathering spots. “They want to get out of the building and immerse themselves in nature.” Still, a new central lawn provides a “flex space,” and a new soccer field is “utterly packed.”
Beyond integrating architectural bioswales and native plants, they also created a small garden tended by a local non-profit, which harvests the produce and then sells it to the campus’ cafeteria.
Bihan quoted one CEO who said: “no one ever had a good idea while sitting at their computer.” Famed Apple CEO Steve Jobs “loved walking meetings.” The new understanding among big tech firms out West is “landscape is the great enabler.”
In SWA Group’s newest corporate campus projects, “urban planning and campus landscape design merge. Campuses are infilling to boost walkability.” They are also going beyond offering goodies like on-site food and sports fields; they are becoming “informal, contained, and urban.”
For the San Antonio Station project in California, SWA Group developed a campus “on spec” for a developer who then leased it to the top-secret lab of one of the leading Silicon Valley company (Bihan asked that the firm remain unnamed). They transformed the mid-century Mayfield Mall by architect Victor Gruen, which later became a training center for Hewlett-Packard, into 500,000 square feet of office space by using tactical urbanist strategies, strategically cutting into the building and turning a parking garage into spaces for enjoyment.
SWA Group “designed places for people to play, just like how they engage in a city.” And they were more “focused on context — the specificity of the corporate culture — not how the design looks.”
It’s a bit of “urban place making” in a “suburban context.”
Certifying your landscape project with the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)* can seem like an expensive, onerous process. So why bother? For Jamie Statter, vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), SITES gives landscape architects the “opportunity to do it right” and have an impact in the fight against climate change. In a session at GreenBuild in Los Angeles, she and two SITES consultants working with landscape architects on the first SITES v2 certified projects explained why it’s worth the extra effort.
In the face of sprawl, which is helping to speed climate change, “we must better value land as a resource. Sprawl is not about buildings; it’s about the landscape,” argued Statter. In too many places, sprawl happens because “land and water resources are undervalued.” With SITES, she said, “we can value the elements of the landscape that provide benefits that haven’t been monetized.” Through incorporating an ecosystem services-based approach, land owners can save crucial natural resources, reduce carbon emissions, and even make money.
Under SITES, landscape architects and designers can create broader impact through a range of projects: playgrounds, parks, university campuses, water reclamation projects, transportation systems, military facilities, and others. The site just must be a minimum of 2,000 square feet and must be new construction or a major renovation. The rating system tops out at 200 points, but it only takes 135 to reach platinum. SITES enables many kinds of approaches that fit local climates.
With the recent launch of SITES Approved Professional (AP), landscape architects now have “the chance to get ahead and further differentiate themselves,” she added.
For the university’s centennial celebration, they revamped their 11-acre, greyfield campus covered in parking lots, spending some $14 million to transform it into a landscape that not only reflects the beauty of the native Chihuahuan desert ecosystem, but also rebuilds the ancient arroyos (rivers) that were once covered over by parking lots. Due to all that asphalt, the campus had major flooding problems. After those arroyos were restored, the water collected and infiltrated through the campus, managing water from up to a 95th percentile storm event. Any excess now flows out to the Rio Grande River instead of inundating the campus.
Before, the campus was filled with parking lots; now, it has outdoor seating for 1,800. “Spaces for mental respite went up 64 percent.” At night, many of these social spaces have gas fire pits, so students can hold events outside under the starry desert sky. “The campus now helps students’ cognitive abilities, creating spaces for healing nature.”
The transformation led to a 61 percent reduction in water use, with a 60 percent increase in vegetation, and a 98 percent increase in the native plant palette. Some 90 percent of demolition materials were diverted from the landfill and recycled on site. Venhaus said, “let no one tell you it’s hard to recycle asphalt. It’s the easiest thing to do.”
According to Venhaus, they lost points with SITES because they weren’t able to incorporate much recycled local materials. “We just couldn’t get recycled content, because the local market in El Paso didn’t have it.”
But the process was ultimately worth it, and the costs were relatively low. She said it’s possible to “use SITES and stay within budget if you start with the rating system from the beginning, using the pre-design assessment. You may have spend more on materials and documentation, but it’s typically less than 3 percent of the overall budget. About 1-3 percent.”
In an email, Ten Eyck wrote: “We are glad that we mentioned going after the certification at the beginning of the project to Diana Natalicio, the president of UTEP. She was all for it and gave us the back up for pursuing the certification, so we were able to incorporate the SITES strategies from the beginning of the design process. We learned that it can be difficult in remote areas, such as El Paso, to meet all of the criteria, because it is so far away from many manufacturers. The campus is thrilled to have received the certification, and the project is helping to convey to the El Paso region and beyond the importance of connecting people with each other and the beauty of their unique desert regions, away from cars. Campuses of the southwest do not have to copy British or ivy league approaches. Instead, we can celebrate the beauty of the people and the places of the southwest in our own special way.”
Bryan Astheimer, an architect and sustainability consultant at Re:Vision Architecture, worked with James Corner Field Operations to achieve SITES Gold certification for the transformation of the Chicago Navy Pier. For its bicentennial the Chicago Navy Pier put out an international design competition to reimagine the pier landscape, which Corner’s firm won.
The pier is the only one of the five Chicago architect and planner David Burnham envisioned as part of the 1919 comprehensive plan for Chicago to actually have been built. For decades it was used by the Navy, and then, in 1995 it was revamped as a “festival pier,” with a convention center, children’s museum, Shakespeare theater, restaurants, and amusement park. For decades, it has been the “number-one tourist destination in the Midwest,” Astheimer said. But the city found that the pier had begun to look “tired, not contemporary.” For many Chicagoans, it’s really a place only for tourists.
The first phase of the pierscape project, some 9 acres, redesigned the entry — the Polk Brothers Park and Headhouse Plaza — and the south dock, the long spine that connects the various rooms of the pier. Field Operations more fully integrated the entry plaza into existing transit systems, adding bike racks, bike share stations.
The spine itself is a marvel of landscape engineering. Before, stormwater would simply run right off into Lake Michigan. Now, expansive tree tanks cut right into the pier with giant saws are large enough so they can store any excess water that falls on the pier. “Water is stored in the tanks where it’s used to irrigate the landscape. Any excess is filtered and then discharged.”
The number-one cost item on the project were the thousands and thousands of herringbone-patterned pavers needed to cover the pier. “We ended up custom specifying a paver with UniLock, but they couldn’t meet the SITES specification for 40 percent recycled content. They ended up creating a paver with 30 percent copper slag. It’s now on their website as part of their eco product line.” What began as a limitation ultimately resulted in market transformation.
Astheimer said “SITES makes you think through the site before you begin design. It forces you to use a quantifiable framework that creates learning opportunities” for all the designers and contractors involved. All the challenges that came out of this new process “were all opportunities for learning. Challenges create growth and ultimately value.” He believes that “SITES will drive the industry to become more sustainable and transparent.”
Sarah Weidner Astheimer, ASLA, principal, James Corner Field Operations, wrote in: “We are excited to celebrate the gold SITES certification of Navy Pier’s South Dock, the first phase in its complete renovation. SITES informed much of our design process, from access and circulation studies to plant and material specifications. It was an important tool that kept our client, our contractor, and design team accountable to a high standard of best practices and resulted in an unprecedented project—the transformation of Chicago’s Navy Pier into an authentic and green destination reflective of the city’s identity.”
*SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.