The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has decided to adopt the Sustainable Sites Initiative™(SITES®) certification program for GSA’s capital construction program. The GSA determined the incorporation of SITES — which provides a focus on ecological services and sustainability beyond a building’s envelope and also possesses the ability to be applied independently or coupled with LEED certification — offers a highly effective and efficient way to compel environmental performance.
This decision has been memorialized in the 2016 version of our Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (P-100) document, which establishes design standards and criteria for new buildings, infrastructural projects, major and minor alterations, and work in historic structures for the Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the GSA. This document contains both policy and technical criteria used in the programming, design, and documentation of GSA buildings and facilities.
The GSA is an independent agency of the U.S. government whose mission is to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to government and the American people. The agency’s Public Buildings Service is one of the largest and most diversified public real estate organizations in the world. Its portfolio consists of 376.9 million rentable square feet in 8,721 active assets across the United States, in all 50 states, 6 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
This guest post is by Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture, U.S. General Services Administration.
In a recent Green Business Certifications Inc. (GBCI) survey, 80 percent of respondents said they planned on implementing SITES® in their organization or practice, and 89 percent indicated interest in earning a professional credential, such as SITES Accredited Professional, or “SITES AP.” As a result, the development of SITES AP is currently under way at GBCI.
The new SITES AP credential will not only establish a common framework to define the profession of sustainable land design and construction, it will also provide landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise, and commitment to the profession and will help scale up the market for SITES.
What is involved in the process of creating the SITES AP?
1. Conception: GBCI will bring together leading experts in the fields of sustainable landscape design to form a Job Analysis Committee. This committee will include landscape architects, planners, consultants, horticulturalists and water, soil, and human health specialists from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The committee will be responsible for creating content areas that lay the groundwork for building the SITES AP exam.
2. Validation: GBCI will enlist the help of a wider group of subject matter experts, who will review the content areas and their relative importance through the SITES AP Job Analysis Survey. The survey will give experts in the sustainable landscape community an opportunity to contribute to the SITES AP credential. GBCI will then gather and analyze results to create an exam blueprint, which will outline weight distribution for exam questions by content area.
3. Development: Once the blueprint is finalized, GBCI will enlist subject matter experts to write and review questions to appear on the SITES AP exam. With expert consensus, a well-rounded exam will be created and launched for the SITES AP credential. The exam will be finalized and placed into the testing platform for aspiring SITES AP candidates.
The SITES AP exam will be an important tool for all professionals practicing sustainable landscape design who are looking to grow their careers and impact the direction of land development and management.
If you would like to contribute as a subject matter expert and help write or review test questions that will shape the first generation of SITES APs, please fill out our call for volunteers survey to get involved.
We are also conducting an online job analysis survey to seek industry feedback on what a professional should know and do to perform competently as a SITES AP. Take the SITES AP Job Analysis Survey.
GBCI will begin offering testing for the SITES AP in October 2016.
Traditional land development and land-use decisions often underestimate or ignore healthy ecosystems. Sustainable land development is cost-effective, better for the environment and fosters resiliency. Last year, GBCI expanded on its vision of speed to market transformation for the built environment to cover nearly every facet of sustainability, including sustainable landscape design and management. GBCI now administers the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®), the most comprehensive program for designing sustainable landscapes. To recognize those who have made significant contributions to sustainable landscape design, GBCI is excited to announce new pricing that rewards the early adopters. From March 1 to May 31, GBCI is offering a $1,500 reduction in paid registration and registration/certification bundle fees.
SITES-certified projects provide ecosystem services and create ecologically resilient communities, help reduce water demand, filter and reduce stormwater runoff, involve no or limited pesticide use, conserve or restore natural resources, and provide wildlife habitat. They also offset development impacts, reduce energy consumption, help sequester carbon, improve air quality and human health, and provide essential benefits that humans and other organisms depend on for survival.
In June 2015, GBCI launched project certification for v2 of SITES. Already, SITES v2 has seen projects registering across the world, from New York to Los Angeles, from Vancouver to Hong Kong. SITES certification is available for development projects located on sites with or without buildings, ranging from national parks to corporate campuses, from streetscapes to gardens. SITES is being used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers, and others to align land development and management with innovative sustainable design.
Just as LEED undeniably transformed the built environment, SITES has the ability to transform land development and use under the administration of GBCI. The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®) is produced by the Green Business Certification Inc., which owns exclusive rights to the SITES rating system, its publications, and its trademarks. The material on which the SITES rating system is based was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.
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. The rating system can be applied to development projects located on sites with or without buildings – ranging from national parks to corporate campuses, streetscapes and homes, and much more.
