Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 1 – 15)

A rendering of an overhead view of San Jose’s St. James Park as re-imagined by CMG Landscape Architecture / Courtesy City of San Jose

Land Bridge Could Transform a Section of I-94 in St. PaulThe Star Tribune, 10/8/16
“A land bridge over Hiawatha Avenue includes Longfellow Gardens. The idea is not a new one, but it is catching on among highway planners.”

The Key to Creating Sydney’s Friendliest Streets Is to Add PlantsDomain, 10/11/16
“As Sydney’s population grows with expectations it will reach 6.25 million in the next 20 years, one added side effect is the increased anonymity that comes with big-city living.”

Gardens by France’s Most Revered Landscape DesignerThe New York Times, 10/12/16
“Gardens are ‘an expression of faith’ and ‘the embodiment of hope,’ wrote the revered English landscape architect Russell Page in his memoir, The Education of a Gardener, in 1962.”

How to Remake San Jose’s St. James Park The Mercury News, 10/12/16
“San Jose will host one of the more fascinating design competitions in its history: The ambitious goal is to try to remake downtown’s most gaping urban sore, St. James Park.”

New York’s Biggest Ever Green Wall Flies the Flag for Eco-Friendly CitiesThe Huffington Post, 10/13/16
“Recent reports that global carbon dioxide levels have hit an all-time high have also reinforced the need for action, and the quest for sustainability is more pressing than ever.”

New ASLA Headquarters Will Boost Well-Being

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler
ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is renovating its outdated headquarters in Chinatown, Washington, D.C. to become a showcase not only for sustainable building and landscape design, but also healthy employee environments. ASLA is pursuing certification through the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL standard. In a session organized by the Institute and DC chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), representatives from WELL, ASLA, and ASLA’s architects at Gensler explained why they are taking this approach and what well-being will look like in the new headquarters.

WELL, according to its website, is a “performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.”

WELL senior associate Sarah Welton said the standard focuses on the people occupying the building, as opposed to the building itself. The major difference between WELL and LEED is that much of the onus for meeting WELL requirements falls on owner policies.

Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, argued that “wellness is a huge part of our culture at ASLA. And we, as a profession, have a strong ethic of leading by example. We want the building to show the values of the profession.”

She cited other practical reasons for going after WELL Silver certification: It promises to improve productivity and well-being by optimizing light and sound quality; it will help inscribe into the office culture a notion of work-life balance; and it helps make the space more visually inviting.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler
ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler

Also on hand was Joseph Siewers, project manager for Gensler, to discuss how ASLA’s vision for the space was implemented. ASLA’s old office space was “compact and dark,” Siewers noted. One major step Gensler took was to add a skylight to the existing green roof, which will allow light to filter from the roof to the ground floor.

One of the most forward-thinking aspects of WELL is its emphasis on lighting. Gensler sustainability specialist Brynn Kurtzman, who oversaw Gensler’s integration of WELL design, described how the lighting in ASLA’s new headquarters will sync up with staff’s natural circadian rhythm. “WELL encourages cool blue lighting to maximize productivity,” Kurtzman said. Blue orbs will illuminate work spaces from overhead at a 45-degree angle, matching the natural progression of the morning sun. The light will work much like camping does to normalize staff members’ circadian rhythms.

According to Welton, WELL standards also sometimes raises eyebrows when people learn of its influence on office diet.“WELL tries not to ban food, just carcinogens.” The standard also asks employers to limit the amount of sugar and hydrogenated fats per serving that offices may provide through catering or the cafeteria.

Welton, who has a background in public health, added that as a WELL ambassador, “I don’t want to change your office habit. I want to change your life. It’s not to restrict, it’s to open your eyes.”

Somerville said WELL’s food guidelines had definitely started a conversation among staff about the direction of office culture. “It has made people more aware of what they’re eating. We now have the comfort of knowing that what we’re serving fits healthy guidelines.”

Learn how to donate and help build ASLA’s new Center for Landscape Architecture.

Biophilic Cities Lead the Way to Urban Sustainability

“We need density but we also need connections to nature,” said University of Virginia professor Timothy Beatley, at an event at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to celebrate D.C.’s successful inclusion in the Biophilic Cities Network, a group of leading cities pushing for rich, nature-filled experiences in daily urban life.

