In China, traditional Confucian values dictate that children take care of their parents in their old age. It’s taboo to put your parents in a home. But from 1979 to 2015, Chinese parents could only have one child, which means there’s a whole generation of Chinese with four grandparents and two parents to take care of. To get around the taboo, China Senior Care, a company based in Shanghai and Hangzhou, launched a Western-style senior residential care facility. The idea seems to be if a facility doesn’t seem typically Chinese, perhaps the stigma associated with placing an elder in a home will be avoided.
At the Environments for Aging conference in Las Vegas, Jane Rohde, principal with Baltimore-based architecture firm JSR Associates and Jerry Smith, FASLA, design principal at SMITH | GreenHealth Consulting, walked us through the brand-new Cypress Gardens, in Fuyang, a suburb of Hangzhou. The project, which took eight years, is a private, 5-star senior care center, with just 64 beds, some for assisted living and some for memory care for patients with neuro-cognitive disorders. Each room rents for about $5,000 per month. There are community spaces, restaurants, a library, a theater for both relaxation and entertainment. In fact, it replicates a traditional American senior care facility model: the car-dependent, self-contained suburban facility.
China, like the West is rapidly aging. According to the Brookings Institution, there will be nearly 250 million people 65 and older in China by 2030. Today, Chinese seniors are essentially cared for during “extended hospital stays,” said Rohde. “It’s OK if it’s called VIP care. But it’s really out of the 1950s,” with rows of beds packed into one room. It will be interesting to see how the culture and current senior care models evolves as the country ages.
Cypress Gardens sits on a steep suburban site in the side of a mountain, which meant major grading challenges for Smith, and his design-build partner, Yumin Li, ASLA, with POD Design, Shanghai. To deal with the slopes, Smith built in layers of stone retaining walls in the form of step terraces.
A winding drive leads visitors up to the upper level entry. Smith said working with multiple Chinese contractors (two for the building and interior and one for the landscape) was a new learning experience — “just getting the drive and entrance to meet each other was a challenge.”
Many of the rooms have their own terraces. And surrounding the base of the 6-story building are a series of “outdoor rooms,” both public and private, where residents can be alone or socialize, or engage in physical activities like Tai Chi.
Smith said the owners “didn’t want the character of the space to be Chinese. They wanted all new, all Western.” A water fountain on the south wall cascades into a pool, in an effort to achieve the “Bellagio Wow!,” the owners said they wanted.
Still, Smith delivered a tasteful landscape that manages to be packed with a mix of Chinese and Western landscape elements, from pagodas, to a bosque of gingko trees, and a labyrinth.
The pagodas mark the transition from the larger public spaces to the quiet memory care spaces, and can be “closed off for privacy and security as needed.”
Chinese children paying to have their parents stay at Cypress Gardens will see a “wonderful place with very high-end amenities,” Smith said. The facility opens in next month and it’s already mostly booked.
When an older person loses their cognitive and motor functions, how do they maintain a connection to nature? This is the central question for Dr. Lori Reynolds, a clinical professor of occupational therapy, and landscape architect Brad Smith, ASLA. For a senior care facility in Phoenix, Arizona, with some 80 beds for assisted living and 30 for memory care, which involves helping those with advanced neuro-cognitive disorders, Reynolds and Smith together came up with new approaches to redo their courtyard in order to better maintain that connection. At the Environments for Aging conference in Las Vegas, they presented two options — one geared towards the assisted living residents and one for the memory care residents.
Reynolds made the case for investing in gardens in senior care facilities. “For 100 percent of older adults, nature is important.” As Jack Carman, FASLA, a landscape architect who works on senior care facilities, said: “our interaction with nature doesn’t end when we age.”
Reynolds found studies that show “access to nature increases resident satisfaction. And residents are most satisfied when there is ample seating, a variety of nature elements, walking paths, and adequate shade.”
Furthermore, the presence of a garden in a senior care facility influences those family members making the decision about where to put their parent or grandparent. “Nearly 50 percent report the availability of a garden influenced facility choice.”
Other surveys show that “outdoor activity space is among the top desired features,” and “the second most-important feature after the location.” So, if gardens make residents and families happy, and happy residents recommend a facility to others, than functional garden spaces seem like a no-brainer.
After explaining the many physiological benefits of nature for all people, she focused in on the benefits for those in memory care, explaining how exposure to nature can “reduce agitation and aggression among Alzheimer’s patients.” For these patients, “plants can become like people.” They are a presence that can take on “significant meaning,” Reynolds explained. Plants can also represent a legacy: A plant that has been in someone’s life for many years “is a past-life experience, and adds coherence.” The plant of a loved-one who has passed away can help sustain memory of that person.