“Landscapes knit together the fabric of our communities,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO, GBCI. “And sustainable landscapes are critical in their ability to reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. SITES is an important addition to our toolkit, and GBCI appreciates this opportunity to support this additional contribution to healthy, thriving communities and neighborhoods.”
“It is exciting to see years of work developing and field testing SITES culminate with the availability of this rating system,” said Fritz Steiner, FASLA, dean of the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin. “The depth and breadth of approaches that were implemented by pilot projects demonstrates how valuable SITES can become for revolutionizing our relationships with built landscapes.”
“Landscape architects and members of all the related design and planning fields know that the issues addressed in SITES are increasingly important to creating livable and resilient communities,” said Nancy C. Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “GBCI will take SITES to the next level and ensure its future growth and influence, and ASLA is pleased to provide continued education and communications support.”
“SITES is a powerful tool for enhancing built landscapes precisely because it puts ecosystem services, the benefits humans derive from functional ecosystems, front and center,” said Ari Novy, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden. “This approach will help maximize our collective ability to create sustainable and healthy communities. Making SITES available through GBCI will be a great boon for the quality and resilience of our built landscapes.”
The SITES rating system uses progressive industry standards for landscape design and incorporates additional recommendations from technical experts in the fields of soil science, botany and horticulture, hydrology, materials, and human health and well-being. Some of the credits for sustainable landscape performance have been developed in alignment with similar credits in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, the world’s most widely used green building program.
SITES, originally modeled after LEED, includes best practices in landscape architecture, ecological restoration and related fields as well as knowledge gained through peer-reviewed literature, case-study precedents and projects registered in the SITES pilot program.
“Adding SITES to GBCI’s rapidly growing list of certification systems and credentials it supports not only expands GBCI’s capabilities, but it also helps us to further our mission to enact global sustainable change,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI.
The Wildflower Center and ASLA will help GBCI create and implement SITES credentialing and certification offerings such as training project reviewers and will provide educational opportunities for pursuing SITES certification.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has certified a dozen sustainable landscapes across the country for meeting rigorous standards for environmental design and performance, bringing the total number of certified projects to 46. These 12 landscapes include a historic Maryland house, a pocket park in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and a public children’s garden in Austin, Texas.
“Americans can directly address major environmental challenges we face today – diminishing water supplies, climate change, pollution and loss of wildlife habitat – by how they design and manage landscapes where they live, work and play,” said Susan Rieff, executive director of The University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “The SITES program approach, now increasingly adopted by landscape architects, designers and others, provides a practical blueprint for creating healthy landscapes, and recognizes exemplary projects to inspire others.”
These 12 projects are the last to be certified using a 2009 pilot version of the SITES Rating System. They join 34 others that have achieved certification for voluntarily applying the SITES system to incorporate sustainability into their planning, design, construction and maintenance. Each project received a rating from one to four stars. SITES, which is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), The Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden, has now certified projects in 20 states.
The pilot program has informed the June 2014 release of the SITES v2 Rating System and Reference Guide. Negotiations are underway with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide project certification to the requirements of the SITES v2 Rating System and a related professional credentialing program.
The 12 most recently certified projects include:
Anacostia Watershed Society Headquarters, Three Stars, Anacostia Watershed Society, Bladensburg, Maryland. This landscape on .35 acres surrounds the historic George Washington House (circa 1752). The building now serves as headquarters for the Anacostia Watershed Society, which developed a public demonstration of practical, aesthetic ways to address the flow, collection, and management of stormwater runoff from the site. Year of adjacent road realignments that raised the grades of surrounding land had created poor drainage patterns throughout the site. With the help of volunteers, interns, staff, and local business donations, the society was able to install permeable paving, a rainwater cistern, brick and dry-stream channels, and rain gardens. The project demonstrates how sustainable stormwater management can be successfully incorporated within historic sites challenged with a limited budget and very restrictive site constraints.
Evans Parkway Neighborhood Park, Three Stars, OCULUS – Landscape Architecture, Silver Spring, Maryland. The expansion of this neighborhood park with the addition of a vacant lot provided the impetus for developing a more natural treatment of park surfaces and restoring a 300 linear foot section of a concrete-lined stream channel. This rehabilitated stream is a model for future naturalization efforts within Montgomery County. The renovated park also includes an informal play field and lawn areas, playground, a picnic area and shade structure, loop walking trails, a pedestrian bridge with riparian overlook area, contemplative seating areas, interactive public artwork, interpretive displays, connections to regional bikeway and public transit systems, natural meadow areas, and shady woodland areas.