Beatley launched the network only a few years ago, but it already seems to have taken off. Building on the impact of his important books, Green Urbanism, Biophilic Cities, and Blue Urbanism, the network is designed to improve knowledge-sharing among cities who seek to merge the built and natural environments. Leading environmental cities — such as Singapore; Portland; San Francisco; Wellington, New Zealand; and now, Washington, D.C. — have joined, and another 20-30 cities are now exploring signing on.

Beatley explained how biophilic cities forge deeper, more meaningful connections to nature, which in turn increases social connections and community resilience. He then highlighted some biophilic urban innovations:

Singapore (see video at top) is now putting “nature at the heart of its planning and design process.” Singapore’s official tagline used to be “garden city,” but now it’s “the city in a garden.” The idea, Beatley explained, is “not to visit a garden but to live in it; not to visit a park, but to live in it.” To realize this concept, Singapore has issued a landscape replacement policy that ensures any greenery removed through the process of developing a lot be replaced on the building eventually found there. In reality, though, developers, architects, and landscape architects have doubled or tripled the amount of original green footprint in buildings’ structures through the use of sky gardens. “There is now a competition among developers to see who can add more green.” The city has also built nearly 300 kilometers of park connectors to create deeper connections between parks and neighborhoods.

Parkroyal on Pickering by WOHA and Tierra Design / Dezeen
Parkroyal on Pickering by WOHA / Dezeen

Melbourne, Australia, has pledged to double its tree canopy by 2040. “They are re-imagining the idea of the city in a forest. It’s a multi-scale investment in nature — from the rooftop to the bio-region and everywhere in between.” Individual trees are now being registered and made accessible via GIS maps. To further boost engagement, locals can also email love notes to a tree and the trees will write a note back.

The City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy. Image by Anton Malishev / ArchitectureAU
The City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy. Image by Anton Malishev / ArchitectureAU

A number of cities are forging deeper connections to urban wildlife, too. In Bangalore, there’s the Slender Loris project that engages citizen scientists in noctural journeys through the city to meet these shy creatures. Austin, Texas has gone completely batty, in a good way. Underneath Congress Bridge, millions of bat fly out at dusk during the warmer months to feed. Above and below the bridge, people gather to watch the amazing exoduses and sometime-murmurations. “There are now bat-watching dinner cruises.”

In St. Louis, there’s Milkweeds for Monarchs, which has resulted in 250 new butterfly gardens. San Francisco will soon mandate the use of bird-friendly building facades. And in Wellington, city officials are investing in predator-proof fencing in many areas with the goal of “bringing birdsong back.”

“Biophilic experiences are multi-sensory. Animal sounds can re-animate our cities. People want more nature; they want to hear birdsong in their neigborhoods,” said Beatley.

Stella Tarnay, co-founder of Biophilic DC, wants D.C. to become even more nature-filled. Her group will monitor new city projects to ensure they actually integrate greenery and boost biodiversity. For example, in Adams Morgan, plans are underway to remake the Marie Reed Learning Center with a set of green roofs and gardens, but it will be important to guarantee none of those great landscape plans get cut at the last minute for budgetary reasons.

Also in the works: building more support for the city’s wildlife action plan through expanded environmental education programs. As Maribeth DeLorenzo, deputy director of D.C.’s urban sustainability administration, explained, “there are now 270 species of birds in the district, 70 species of fish, 32 species of mammals, and hundreds of species of invertebrates.” But greater awareness is needed of these species — along with the biodiversity benefits of a clean and ecologically-healthy Anacostia River and the district goal of achieving a 40 percent tree canopy by 2032.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 1 – 15)

The Plimsoll Building / The Telegraph

Plans for Botanic Garden Move Forward, Despite Neighbors’ Protests The Houston Chronicle, 2/3/16
“Until now, the proposed Houston Botanic Garden has delivered more pain than gain to some neighbors in the southeast quadrant of the city. The future garden site is still functioning as Glenbrook Golf Course, and some residents would rather keep it just as it is.”

The Real Challenge for Los Angeles’ New Football Stadium Is Everything Around It – The Los Angeles Times, 2/8/16
“The feints, dodges, Potemkin stadium renderings and extended leverage plays are over. The National Football League — behemoth, cruelly skilled manipulator of cities and printer of money — is officially headed back to Los Angeles.”

London’s Green Revolution – The Telegraph, 2/9/16
“Landscape architects in London rarely get to think big. It’s all “pocket parks” and “parklets,” typical of a capital city where every inch of green space is worth its weight in gold, almost literally, and where garden designers strive to make buyers in small spaces feel they’re getting a taste of the great outdoors.”