Facilities can design ways to maintain this elemental connection — for both those who still have an active relationship with nature and those with a mostly passive relationship. For those able, an active relationship, which involves going out and spending time in the garden, is preferable. For those who cannot, a view out a window of a garden or even indoor potted plants are important. For some, “engagement outdoors may be too difficult — it may be too windy or too far from the bathroom.” But still, this doesn’t mean that accessible, aesthetically-pleasing gardens should be jettisoned from budgets.
The current state of garden design for senior care facilities is more focused on the internal than the external, “despite the acknowledged value of these outdoor spaces,” Reynolds said. If there are outdoor spaces, they are too often ornamental, not functional. More need to be accessible and provide healthy doses of nature.
To that end, Brad Smith worked with Reynolds and a senior care facility in Phoenix, Arizona, which they prefer to leave anonymous, to create garden designs that enable both more active and passive interactions with nature in an interior courtyard (see image at top). There are opportunities for transforming the space, which has a required access lane for a fire truck, into a more dynamic, therapeutic place that enables “inside out and outside in” connections.
The option geared more towards assisted living patients, offers a meandering path, an expanded covered patio and outdoor seating areas with rocking chairs, and a water feature surrounded by trees and plants. There are also bird and butterfly feeders patients can bring nectar and seeds to. For this option, Smith envisions caregivers bringing out wheelchair-bound residents so they can enjoy classes in the morning or early evening when it’s cooler.
For the variation designed for memory care residents, there are “vignettes designed to spark connections to the past.” Smith proposes making the space “as familiar as a backyard,” by designing a space for clothes lines and a gardening shed. “Women of a certain generation spent much of their time drying clothes; just letting memory care patients hang stuff up may make them feel better.” There’s already an old 1940s-era car parked in the courtyard, which he imagines male residents enjoy seeing and exploring. A loop walking path, inspired by the memory garden in Portland, Oregon, would enable chaperoned pacing. And the garden is also designed to provide pleasing views from inside the memory care residences of soothing water features.
With memory care, Reynolds said facility owners should use light furniture that’s easy for caregivers to move around. Also, pergolas should be avoided, as they throw shadows that will “wig out” residents. In Phoenix, the gardens will be really hot much of the day, with lots of glare, so use would be limited to mornings or evenings.
Smith and Reynolds estimated the senior care residence had spent about $57,000 on what they have now, which doesn’t do much. For $155,000 they could have the assisted living landscape, or for $96,000, the one for memory care. For just a little bit more, “they could have a killer garden space that boost marketing, creates positive first impressions and a sense of perceived value” while also providing many of the health benefits of nature, Smith explained. Bringing in volunteers — local Habitat for Humanity or other groups — to help plant could further reduce the costs. But they also noted a need for a maintenance budget up front.
Award-winning submissions will be featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine and in many other design and construction industry and general-interest media. Award recipients, their clients and student advisors also will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles, October 20-23, 2017. Award-winning submissions will also be featured in a video presentation at the ceremony and on the awards website following the event.
The prestige of the ASLA awards programs relies on the high-caliber juries that are convened each year to review submissions. Members of this year’s professional awards jury are:
Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, chair, National Capital Planning Commission, Washington, D.C.
Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, DesignJones LLC, New Orleans
Maureen Alonso, U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
James Brasuell, Planetizen, Los Angeles
James Lord, ASLA, Surfacedesign Inc., San Francisco
Glen Schmidt, FASLA, Schmidt Design Group Inc., San Diego
Todd Wichman, FASLA, Stantec, St. Paul, Minn.
Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
Joining the jury for the selection of the Research Category will be M. Elen Deming, ASLA, University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and Charlene LeBleu, FASLA, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., on behalf of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).
Members of the student awards jury are:
Barbara Swift, FASLA, chair, Swift Company llc, Seattle
Michael Albert, ASLA, Design Workshop, Aspen, Colo.
Meg Calkins, FASLA, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.
Mark Focht, FASLA, New York City Parks & Recreation, New York
Robert Page, FASLA, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, Boston
James Richards, FASLA, Townscape Inc., Fort Worth, Texas
Roberto Rovira, ASLA, Florida International University, Studio Roberto Rovira, Miami
Meghan Stromberg, American Planning Association, Chicago
Mercedes Ward, ASLA, New York City Parks and Recreation, Flushing, N.Y.