Boeddeker Park, Two Stars, The Trust for Public Land, San Francisco, California. This one-acre park developed by The Trust for Public Land and San Francisco Recreation and Parks provides the largest open space in San Francisco’s poorest, most dense and diverse neighborhood. What had been an undesirable, unsafe area for 50,000 nearby residents has become an inviting space that is open daily. The pocket park includes a state-of-the-art clubhouse, walking path, adult fitness equipment, children’s play area, lawn and plazas for community gatherings and a garden. Sustainable systems were prioritized from the start and are integrated throughout the site. Project partners conducted extensive community outreach at nearby senior and youth centers and elsewhere, and worked closely with local community partners to ensure a safe park that provides programs and activities for all ages. Key design and programming decisions were made through these community forums. The result is a model of civic engagement, inspiration, resource conservation, and adaptability.
Hempstead Plains Interpretive Center, Two Stars, RGR Landscape Architecture & Architecture PLLC, Garden City, New York. This is the only naturally occurring prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains. The design and development of HPIC – a low-impact building and site – in a heavily developed suburban area, secures the integrity of the parcel as a natural preserve and historic landmark. In addition, the Plains are located on the Nassau Community College campus and near several universities, providing classes with a learning lab about native prairie habitats and sustainable techniques and an experience for general visitors interested in experiencing prairie life. An entrance through native plantings leads to the new visitor’s center topped with a green roof; open and closed classrooms are provided. Handicapped-accessible and stabilized-soil trails lead to the natural paths in the native prairie. A cistern helps reduce the need for potable water. Solar energy provides power and the building is completely “off the grid.”
Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Two Stars, W. G. Smith Design, Austin, Texas. This garden showcases Texas native plants and landscapes while offering a unique, beautiful space for children and families to appreciate nature through exploration and to learn about plants, wildlife and water, and sustainable landscape design elements. The 4.5-acre space features more than 180 native Texas plant species and interactive features such as a nectar garden, a wildlife blind and pond, a “stumpery” made for tree climbing, and an area for building structures from natural materials. Sustainable practices are part of the fabric of the garden, and include plants that were salvaged pre-construction and replanted, and a rainwater harvesting system and rain gardens to demonstrate water conservation. Locally-sourced pecan shells and crushed recycled glass are among the mulches. Stone harvested on site is used in features such as two caves, and non-potable water feeds a waterfall flowing into a recirculating creek with fish and tadpoles.
U.S. Federal Office Building, Two Stars, U.S. GSA with Atkins Global, Miramar, Florida. This new building houses a key federal agency on a secure campus that includes a parking garage with a green wall and solar panels, pond and other sustainable features on a site that minimizes impacts and harmonizes the landscape with the nearby Florida Everglades. The site design incorporates wetlands throughout the project and in interior and exterior courtyards. These wetlands are visible from within the building. A jogging path occurs around the reconstructed wetlands and there are locations for gathering and relaxation. Structures are made of locally sourced materials with high-recycled content and FSC-certified wood. Native and adaptive plant species occur site wide, creating a sustainable native plant community on aesthetically appealing grounds. The grounds also provide water-quality treatment for the project area.
Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education, One Star, Alrie Middlebrook, San Jose, California. This former concrete parking lot in downtown San Jose has become a shared garden space used for educational purposes. The tenants include a sustainable landscaping company, The California Native Garden Foundation and its nursery, and an on-site aquaponics farm. The Environmental Laboratory is used to teach schools how to build a sustainable garden education program and showcases a healthy land-use model. The site demonstrates urban food technologies such as vertical food towers, pallet gardens, composting, and gardening with perennial food plants. Drought-tolerant native plants reduce water use and provide wildlife habitat, restore soils and more. Drip irrigation is used for plantings, and water is reused through greywater systems. Many landscape components are made with recycled or reused material. The goal of ELSEE is to have this type of garden model adopted by 10,000 California schools by 2020.
HELIX Environmental Planning Inc. Headquarters, One Star, HELIX Environmental Planning Inc., La Mesa, California. Landscape conversion of the environmental planning firm’s headquarters entailed the conversion of the landscape to a more regionally appropriate one. The project reduced potable water use for irrigation through rainwater harvesting and the use of native plants, and created a more usable outdoor space for employees, which has increased social interaction and supported healthy activities. The project is unique because it used the expertise of HELIX’s own employees in designing and implementing water-conserving and low-maintenance landscapes.