There’s a Lesson in Spain’s Surreal, Unfinished CitiesThe Huffington Post, 2/11/16
“In a memorable scene in ‘The Big Short,’ the Oscar-nominated 2015 movie about the financial crisis, a real estate agent shows the main characters around a desolate Florida subdivision. She insists that the market is just in a lull as they drive past rows and rows of vacant homes.”

Feature: In and Outdoors The Architects’s Newspaper, 2/11/16
“As more people choose to live in dense urban environments, the latest hot-ticket residential amenity has nothing to do with marble countertops or on-call concierges: It’s outdoor space, the scarcest of all commodities in an environment where, regardless of grandeur, distance from nature can take a toll on quality of life.”

What Happened to the Great Urban Design Projects?The New York Times, 2/12/16
“American infrastructure is deferred home maintenance on a massive scale. We just keep putting it off until something major — and often catastrophic — happens, and then it ends up costing twice as much as it would have had we taken care of it proactively.”

When It Comes to Gardens, Your Architect Should Collaborate with Your Landscape DesignerThe Australian Financial Review, 2/15/16
“A garden is often seen as an afterthought, something to look at after the foundations of a house are laid. But this approach can create a disjointed result with the architecture and landscape appearing independent from each other.”

30 Years of Emerging Voices

30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press
30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press

The Emerging Voices Award was created in 1982 by the Architectural League of New York to showcase the work of early- to mid-career American architects, landscape architects, and urban designers. Each year, through an invited competition, a jury selects practitioners or firms with a “significant body of realized work that represents the best of its kind and has the potential to impact the future of architecture and landscape design.” 30 Years of Emerging Voices: Idea, Form, Resonance, a new book by the Architectural League of New York, documents and assesses the first three decades of the League’s Emerging Voices program, highlighting firms that have been recognized for their innovation, insight, and influence.

Organized chronologically by year of submission and interspersed with essays by leading design critics, this book is a true reference, valuable as a comprehensive snapshot of the past three decades of design. The Emerging Voices award is unique in that it recognizes professionals who are no longer students, but are not yet “fully mature practioners.” As Ashley Shafer, an associate professor of architecture at the Ohio State University, states in the book’s first essay, this career phase often gives way to work that is “idealistic, experimental, and formally clumsy on occasion.” While some of the work in the book may have been “dismissed as hypothetical, utopian, or even naïve,” it’s work we now look at with appreciation.

Take for example Steve Holl’s Bridge of Houses proposal for the then-abandoned High Line in Chelsea, Manhatttan, which was recognized among several of Holl’s other projects with the 1982 Emerging Voices Award. The firm’s proposal for the disused High Line was to construct many different houses over the rail. Each villa is, in itself, a slightly different looking bridge that provides pedestrian passage. While the ambitious project was merely conceptual, it served as a precedent for James Corner Field Operations’ High Line park, which was recognized with the award in 2001 and is also featured in the book. While seemingly unrelated projects, “a host of newly created buildings” engage the High Line as was intended by Holl almost two decades earlier.

Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press
Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press

The same phenomena is true of Reiser + Umemoto’s 1995 design for Yokohama’s International Port Terminal, which was recognized by the Architectural League of New York in 1996. The complex network structure for the building seemed fantastical and impossible to construct at the time of its conception. However, Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto’s Taipei Pop Music Center, which is arguably just as structurally complex as their design for the International Port Terminal, is currently under construction. While many of their ideas were considered outside the realm of possibility in the mid-late 90’s, Reiser + Umemoto’s designs became not only feasible, but well-received, at the turn of the 21st century.

Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect
Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect

While the majority of the book is devoted to architects, several landscape architects are also featured, including Susannah Drake, FASLA, Dlandstudio; Chris Reed, FASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Elana Brescia, ASLA, and Kate Orff, ASLA, SCAPE; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, and Douglas Reed, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand; Ken Smith, FASLA, Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect; and Julie Bargmann, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio.

Bargmann was one of the first, if not the first, landscape architect to be recognized with the award when she won in 2000. While she has since gone on to design many recognizable projects, such as MASS MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts, and the Urban Outfitters Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2000, she was best known for her work at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. This regenerative project transformed an industrial icon into a model of twenty-first century sustainability through the use of ambitious ecological systems, creating “a new model of environmentally integrated manufacturing.” Bargmann is a true example of the kind of practitioner the award seeks to recognize — someone who has been a novel thinker from the beginning of her career and has made this innovation a career-long pursuit.

Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio
Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio

The most recent landscape architect featured in the book is Susannah Drake, Dlandstudio, who was recognized with the award in 2013. Applauded for her unique voice in projects like BQ Green and Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, both in Brooklyn, New York, Drake has quickly proven that interdisciplinary design is the way of the future. Each of Dlandstudio’s projects emphasizes the integration of ecology, infrastructure, and design at the urban network scale — using the United States’ largest city as a primary testing ground for new ideas in a way few firms have dared to try.

BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio
BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio

Focused on firms and individuals who have tested limits and pressed the design profession forward, rather than those who are solely focused on making names for themselves, 30 Years of Emerging Voices is a unique book in its genre, prioritizing innovation over recognition and setting the stage for design breakthroughs to come.

Read the book.

A Rare Look at the New U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters

U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters / Taylor Lednum/GSA

The General Services Administration (GSA) granted us a rare look at a Level 5 security campus, the new U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, at the restored St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in southeast Washington, D.C. This $646-million project is just the first in a series that will transform a mid-19th-century mental asylum, founded by social reformer Dorothea Dix, into the new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, of which the Coast Guard is a major piece. In a tour, Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture at GSA, said “the goal of the new facility is improve operational efficiency by bringing together all the Homeland Security leadership in one place.” Leaders of the department will occupy revamped asylum buildings that once housed patients like Modernist poet Ezra Pound.

The tour started with moving through multiple high-security checkpoints stacked with fully-armed guards. Once cleared, we looped up towards the upper terraces of the new 1.2-million-square-feet Coast Guard headquarters, designed by architects at Perkins + Will and landscape architects with Andropogon Associates, with HOK providing landscape architecture, interiors, and sustainability services as part of a design-build team. As Gabriel explained, new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules meant that 95 percent of stormwater had to be captured on site. On top of that, historic preservation, sight, and security considerations meant that the new Coast Guard headquarters needed to be lower than the historic asylum buildings.

What that meant in reality — for such a large site on such a steep slope — was GSA needed to set the 9-story building deep in the hill and cover it in a set of stair-step green roof terraces that funnel water down to a constructed wetland and pond. GSA ended up creating the second largest green roof in the U.S. at 550,000 square feet, and the third largest in the world. It’s so big that a deer actually grazed on the roof, not realizing it was on one.

U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters / Taylor Lednum/GSA

Thomas Amoroso, ASLA, the landscape architect who designed the project at Andropogon, explained that while the system may look complex, it’s actually pretty simple. “It’s low-tech and common sense. The green roof terraces are a gravity-based system that move water from the higher terraces to a lower ones and then into the pond.” That the system operates in such a seamless way — and also doubles as public space for the coast guard officers operating the facility — is a testament to the depth of the design.

Rendering of step terraces / Perkins + Will

As we make our way down through many floors to get to the 350,000-cubic-foot pond, we begin to see subtle differences in the plant life in the courtyards spread among the green roofs. Amoroso, and HOK landscape architect Brandon Hartz, ASLA, explained how they “replicated existing native eco-zones throughout the courtyards.” During the 120-foot-drop through the levels, water moves off the buildings, onto roofs and courtyards, through diverse regions, from the “Blue Ridge and rocky barrens of Piedmont to the coastal plains.”

View of an upper courtyard / Taylor Lednum/GSA

All the courtyards that get ample light feature a mix of shrubs, grasses, and Oak community trees, a majority of which are native. “They are habitat for wildlife.” Indeed, Hartz told us how there are actually gravel pockets in the roof designed to enable nesting by Killdeer, a small bird. And a rare bald eagle and its family now live on the facility, too.

Upper courtyard with Oak community trees / Taylor Lednum/GSA
Courtyard with infrastructure for 100-year storm event / Taylor Lednum/GSA

Once the water leaves these upper courtyards, it makes it way to the lowest courtyard — the vernal pool, where the wetlands cleanse it.

Vernal pool in the coastal plain / Taylor Lednum/GSA

Then, stormwater is conveyed to the huge constructed pond, where it’s aerated, recycled, and used to water the green roofs and courtyards once again.