Both the ASLA Professional and Student awards feature five categories: General Design; Residential Design; Analysis and Planning; Communications; and Research. The Professional Awards also include The Landmark Award, while the Student Awards include the Student Community Service Award and Student Collaboration categories.
Fire Pits Add Flare to the Backyard Gatherings– The Los Angeles Times, 9/1/16
“Fire pits — which are portable or permanent troughs or bowls that contain the flames — are expected to be the most popular outdoor design element this year, according to a survey from the American Society of Landscape Architects.”
Clash of Titans? Opponents of Pier 55 Have Secret Backer, Media Mogul Says– The New York Times, 9/4/16
“In their quest to build a huge new cultural pier on the West Side of Manhattan, the Hudson River Park Trust and Barry Diller, the media mogul who is paying for it, have faced one seemingly intractable opponent: the City Club of New York, a little-known civic group founded in 1892 that was all but dead a few years ago.”
How an Energy Company Turned a Strip Mine into a Massive Park – Curbed, 9/7/16
“Strip mining is one of the most environmentally unfriendly ways we extract resources from the earth, tearing up enormous swaths of land to access the valuable minerals buried underneath. In some cases, the practice leaves thousands of acres covered in barren waste rock incapable of sustaining plant or animal life.”
‘Ideal Section’ Paved Way for Modern Road Construction – The Chicago Tribune, 9/9/16
“After World War I automobiles and trucks were becoming increasingly important modes of transportation in the U.S. for everyone from farmers and manufacturers to tourists. And, of course, the old dirt roads did nothing to speed the way.”
A Glorified Sidewalk, and the Path to Transform Atlanta – The New York Times, 9/11/16
“Could this traffic-clogged Southern city, long derided as the epitome of suburban sprawl, really be discovering its walkable, bike-friendly, density-embracing, streetcar-riding, human-scale soul?”
Meet One of England’s Top Landscape Architects – The Architectural Digest, 9/12/16
“English landscape architect Kim Wilkie prefers to intuit what a site wants to be rather than impose his will upon it. It’s an approach that has brought clients from around the world to the door of his farmhouse in Hampshire.”
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 30 professional award recipients for 2016. Selected from 456 entries, the awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans on Monday, October 24 at the New Orleans Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.
The following is a complete list of 2016 professional award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence (see image above)
Underpass Park, Toronto, Ontario
by PFS Studio for Waterfront Toronto
Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China
by Turenscape for the Quzhou City Government
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Bishan, Singapore
by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Public Utilities Board / National Parks Board, Singapore
Converging Ecologies as a Gateway to Acadiana, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana
by CARBO Landscape Architecture for St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission
The Metro-Forest Project, Bangkok, Thailand
by Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB) for PTT Public Company Limited
The Power Station, Dallas
by Hocker Design Group for The Pinnell Foundation
Corktown Common: Flood Protection and a Neighbourhood Park, Toronto, Ontario
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for Waterfront Toronto in Partnership with Toronto Region Conservancy Authority (TRCA) and Infrastructure Ontario (IO)
Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Moose, Wyoming
by Swift Company LLC for the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association
Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield, Ningbo, China
by SWA for Ningbo Planning Bureau – East New Town Development Committee
Analysis and Planning Category
Award of Excellence
The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions, Copenhagen, Denmark
by Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Municipality of Copenhagen
Central Puget Sound Regional Open Space Strategy, Puget Sound Region, Washington
by University of Washington Green Futures Lab for The Bullitt Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation
Rebuild by Design, The Big U, Manhattan, New York
by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rebuild by Design
Memorial Park Master Plan 2015, Houston
by Nelson Byrd Woltz for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, The Memorial Park Conservancy, and Uptown Houston
Baton Rouge Lakes: Restoring a Louisiana Landmark from Ecological Collapse to Cultural Sanctuary, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
by SWA Group for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Bayou Greenways: Realizing the Vision, Houston
by SWA Group for the Houston Parks Board
Award of Excellence
What’s Out There Guidebooks
by The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Roving Rangers: Bringing the Parks to the People
by BASE Landscape Architecture, for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund
Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working with Lots
by Detroit Future City, published by Inland Press
Landscape Architecture Documentation Standards: Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices
by Design Workshop, published by John Wiley & Sons
PHYTO: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design
by Kate Kennen, ASLA, and Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group
DredgeFest Event Series
by The Dredge Research Collaborative
Sea Change: Boston
by Sasaki Associates Inc.