New Orleans Festival and Recreation Complex, One Star, Torre Design Consortium, New Orleans, Louisiana. A 55-acre abandoned golf course in New Orleans City Park was re-purposed to provide a public space, in conjunction with a Community Development Block Grant. Community input led to opportunities for exercise and outdoor play, and gathering spaces for families, schools, and formal events. The project includes four multi-sport fields, a one-mile walking/biking path, a workout area with adult and child exercise equipment, a large constructed wetland area with meditation paths and a boardwalk, a playground, and a large “Reunion Pavilion” for seating, eating, and socializing. Many oak and cypress trees were retained for shade and enjoyment.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, One Star, Talley Associates, Dallas, Texas. This 4.7-acre site on a former industrial brownfield is just north of downtown Dallas and west of the Arts District. An elevated freeway determines the site’s southern boundary and is among nearby constraints. The project dovetails with the museum’s primary mission of working to “Inspire minds through nature and science.” To achieve this, the site design was conceived as an abstraction of several native Texas landscape environments that are seamlessly integrated with the building’s architecture that covers much of the space. Starting at the southeast corner of the site, the podium structure of the building was planned to incorporate a vegetated roof system. The roof features plantings that depict different regions of Texas’ ecology: West Texas Caliche, Upland Prairie, Blackland Prairie and East Texas Forests/Wetlands.
Swaner EcoCenter, One Star, CRSA, Park City, Utah. The EcoCenter provides visitors a starting point to experience the 1,200-acre Swaner Preserve, both of which are overseen by Utah State University. The preserve and building serve as places for teaching environmental science. Visitors also hike, bird watch and pursue other nature activities on site. The EcoCenter building demonstrates sustainable features such as solar panels and a cistern for rainwater collection that eliminates potable water use for irrigation and for flushing toilets. Visitors can also learn about an innovative boardwalk that minimized disturbance to land around the piers. Rather than using metal helical piers that produce such damage, these are made from salvaged trestle wood preserved by sitting in the Great Salt Lake for decades. Other approaches included selecting sustainable materials for outdoor seating, bike racks, and pathway pavers.
Tuthill Corporate Headquarters Campus, One Star, Conservation Design Forum, Burr Ridge, Illinois. The campus provides a workplace environment that honors the human psyche and improves the environment. The building was established on a minimal footprint and oriented to allow employees to easily access a pond/wetland and view it while indoors. Rainwater is collected and directed from the roof to the landscape. The entire site, except for the building footprint, pavement and small Buffalo grass turf edge, has been restored to hardy, native plant species obtained locally wherever possible. Locally sourced limestone was used in a terrace and patio that creates an authentic connection of the building to the local landscape. Invasive species have been removed, allowing the restoration of native grassland prairie and wetland fringe. The restored or recreated on-site landscaping and other elements virtually eliminate surface stormwater runoff and localized flooding.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) program has certified four new landscapes. These include: Kirke Park, a pocket park in Seattle (two stars); 38 Dolores, a grocery store and housing complex in San Francisco (two stars); West Point Foundry Preserve, a historic Civil War-era preserve in New York (one star); and the office of Perkins + Will, a design firm, in Atlanta (one star). The four projects join 30 other pilot projects certified by the SITES program, the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable land design and development. All 34 certified landscape pilot projects met the 2009 Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, developed by the SITES program in collaboration with dozens of sustainability experts, scientists, and design professionals from across the nation.
The four newly certified pilot projects incorporate sustainable features that were evaluated using a rating system with certification levels of one to four stars:
Kirke Park, Two Stars, Site Workshop, Seattle, Washington (see image above). This pocket park was designed to reflect the site’s past, incorporating structural elements that were remnants from a church that previously occupied the site, while enhancing the neighborhood. A community garden recalls the site’s history of producing food while a secret garden offers a quiet space inside the preserved walls of the historic church. A gathering plaza contains other park relics and is connected to an open lawn, providing structure for community events and informal play. A playground and an “adventure trail” that uses logs and boulders promote an active, natural play environment.
38 Dolores, Two Stars, April Philips Design Works, San Francisco, California. This greyfield project in the diverse Upper Market community in San Francisco has become a mixed-use development with 81 residential units and a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor. The LEED® Gold certified project improves the use of city systems and reduces its carbon footprint. To achieve SITES recognition, the developer added sustainable features including rainwater harvesting, alternative energy technologies, and green roofs that provide habitat for the endangered mission blue butterfly and a haven for city visitors. In addition, the site has edible and rain gardens and features such as education components to promote eco-awareness.
West Point Foundry Preserve, One Star, Scenic Hudson Inc., Cold Spring, New York. The preserve is at a former turn-of-the-century manufacturing facility, which later was declared an EPA Superfund cleanup site. The work of a community advisory group, informed by years of archaeological studies, helped inform the transformation of 87 acres into a publicly accessible outdoor museum and heritage destination with interpretation and restored habitat. The site’s existing artifacts and previous history manufacturing Parrott guns credited with winning the Civil War, steam engines and mill equipment were incorporated into the design. The preserve includes a restored tidal marsh that supports wildlife habitat. Salvaged materials found on site such as brick fragments and stone were used in the project. Uniquely, the project included an archaeological monitoring plan to address unexpected features found during construction. The preserve is the second SITES-certified project of Scenic Hudson Inc. along the Hudson River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Preserve America site.