Constructed pond / Taylor Lednum/GSA

While we saw few people outside when we visited, Amoroso said many thousand Coast Guard officers are already hard at work there, with a few thousand more scheduled to move in. We saw a few officers pulling together cafe chairs and table together for an outdoor lunch. Hopefully, the Coast Guard will put some effort into organizing outdoor events, so they can better take advantage of their landscape.

While some may balk at the $646 million price tag, imagine the cost if the GSA had used grey instead of green infrastructure to deal with all that stormwater. For this alone, the design approach seems like a wise use of taxpayer money. And it’s good news that the biggest government construction project since the Pentagon is covered in green roofs; it would be upsetting if it wasn’t. It’s just too bad that the security is so high that more people can’t get in there to see it for themselves.

SITES Certifies Eight More Projects

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has announced eight new projects that have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of built landscapes. These projects, as part of a group of 150 projects participating in an extensive, two-year pilot program, have applied the 2009 SITES guidelines and met the requirements for pilot certification.

The newly certified projects are Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley, Texas; Harris County WCID 132’s Water Conservation Center in Spring, Texas; American University School for International Service in Washington, D.C.; Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M.; Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center at Mesa Verde National Park, Colo.; George “Doc” Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Az.; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo. and Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, N.Y.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. SITES was created to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and maintenance. The voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks applies to sites with or without buildings.

“The effort and time these projects have spent to field test SITES 2009 guidelines and ensure their site is sustainable is commendable and has been a tremendous resource for informing the development of the SITES v2 Rating System, which will be released later this fall,” said SITES Director Danielle Pieranunzi.

Since June 2010, pilot projects have been testing the 2009 rating system created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The diverse projects represent various types, sizes, and locations as well as budgets. There are now a total of 23 certified pilot projects with more projects continuing to pursue pilot certification until the end of 2014.

A new rating system, SITES v2, will be published this fall, using information gained through the pilot project certification process. The projects certified up to that point will have qualified under the 2009 rating system. It includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve one through four stars by amassing 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of the 250 points.

The eight newly certified projects each incorporate sustainable features and practices and have received ratings listed below:

Blue Hole Regional Park, One Star, Wimberley, Texas (see image above). A beloved local swimming hole degraded by overuse was transformed into an environmentally sustainable regional park in the Texas Hill Country. The park seeks to strike a balance between preservation of the site and recreational and educational opportunities for users. Sustainable landscape strategies include managing storm- water through the use of rain gardens and cisterns, irrigating recreational fields with treated effluent, minimizing impervious surfaces, protecting trees and endangered species habitat and restoring shoreline. New vegetation is primarily native plantings, and the park features on-site composting.

Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center, One Star, Houston, Texas. As Texas struggles with water shortages, WCID 132 created a community outreach project dedicated to showing alternative methods for reducing stormwater runoff and demand for potable water. This project transformed an under-used public campus into a series of gardens that educate residents on sustainable water use and landscape strategies. Features illustrate efficient water conservation, stormwater management, and soil-centered practices. Paths and planting areas were built with locally salvaged and reused materials.

American University School for International Service, Two Stars, Washington, D.C. This entrance plaza is a gathering place for students and faculty that is integrated with a LEED® Gold building to manage 100 percent of stormwater on the site and, as a result, needs no irrigation. The site features a Korean garden with adapted plants, an edible herb garden, an apiary and regional materials. The university has a zero-waste policy that includes recycling and composting landscape clippings and debris and coffee grounds from the student- run coffee shop inside.

Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center, Two Stars, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M. After finding contaminants from parking lot runoff, including motor oil and antifreeze, in cavern pools, Carlsbad Caverns National Park removed the existing parking area and rehabilitated it to a natural state using vegetation native to the park. All native plants used for the project were grown nearby from locally-genetic stock, and additional work was done to collect and treat runoff from the new parking areas. The park near Carlsbad, N.M., was one of several parks that participated in a National Park Service pilot program to develop monitoring standards for re-vegetation.

Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
, Two Stars, Mesa Verde National Park, Co. The site-sensitive landscape design surrounding the center reflects the national park’s mission to educate the public about the archeological, biological and physical resources of the park and their interconnectivity. Stormwater from the site is directed through vegetated swales and retention ponds, and the area was re-vegetated with a mix of native and drought tolerant species, meanwhile addressing concerns about wildfires. The site produces 95 percent of its energy from on-site renewable energy sources and uses locally-quarried stone. The building has earned a LEED® Platinum certification.