Weather-Smithing: Assessing the Role of Vegetation, Soil and Adaptive Management in Urban Green Infrastructure Performance
by Andropogon Associates Ltd. for the University of Pennsylvania
Residential Design Category
Award of Excellence
DBX Ranch: A Transformation Brings Forth a New Livable Landscape, Pitkin County, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Kronish House, Beverly Hills, California
by Marmol Radziner
The Restoring of a Montane Landscape, Rocky Mountains, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Chilmark: Embracing a Glacial Moraine, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
by Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects
The Rivermark, Sacramento, California
by Fletcher Studio for Bridge Housing Corporation
Water Calculation and Poetic Interpretation, Carmel, California
by Arterra Landscape Architects
The Landmark Award
Michigan Avenue Streetscape: 20 Years of Magnificent Mile Blooms, Chicago
by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects for the City of Chicago/Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association
The professional awards jury included:
Kona Gray, ASLA, Chair, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Keith Bowers, FASLA, Biohabitats Inc. Baltimore
Jennifer Guthrie, FASLA, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Seattle
Mami Hara, ASLA, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia
Christopher Hume, Architecture Critic, Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario
Lee-Anne Milburn, FASLA, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California
Willett Moss, ASLA, CMG Landscape Architecture, San Francisco
Suman Sorg, FAIA, DLR Group | Sorg, Washington, D.C.
Working to Make Public Space for Everyone in Baltimore – The Baltimore Sun, 8/1/16
“For writer D. Watkins, it’s a sense of exclusion from what he called the ‘new’ Baltimore. For student activist Diamond Sampson, it’s a feeling of being unwelcome around the Inner Harbor.”
Will Replacing Thirsty Lawns with Drought-Tolerant Plants Make L.A. Hotter? – The Los Angeles Times, 8/2/16
“Last summer, a revolution occurred in Los Angeles landscaping: Across the city, tens of thousands of homeowners tore up their water-thirsty lawns and replaced them with gravel, turf, decomposed granite and a wide range of drought-tolerant plants at a rate never seen before.”
How Noted Landscape Architect Jim Burnett Counters Dallas’ Concrete Jungle – The Dallas Morning News, 8/2/16
“The 55-year-old is best known worldwide as the landscape architect of Klyde Warren Park. But he’s also created visions of greenery throughout Uptown and the Arts District and was part of the team that produced the outdoor master plan for Parkland Memorial Hospital.”
Why Landscape Architects Are the Urban Designers of Tomorrow – Curbed, 8/4/16
“For landscape architects, the ground has shifted in serious ways over the last few decades. Earlier this summer in Philadelphia, at a mid-June summit organized by the Landscape Architecture Foundation, members of the profession looked back at the changes the last half-century has brought to their profession.”
Ben Bradlee’s Mausoleum Sets Off a Gossip-Laden Squabble – The New York Times, 8/11/16
“It lacked the pageantry of the funeral nearly a year before, but when the body of Benjamin C. Bradlee, the longtime editor of The Washington Post, was re-interred in a Georgetown cemetery here last October, it had an air of permanence.”
DLANDstudio Launches Phase 1 Design for Rails-to-Trails QueensWay – The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/2/16
“After years of debate over what to do with the 60-year old abandoned Rockaway Long Island Railroad (LIRR), the coalition has been moving toward the goal of converting 3.5 miles of the railroad—which extends from Rego Park to Ozone Park—into a park similar to the High Line.”
Design Team Led by Mia Lehrer Picked for New Downtown L.A. Park– The Los Angeles Times, 6/9/16
“A group led by landscape architecture firm Mia Lehrer & Associates has won a design competition for the 2-acre park, on the site of a former state office building adjacent to Grand Park at the foot of City Hall, city officials announced Thursday.”
This is the question landscape architect Shane Coen, ASLA, founder of Coen + Partners, asked as he began his lecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. For him, the answer is his father, the painter Don Coen. He emphasized the importance of teaching sight, saying “it’s our job to get people to see. It’s our job to inspire spaces that inspire people.”
Coen’s lecture showcased a selection of projects Coen + Partners have completed since its unlikely beginning 25 years ago. Shortly after graduation, Coen was asked suddenly to co-start a landscape practice by the son of the creator of Herman Miller’s famous Aeron chair. The practice began with “no money and no experience, but the unbelievable opportunity” of a five-year, rent-free space. With time and a stable foundation, he applied his “ability to see” to the mid-Western countryside surrounding their Minneapolis-based office.