Perkins+Will Office, One Star, Perkins+Will, Atlanta, Georgia. This design firm’s new home is a living model for small urban sites that emphasize sustainability. Essentially “upcycling” an outdated office building on Atlanta’s signature boulevard, the site now showcases elegant stormwater solutions and innovative use of materials on a highly constrained urban location. Where a parking deck and driveway once focused on auto access at the front of the building, a new civic plaza was created as an open-air living room for tenants and the community that reconnects the building to the street. The site provides walkable transit access for employees and clients, creates tenant space for civic uses and additional outdoor spaces for social engagement. The newly renovated building is also certified LEED® Platinum with the highest score in the Northern Hemisphere at the time of certification.
The SITES program is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.
Based on the experiences of the 100-plus pilot projects that field-tested the 2009 rating system and input from hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, a refined set of guidelines and rating system was released in June 2014. Known as SITES v2, it was developed over seven years and is now available for use by anyone who works in land design and development. The SITES v2 Rating System and scorecard are available for free.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has certified new landscapes at a federal courthouse in New Mexico; an elementary school and campus plaza in Washington, D.C.; and an urban plaza in Washington state. The four projects certified by the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable landscapes are: Albuquerque’s Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse, which received a two star certification; Brent Elementary School in Washington, D.C., which received one star; Square 80 Plaza at The George Washington University, also in D.C. with one star; and East Bay Public Plaza in Olympia, Washington, with one star.
“It is exciting to see a growing number of projects across the country that have applied an integrative design process to meet rigorous sustainability guidelines, while finding ways to address urgent environmental and social challenges,” said SITES Program Director Danielle Pieranunzi, who is based at the Wildflower Center. “We are thrilled to certify these four new projects that truly exemplify the breadth of approaches to sustainable site design and development.”
The newly certified projects applied the 2009 SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks and met the requirements for pilot certification. There are now 30 landscape projects at universities, businesses and public spaces that have achieved this recognition. The SITES rating system was created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals.
The four newly certified projects each incorporate sustainable features that were evaluated using a rating system with certification levels of one to four stars. These landscape projects include the following sustainable features:
Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse Sustainable Landscape Renovation, Two Stars, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Albuquerque, N.M. (see image above). This federal courthouse is the first project constructed by the General Services Administration to achieve SITES certification. Originally constructed in 1998, the underused hardscape plazas, overwatered lawns and faulty water feature of the existing courthouse exemplified resource inefficiency, disconnection from its environment, and distance from the public. The landscape renovation reconceives the site as a cohesive park-like landscape rooted within the rich cultural, climatic and hydrological fabric of the Rio Grande Basin. Innovative strategies include the selective removal and re-use of excess concrete paving to create seat wall terraces that direct site stormwater into a series of native habitat rain gardens. The project creates a bold landscape and dignified setting for court operations while enhancing the efficiency and sustainable operations through improved water management, decreased energy use and increased urban habitat.
Brent Elementary Schoolyard Greening, One Star, Sustainable Life Designs, Washington, D.C. Located five blocks from the nation’s Capitol, this greyfield site with asphalt-dominated grounds was transformed into a sustainable landscape that educates students, parents, and neighborhood residents about green infrastructure. Improvements include the removal of 1,600 square feet of asphalt and the installation of pollinator gardens, stormwater management features, new play equipment, and 7,000 square feet of outdoor classrooms to enhance outdoor play and learning that were achieved through numerous volunteer hours. The stormwater management features include a rain garden, rain barrel, and bio-retention swale. A formerly trash-strewn space behind the school building is now an “urban canyon” that helps manage stormwater and provides native habitat.
Square 80 Plaza at The George Washington University, One Star, Studio 39 Landscape Architecture, Washington, D.C. The Square 80 Plaza project converted an existing parking lot into a park that creates pedestrian connections and open space at an urban university campus. The project retains 100 percent of its stormwater runoff on site through the use of biofiltration planters, permeable paving, hardscape diversion through use of small channels, and the collection of site water into a system of inter-connected cisterns. All plants used on the site are native and adapted species, and all water used for irrigation and the sculptural water feature is fed by the rainwater collected in the cistern, which uses no potable water.