George “Doc” Cavalliere Park
, Three Stars, Scottsdale, Ariz. A primary strategy for the park, located on 34 acres of rugged desert terrain, was preserving and restoring its natural resources. The design uses 100 percent native plants, and all existing native trees, cacti and plant communities were preserved in place or salvaged and re-used onsite to restore desert upland and riparian plant communities. The park also incorporates a regional on-site stormwater management system. Other strategies include rainwater collection, permeable paving in parking areas and driveways, high efficiency LED lighting, net-zero energy consumption using a grid-tied 24 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, and exclusive use of high-content recycled steel without industrial finishes.


National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility, Three Stars, Golden, Co. This federal research laboratory, a former National Guard training facility, consists of a 327-acre government research campus. The Research Support Facility, one of the newest campus additions, has achieved LEED Platinum certification for its innovative building design. The landscape framework for this net-zero energy facility includes establishing natural drainage for stormwater, minimizing impacts on local habitats, protecting habitat through conservation easements, providing hiking trails for staff and community members, using porous paving surfaces, restoring existing prairie and arroyo site features, using on-site  materials for the construction of retaining walls and installing energy efficient lighting. Regional materials and high recycled content were emphasized in the selection of site materials and furnishings.

Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park
, Three Stars, Beacon, N.Y. This project transformed a 14-acre property on the Hudson River from a degraded, post-industrial brownfield into a major waterfront park that realizes themes of recovery, remediation, reuse and re-engagement. The project returned public access to the river, remediated contaminated soils, rehabilitated degraded wetlands, re-used found materials in innovative ways and restored ecological diversity to upland, wetland and intertidal zones. Features include decks and docks popular with anglers; ADA-accessible paths; areas for picnicking, river gazing, dog-walking, and Frisbee tossing; a kayak pavilion and an outdoor classroom.

Image credits: (1) Blue Hole Regional Park / Tim Campbell, Design Workshop, (2) Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center / Ken Fraser, (3) American University School of International Service / Paul Davis, (4) Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center / NPS, (5) Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center / NPS, (6) George “Doc” Cavalliere Park / Chris Brown, Floor Associates, (7) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility / Robb Williamson, courtesy of RNL, (8) Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park / Reed Hilderbrand LLC


D.C. Wants to Be the Greenest City in the U.S.

At the Old Capitol Pump House, a restored building along the Anacostia River, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced the launch of the long-awaited Sustainable D.C. plan. The result of an amazing public outreach process that involved over 400 local green experts, more than 180 public meetings in front of 5,000 people, and 15 D.C. government departments and agencies, the plan is an attempt to make “D.C. the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the U.S.” by 2032.

Gray said D.C. is already a model for other cities. “We are what many cities hope to become.” For example, the district apparently already leads the nation in the number of green, healthy buildings, or LEED buildings, per capita. New schools must now reach the LEED Gold standard. But even more green buildings now seems to be the goal: the district has signed on to the National Better Buildings challenge, aiming for 20 percent energy efficiency improvements across all buildings by 2020. And they may be moving faster, getting 20 million square feet greener in 20 months. With the Sustainable DC Act of 2012 now signed into law, a new Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) program is underway, aimed at improving financing opportunities for greening commercial and multi-family housing.

The district wants to be greener looking, too (literally). There’s an accelerated tree planting campaign, with 6,400 slated to be planted this season alone. The goal is a 40 percent tree canopy, which would put D.C. in the top tier of major cities worldwide. Beyond trees, the city is implementing “high standard stormwater infrastructure investments.” For example, “we are now building more green roofs than anyone,” with 1.5 million square feet now in place. Green streets, like the first green alley built in Ward 7, are also being rolled out, with more potentially coming soon in Chinatown. Green infrastructure technologies may get a local boost, too, with the $4.5 million that has been dedicated to “innovative pilot projects.”

The district already has the biggest bike share network in the U.S., but “this may not be the case for long, as other cities are catching up.” The D.C. government now purchases 100 percent renewable energy. We have become a “number-one U.S. E.P.A. green power community.” All of this action has led to a 12 percent reduction in green house gas emissions over the past year.

Gray seemed to stress, however, that going green can’t just be the agenda of educated, liberal, white environmentalists. The diverse, multi-ethnic crowd seemed to underpin this point. “We need to focus on jobs, health, equity and diversity, and the climate.” So part of making D.C. more sustainable will involve “expanding access to affordable housing and economic development opportunities” for all, so that “we have one city.” Gray said: “We can’t push people out.”