Coen made clear his work does not replicate nature but rather works in contrast to it. Emphasizing the importance of working with collaborative architects, Coen’s work is in many ways itself architectural, capitalizing on “the simplicity of form and color sitting in a landscape.”
His firm’s guiding principles are manifested in Jackson Meadow, his first project, which was designed in collaboration with architect David Salmela. The award-winning 1999 planned residential community features 64 uniquely-designed but all-while pitched-roof homes, carefully placed in a rolling woodland, with porches precisely oriented toward the community’s 5-mile nature trail.
Awarded a 2015 National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Coen + Partners’ projects cover a range of types and scales, each aesthetically adjusted to their particular context. Despite its expansion, however, the firm’s work remains 40 percent residential, with Coen noting the importance of these projects as educational and exploratory projects for the firm. Yet it is his series of award-winning public and institutional projects have led him to his latest and perhaps most challenging work in Saudi Arabia.
Coen received a sealed letter inviting the firm to interview to design the master plan and open spaces for the lands surrounding the skyscrapers of Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District. Coen soon found himself in the driver seat behind a 1,220-acre project, with a need to “create a vision and build a team” — a role he sees as critical for landscape architects going forward.
Drawing on the star dunes and wadi streams of the Saudi Arabian desert, renderings of the project reveal large star-shaped sun shades and water-centric linear park space.
Considered the first inclusive public space in Riyadh, the project was recently approved by Saudi Arabia’s High Commission. With Coen + Partners ”design vision and aesthetic leadership” on the project, it will be interesting to see the firm’s minimalist design approach at this new scale.
This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
Can a Professionally Designed Garden Add Value to Your Home?– The Huffington Post, 1/4/15
“This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown – the landscape architect renowned for designing over 170 country house estates and gardens during the 18th century. His elegant style of undulating parkland and serpentine lakes can still be seen at dozens of locations, including Blenheim Palace and Stowe.”
See a Rooftop Garden in Brooklyn Inspired by the High Line– Architectural Digest, 1/6/15
“Few cities in the world have real estate as expensive as New York’s. For its millions of residents, the idea of certain amenities, such as a private garden—must be quickly abandoned. Yet one apartment building in Brooklyn’s trendy Dumbo neighborhood is creatively changing all of that.”
The New Dolores Park Will Be Pristine—But Can It Last?– Curbed, 1/7/15
“It was another beautiful morning in Dolores Park, accompanied by the soothing sound of jackhammers. City officials—including Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Dolores Park’s Project Manager Jacob Gilchrist—went along on a preview hard hat tour (sans hard hats—it’s mostly just grass out there, after all) of the park’s south end to show off the final phase of the park’s $20.5 million renovation.”
To Preserve and Protect: Working with Arborists – Metropolis, 1/7/15
“As landscape architects we love trees! Be they pre-existing or newly planted, trees are often the backbone to a site design. Mature, statuesque trees add invaluable character to a place and are often a site’s greatest asset or attraction.”
Field Mighty Real– The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/11/15
“Once a quarry, then a landfill, the property at Circle Acres Nature Preserve in the Montopolis neighborhood of Austin was purchased by Ecology Action of Texas with the goal of transforming the site into a nature preserve and park.”
Let’s Talk Water– Planetizen, 1/12/15
“It is important to note that landscape architects have been leaders in sustainable design since long before it became a hot topic. Environmental stewardship is a core value of the profession, and designing with water in a responsible and beautiful manner is what we do.”
Texas seems to be just coming out of a severe four-year drought. What has the drought taught Texas about water management?
The drought has taught Texas they don’t have enough water for all the people and for growing agriculture. Texas wants to attract more people and industry. But if you attract more people, you’ve got to have water. Texas’s solution is to fund more infrastructure projects that bring water to the people — the Texas Rainy Day Fund, which has $2 billion for water management projects. They will give low interest rate loans to towns or cities to bring water or improve their water supply.
By the way, I don’t think we’re over the drought, even though El Nino has definitely hit.
As you just mentioned, Texas has passed this fund with $2 billion for water management. Is it enough? As a landscape architect, what does it mean for you?
No, I don’t think it’s enough.
I’ve always thought water is precious. In our projects, we make people aware of the path of water. We feel this is important anywhere, but especially in the arid Southwest where people long for a connection with water. Our projects have been a source of inspiration, not only for residential homeowners but also cities and college campuses. That’s the role we play. We can make communities aware that water is a precious resource and that they need to take care of water, not waste it on lawns. Our projects have to be beautiful and sustainable.