East Bay Public Plaza, One Star, Robert W. Droll Landscape Architect, Olympia, Washington. East Bay Public Plaza is a vibrant public urban space located in the Puget Sound region that showcases the benefits of reclaimed water and the efforts of the LOTT Alliance, an Olympia-based wastewater treatment company. The former brownfield includes new educational elements such as discovery markers, interactive stream features, a series of interpretive panels, and a ground plane timeline that playfully charts the past, present and future of reclaimed water to inspire and inform visitors.
Based on the experiences of many of the pilot projects, a refined set of guidelines and rating system, SITES v2, will incorporate additional recommendations from technical experts. This updated version of the 2009 SITES rating system will be published and available for distribution and use by the general public in 2014.
He said too many buildings are “completely isolated nature.” This is a real problem because humans now spend about 80 percent of their lives in buildings of some kind. With the new center designed by landscape architecture firm Andropogon Associates, “nature is now not that far away.”
In the Bronx, Hunts Point Landing, a two-star SITES-certified landscape developed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, shows how a “dead-end” in an isolated and unhealthy neighborhood can be turned into a park, said Kate Van Tassel, NYCEDC. The park is meant to ameliorate some of the health problems in the community, which has some of the highest rates of asthma and obesity in New York City.
The new Hunts Point Landing took shape on the site of an old coal gasification plant. Van Tassel said this little bit of “green space amid industry is very important.” To boost neighborhood health, NYDEC wanted a sustainable park. Old local materials were re-used within the park. Stones from a nearby bridge taken down were turned into blocks to sit on. The waterfront park helped “transform the shoreline into a recreation area.”
In the case of Taylor Residence in Chester, Pennsylvania, Margot Taylor, ASLA, is both the client and landscape architect. Taylor wanted to create a public demonstration project for sustainable landscape best practices on her own property. Her property includes wood systems and meadows. Ecological systems were re-established, with a focus made on soil and plant health. The landscape, which used to be a farm, now “directs, holds, absorbs, and cleans water.” She now has hundreds of people, including lots of school groups, touring the landscape each year.
One of Taylor’s goals in the move to a sustainable residential landscape was to reduce annual maintenance. She wants to get maintenance down to 55 hours a year. She has also “completely gotten mowing out of the system.”
Representing both himself and his client, Hunter Beckham, ASLA, SWT Design, described the design of the Novus International campus in St. Charles, Missouri. He said a “huge number of stakeholders” were involved in creating a sustainable campus, which was designed to yield many benefits for both employees and the environment. There’s a productive, edible landscape: a vegetable garden with bee-friendly plants. There are two bee blocks that provide home to seven different local species. In the first year, the landscape yielded 65 pounds of honey.
This vegetated garden terrace is accessible via a walking loop that circles the entire campus. The loop enables both employees and visitors to take a break from the office and get out in nature. Within the landscape, an old concrete-lined water detention pit was turned into a natural water habitat that manages stormwater and attracts a wide range of wildlife, including snakes.
What Were the Challenges?
For Jose Alminana, FASLA, a principal at Andropogon and one of the guiding forces behind SITES, the benefits far outweighed the challenges. He said achieving 4-stars for the Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes was no small feat, but perhaps made possible by the fact that “we started with no site.” The design team then had “complete control over the materials used,” which helped them improve site performance and earn points under SITES.
Still, “procuring the sand-based soils was a challenge, given the firms involved in fracking are very interested in applying the same soils to sites where they are extracting gas.” Separately, he added that it was “hard to change the plant palette to accommodate the new soil pH.”
For Signe Nielsen, FASLA, SITES seemed to be an exercise in frustration. She said there were three categories of SITES credits that deeply-urban brownfield sites like Hunts Point Landing “couldn’t take advantage of,” so the project could only get two stars.
She said she couldn’t preserve existing soils and vegetation because “they were highly contaminated.” There was “no structure to adaptively reuse,” so points couldn’t be gotten there either. Lastly, there were no “cultural resources to reuse or enhance.”
She added that working with public authorities, in effect, means “limited opportunities for integrated site design teams,” as many local governments don’t incentivize such groups.
More broadly, she thought that achieving many of the credits related to “recycled content materials will be challenging given the landscape industry has very few competitive vendors in this field.”
Urban public projects may have a challenge earning maintenance points as well, as the landscape architecture firms creating these projects often have “no control over future maintenance.” A firm could create a detail maintenance manual for a park, but then that’s it.
Taylor said working with a historic farm was a challenge in itself. The native vegetation had been stripped and topsoil eroded or compacted. The solution was to “rebuild healthy soil and native plant communities appropriate for different micro-climates.” SITES, she said, “didn’t want to give credits for the landscape’s past use as pastureland.”