The actual plan offers some 32 goals, 31 targets, and more than 140 proposed actions. Some goals are quite bold, like “a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River in a generation.” The Anacostia is currently one of the filthiest rivers in the U.S. Other goals: implement a zero-waste plan, with a 80 percent landfill diversion rate. Expand urban agriculture, with 20 more acres of land growing food, so that 75 percent of residents are within 1/4 mile of healthy, local produce. The city wants 1,000 new local renewable energy projects, with a dedicated wind farm for D.C. government operations.

Gray said “this is about nothing short than winning the future.” For a mayor still under federal investigation, Sustainable DC offers a positive way forward and certainly paints the city in a progressive light. As the mayor said, “who would have thought 10 years ago that we would have the biggest bike share network, 100 percent renewable energy for the district government, and 400 local people involved in crafting a new vision.”

But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Pointed questions from the media at the launch event asked whether the mayor and city council will actually put the funds and government personnel behind this bold plan to “change our society.” In a telling comment, Gray said the District will need to wait to hear the results of the debate in Congress on “sequestration,” which could potentially result in billions being cut from the federal budget. Much of the district economy depends on federal government spending, which is why the mayor said the city must “diversify” into new sectors in his recent state of the district speech. In fact, much of the resurgence of the district in the past few years can be attributed to the new federal money pumped into the district (see a great New York Times article on this).

Perhaps Gray’s broader case is that Sustainable DC will help the district’s economy and people become more resilient to economic, environmental, and social shocks, and diversify into greener industries. This seems like smart local leadership that goes beyond the vagaries of federal spending. Grey also made a point of saying regardless of who is mayor in the future, the plan “reflects the interests of our community.” The plan goes beyond the mayor.

Still, it will be up to the D.C. government, private sector, and non-profit organizations to implement the plan at a very high standard. The race is on, considering many other top-tier cities have similar goals.

Read the Sustainable DC plan and also check out Becoming Greenest: Recommendations for a Sustainable D.C., ASLA’s 30-page report produced last year, which seems to have at least inspired a few of the District’s targets and actions.

Image credit: Diamond Teague Park, Washington D.C. Landscape Architecture Bureau /Allen Russ

The Home of the Future Is Now a Reality

Lakiya Culley, an administrative assistant at the U.S. State Department and mother of three, just moved into one of the most innovative, energy-efficient houses in the U.S. In Deanwood, a working class, primarily African-American neighborhood of Washington, D.C. that has recently struggled with foreclosures, Culley is now the proud owner of Empowerhouse, a home designed using “passive house” technologies by students at the New School and Stevens Institute of Technology. The home wasn’t just built from scratch though: it came out of the Solar Decathlon design competition, which was held on the National Mall in 2011. Developed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the house marks “the first time in the Solar Decathlon’s history” that a team partnered with civic and government organizations to make a house a reality in the District.

After some criticism that Solar Decathlon homes were getting out-of-control-pricey to build and therefore weren’t realistic real-world models, the organizers added a “affordability” category in which teams could earn points. Empowerhouse scored really high in that category in comparison with a home from Germany, which cost upwards of $2 million. In fact, according to a spokesperson at New School, each unit of the actual Empowerhouse in Deanwood (there are two apartments in the mini-complex) cost just $250,000, making it affordable in that neighborhood. The model has been such a hit that six more are being planned for Ivy City, another inner-city neighborhood in the District.

This “net-zero” home itself is a marvel. The home produces all its own energy needs and consumes 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the conventional home. The bright, bold exterior lights up the whole block.

But the fine exterior and healthy, light-filled interior built out of sustainable, recycled materials shouldn’t distract from the great landscape architecture components, which were integrated into the project from the beginning, said Professor Laura Briggs, faculty lead of the project, at the New School. As Briggs explained, the home is designed to capture all rainwater that hits it and surrounding homes.

Each unit has terraces with green roofs and small plots for urban agriculture that are designed to capture some water.

In the rear of the building is a rain garden that captures any rainwater that escapes from the roof gardens. On top of that, each unit has its own underground cistern, where rainwater is collected and then used to water the property.

The integrated system also synchs up with the front and sides of the home. There’s the District’s first residential green street, a deep trough filled with dirt and plants designed to soak up street runoff and deal with the oily pollutants that the runoff collects on streets.