I usually work on sites that have immediate concerns with either no water or in a year like this with flooding water rushing off existing transportation systems into these last little shreds of remaining nature, and so we try to improve these systems, just one project at a time.
Significant amounts of groundwater have been used during the drought. Landscape architects are coming up with ways to recharge groundwater, even in urban areas. What will work in Texas? How can groundwater recharge be made more visible or even beautiful?
In Texas, if you own a property, you own the water rights to anything underneath your property. The rivers and streams are owned by the state of Texas. You have to get special permits to use that water. But, basically, in Texas you can still drill a well. There’s not a ton of regulation.
On my own street in Austin, I know of five homeowners who have dug wells. They’ll put signs out in their front yard that, “we’re watering with well water, so we’re okay. We can use as much water as much as we want.” This is just bizarre to me. We’ve still got lots of people with great big lawns. Now that we’re getting all this rain they think it’s perfectly okay to keep them. It’s just going to be a long, hard process.
In all of our projects, we try to slow water down and let it percolate down. I do this even in my own yard and garden. The whole front yard, which is good-sized, is designed to be a sponge to take it down. The more of these sponge gardens that get published, the more projects people see, it will help.
We’re also trying to get people to appreciate the beauty of drought and appreciate brown. It’s a gorgeous color. Golden colors. We just appreciate that there are seasons when things look a little haggard, just like me. It’s just like part of life. We need to come up with a new kind of beauty that people can have — a resilient, tough landscape that has a harsh beauty unique to its region.
In a number of communities in Texas with severe water challenges, it came down to providing water for endangered species or humans. Where do you see the balance?
What can I say? People are having too many children. I hate to sound so rude, but there’s too many people. We’ve got to be satisfied with one or two. Of course I’m the oldest of five, so I love a big family, don’t get me wrong. It’s just there are just so many people, and they use too many resources.
Balance between the wildlife and the humans? Seems like the government is going to probably pick humans. There needs to be a balance, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how we’re going to figure that out.
In Texas, we have humidity and also have tons of air conditioning. The air conditioning coils create this condensation, a byproduct of a building that typically goes into the sewer. Because of my experience in Arizona, I’ve learned to appreciate every drop of water and look for every little way to honor that memory of water in the landscape.
We made the whole Belo Center garden about the path of water. We were able to convince the Belo Center for New Media to harvest that the condensate along with the stormwater that hit the roof. The condensate and the stormwater go into these three cisterns for irrigation, but when those are full, a valve shuts, and the water then goes through our water fountain, a linear biofilter runnel, where we have native Juncus growing. It’s a great element in the plaza, but it also tells an interesting story about reusing the water that a building produces.
Now, water departments will tell you, “we could have used that water to dissolve the solvents and things in our sewer system and all that.” So, again, is it really an end-all solution? No, it isn’t. It’s a way to use water that isn’t processed by the city and it calls attention to forgotten water.
As you’ve described, your projects make water flow visible in the landscape. For example, your landscape at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) campus has this series of vegetated arroyos or rivers. Why is making water visible so important?
Our project at UTEP, a campus that was defined by its architecture and abundance of asphalt, is set in a little mountain hillside in the Chihuahuan Desert. They had lost all connection with their fantastic place. The Chihuahuan Desert is a beautiful desert. It was more about really connecting the campus to their place, and creating a sense of pride of their unique spot in the world.
We looked at historic photos of the campus. When it was first built, there were many arroyos, but the campus evolved to become a car-centric campus, with acres of asphalt. We were lucky enough to peel all that off, reshape the land, and carve some of those arroyos back in, in order to slow that water down as it traverses through campus. When they do get rain, as little as they get, it comes in major, epic storms, so the new arroyos and acequias help to absorb and slow the water down.
UTEP has the largest Hispanic student population of any university in the country. They’re just the greatest kids. It was just a blast to give them a heart to their campus, embraced by these arroyos and this central gathering space. The new landscape just celebrates them. It celebrates where they’re from, where their ancestors are from.
We used all the native andesite rock from regrading and native Chihuahuan plants to create these arroyos and, now, you can’t believe the birds and butterflies on this campus.
People’s first impression of El Paso is typically the uninspiring view of industry as they drive I-10. Except for the mountain views, it’s not flattering or reflective of this amazing city. We’re showing the beauty of this place and hopefully instilling pride. It’s had a great impact so far, so that’s exciting. And it’s all working.