She certainly ended up getting credits, though, for the 27 tons of barn stone she cut up and re-purposed on site by hand. “I lost about 15 pounds shifting all that stone out of the dirt.” Still, she thinks she needs to find a “smarter way to manage materials that were unearthed.”
What Lessons Were Learned?
Alminana believes that “integrated design is really the key” to achieving a return on investment for your clients and site performance. “SITES really puts an emphasis on this.” He said, unfortunately, this approach is still not “happening among a majority of the profession or in the public sector.”
Directing himself to those who complain they haven’t earned enough points for their projects using SITES, he said “if you are only focused on points, you are missing the point.”
Nielsen believes SITES can have a potent impact, given “metrics are crucial” and SITES really forces landscape architects to collect data and measure themselves against benchmarks. She said putting all that time into collecting metrics was worth the effort because it helps “clients understand the value of our work.” Landscape architects can measure how well they’ve “reduced noise, saved water, and reused materials.” Beckham reiterated how valuable SITES is as a “framework for accountability.”
Taylor learned that it’s important to “integrate a long-term land management perspective from the beginning,” something that SITES promotes.
The landscape architects all hoped that governments — both local and national — will get moving on incorporating SITES guidelines into their request for proposals (RFPs), which can also help push the landscape materials industry to provide more sustainable options. It will be a back-and-forth process to make SITES more mainstream: landscape architects, and their clients, must push for change among providers of landscape materials, but the market must also provide opportunities to enable that change.
Image credits: (1) Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Denmarsh Photography, (2) Hunts Point Landing / Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architecture, (3) Taylor Residence / Mark Gormel, (4) Novus International / SWT Design
The new projects join 23 others across the country that have achieved certification since June 2010 as SITES pilot projects. These diverse projects represent landscapes of various sizes, locations, types, and costs.
“We are very pleased to announce three new certified projects – particularly the first four-star rating,” said SITES Program Director Danielle Pieranunzi, who is at the Wildflower Center. “Each project has achieved a great deal by demonstrating innovative applications of sustainable land design and development practices while meeting the SITES 2009 criteria.”
As with the other pilot projects at universities, corporate headquarters and other landscapes that have previously achieved this recognition, the newly certified projects applied the SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 and met the requirements for pilot certification. The guidelines and rating system were created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals.
The three newly certified projects incorporate diverse sustainable features:
Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Four Stars, Andropogon Associates, Pittsburgh, Pa (see image above). The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was designed to be the first project in the world to simultaneously achieve LEED Platinum, SITES four-star certification, and The Living Building Challenge (still pending). Built on a previously paved city maintenance yard and documented brownfield, the nearly three-acre site supports a new 24,350-square-foot education, research, and administrative building; manages all sanitary waste and a ten-year storm event on site using a range of green infrastructure strategies; has successfully reintroduced 150 native plant species; and is designed to be net-zero for energy and water. The CSL is open to the public and its building and landscape performance is being extensively researched and monitored to inform the design and construction of similar projects that restore ecosystem services, generate their own energy, and clean and re-use their own waste water.
Washington Canal Park, Three Stars, OLIN, Washington, D.C. One of the first parks built as part of the District of Columbia’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Canal Park is a model of sustainability, establishing itself as a social gathering place and an economic catalyst. Located on three acres of a former parking lot for district school buses, the three-block long park is sited along the historic former Washington Canal system, and is a centerpiece for approximately 10,000 office workers and about 2,000 new mixed market-rate and affordable housing units. Canal Park’s focal point, a linear rain garden, functions as an integrated stormwater system that is estimated to save the District of Columbia 1.5 million gallons of potable water per year. The park also features electric car charging stations and a neighborhood-scale system for capturing treating, and reusing rainwater. Numerous opportunities are provided for residents and workers to enjoy the park, including an ice rink, a café, pavilions and space for concerts, movies, and farmers’ markets.
Shoemaker Green, Two Stars, Andropogon Associates, Philadelphia, Pa. As part of the University of Pennsylvania’s “Penn Connects” campus master plan, this deteriorating site with underused tennis courts was redesigned as a passive open space of lawns, tree-lined walkways, and sitting areas. The green space is both a destination and a pedestrian route from the core of campus to the historic buildings surrounding it. The site can be adapted for multiple events and activities at a wide range of scales, from secluded areas for eating lunch to staging areas for the Penn Relays and graduation ceremonies. Through the innovative use of various sustainable strategies and technologies, Shoemaker Green has also been optimized to capture and control stormwater from the site and surrounding rooftops, provide viable native plant and animal habitats, minimize transportation of materials to and from the site, and serve as a starting point for the development of a sustainable maintenance strategy for the university at large.