At the sides of the house, the parking space is actually made up permeable pavers that allow stormwater to sink into the underlying soils.

In terms of social sustainability, the piece so often left out of the puzzle, both the homes and landscape were co-designed with the community. Students met with community members, local organizations, and Culley, the owner, in a series of design charrettes. The result of all that outreach and collaboration will be more projects in the neighborhood, including a new community “learning garden.”

The project then is not only a powerful model for how to bring sustainable, affordable, community-based housing to the District, but also how to create real stormwater management solutions that address the truly local environmental problems: the heavy runoff that impacts the already polluted rivers.

Another benefit of the project worth noting: Habitat for Humanity now knows how to build out these passive house homes in a low-cost way.

While the house was built by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, all of the landscape work was done with a few amazing local organizations: Groundwork Anacostia and D.C. Greenworks.

Image credits:(1) Lakiya Cullen and sons / Martin Seck, (2) Empowerhouse / Martin Seck, (3) Roof terrace / Sarah Garrity, (4) Rain Garden / Ashley Hartzell, (5) Green Street / Ashley Hartzell, (6) Permeable Pavers / Ashley Hartzell

A New Park Where There Was Once a Canal

Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard has undergone an unbelievable transformation in the past few years. What was once an isolated naval base and seedy area made up of industrial buildings and strip clubs has become home to a real neighborhood — a mixed-use mecca composed of a new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a residential and commercial complex, which is also a LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) Gold project. The new complex, which is called the Yards, features a great new riverfront park by M. Paul Friedberg and innovative green streets by AECOM. These amenities are near a super-sustainable boat pier by local D.C. landscape architecture firm Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB). Now, the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of upwardly-mobile urbanites, has the new “Canal Park,” a model neighborhood park by landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm STUDIOS that has transformed a three-block brownfield into a simple yet enchanting space.

In recent years, the space was a drain on the neighborhood, a parking lot for buses. But way back when — before it was paved over in the 1870s — the place was part of the historic Washington City Canal, which connected the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. According to OLIN, the new $20 million park is meant to evoke that historic waterway, with a “linear rain garden reminiscent of the canal, and three pavilions, which recall floating barges that were once common.”

Achieving the clear simplicity of the park clearly took a lot of effort. Lining the long, narrow park are lots of space for lounging on nice lawns, metal kinetic-feeling sculptures by David Hess, curved benches, and, in winter, an ice-skating rink.

The rink area is flanked by a cafe covered in publicly accessible green roof. The green roof features what must be a first: signs letting people know to curb their dogs around the sedum.

Underlying the space are some complex green infrastructure systems that help this place give back to the neighborhood on the environmental front. “Contaminated soils were replaced with a healthy growing medium and the native plant habitat was re-introduced.” A linear rain garden, which runs the length of the park, has signs saying “Water is reclaimed and recycled,” helping to explain its role to the visiting public. The rain gardens work together with deep tree pits and underground cisterns to collect, manage, and treat “almost all stormwater runoff on site” and from the neighboring blocks, some 1.5 million gallons of water each year. Treated, recycled water collected in the park is used to “satisfy up to 95 percent of the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets and the ice skating path.”

Also, this truly-green park has 28 geothermal wells underground to provide a “highly-efficient energy supply for park utilities,” reducing park energy use by 37 percent. And the park is there to provide sustainable transport solutions for the broader neighborhood, too: it features the first electric vehicle charging stations this blogger has ever seen in person. Two stations with spaces for four cars (we think) can be accessed with a swipe of a credit card.

The wood structures in the park, which were designed by STUDIOS, feature “reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood from black locust trees.” Black Locust is a great alternative to unsustainable rainforest hardwoods like Ipe. The use of this wood in these pavilions is an excellent development really worth applauding.

Additional clear-plastic pavilions scattered at the edges of the park are opaque and both there and not there. They are apparently interactive “light cubes” that can display art and photography.

OLIN says programming will be ramped up to really maximize use of the new park. “The Canal Park Development Association, in partnership with the Capital Riverfront Business Improvement District, will host numerous events throughout the year, such as movies and concerts, holiday and seasonal festivals, farmers markets, art expositions, educational and environmental programming, storytelling events, and more.” The neighborhood clearly benefits.

Image credits: (1-3) OLIN, (4-5) Phil Stamper / ASLA, (6-7) OLIN