The 2009 SITES rating system for the pilot projects includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits with assigned numbers of points that total 250. The credits address activities such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve ratings of one through four stars by amassing 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of the 250 points.
Based on the experiences of many of the pilot projects, a refined set of guidelines and rating system, SITES v2, is finalized and incorporates added recommendations from technical experts. This enhanced version of the 2009 SITES rating system is ready to be published for distribution and use by the general public.
Image credits:(1) Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Denmarsh Photography, (2) Washington Canal Park / OLIN, Sahar Coston-Hardy, (3) Shoemaker Green / Barrett Doherty
“Growing plants is the goal,” said James Urban, FASLA, Urban Trees + Soils, at the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston. To grow healthy plants, one needs healthy soils, and landscape architects who understand soils and know how to call a soil scientist. In a wide-ranging talk, Urban and his co-presenter, soil scientist Norm Hummel, discussed how landscape architects can design with new soils the right way, particularly in challenging, damaged urban landscapes.
Whether natural or man-mixed, soils have physical, environmental, and chemical properties. These are all important to the health of a growing medium. Physical properties include organic matter, water, drainage, and aeration. Environmental characteristics include light and temperature. Chemical elements include the pH balance, and the presence (or not) of phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium, which are all critical elements for plants.
To determine what kind of soil is needed for a project, Urban said goals and requirements are needed early on in the design process. Questions that need to be asked: “What type of trees and plants are you trying to grow? How big do you want these plants to get?” As an example, depending on the requirements, an oak can grow to 25 feet and last 50 years, or grow to its full extent and live hundreds of years. Landscape architects have think through these things in terms of soil early on.
It’s also important to know how a site is being used. A landscape may have lawn, but is that walked on a few times a year or thousands of times? Urban said the National Mall’s turf gets a quarter of a million visitors per day. That space gets 3,000 events a year. Use will determine what kind of irrigation and soils are needed.
Urban said there are eight critical properties of soils, which soil biologists can test to determine if soils meet specifications. They include structure, texture, density, nutrients, pH, organic matter, and density, which are all “inter-connected.”
More often than not, Urban said trees and plants don’t do well because of the physical properties of soils rather than the chemical. If something goes wrong — a tree is stressed, shows early fall color, or even dies — landscape architects may be planting the wrong trees and plants for the soil types.
Some details on soil’s physical properties: The structure of soils has to do with how well-glued together the soil particles are. Particles are attracted to other particles — and organic matter glues them together. Clay soil has a strong structure due to the stickiness of the soil. Silt soil has a weaker structure, while sand has no structure at all. Sandy soils are useful in areas that need to drain.
Urban added that man-made mixed soils are very different from natural soils. Mixed soils include soils that have been broken apart and put back together.
Soils are also made up of spaces or voids where water can flow. Ideal forest soils have a void space of about 50 percent, while urban compacted soils are around 20-30 percent. With the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®), Urban said more landscape architects will need to measure soil structure.
Soil texture is also important to examine. Clay, silt, and sand all have different surface areas given the unique sizes of the particles. Fine sand is .24mm, while silt is 2.4mm, and clay, nearly 24mm. Just within the family of sand, there are huge differences as well, with fine sand having properties distinct from coarse grains.
Hummel, who said he has examined over 100,000 soil samples in his career, said organic matter is a major contributor to soil health. Organic matter can be amended with either peats or composts.
He said many peats are actually not sustainable and shouldn’t be used to augment the organic matter in damaged soils. Peat farming can strip an area of nutrients, creating environmental damage. However, he made an exception for sphagum peat, which is more expensive, but a renewable resource. For Hummel, sphagum peat is “superior to compost, which breaks down rapidly.”
But compost is most often added to soils to boost the amount of organic matter. Compost is often used with disturbed urban soils that have suffered from erosion and compaction. Compost types include yard waste (grass, wood chips), bio-solids (treated municipal sewage), animal manure, and mixed waste. Some regional compost specialties include pine bark and rice hulls. Hummel added that soils have a “disease suppressive capacity.” Still, he cautioned against the practice of using 90 percent compost and 10 percent soil, saying that a “tree planted in that will simply fall over or die.”
Hummel also delved into the chemical properties of soils – and whether it’s possible to chemically amend damaged soils. He concluded that altering the PH balance of existing site soils is “unrealistic.” What’s better is to focus on the availability of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous in the soil.
While sending soil samples to a lab will yield data on all these properties, these properties can also be requested in soil specifications. Hummel said landscape architects can even specify things like permeability in soils.
Urban concluded that it’s best to reuse dirt where possible, but sometimes grading and compaction have “killed the soils.” To understand the problems and solve them, landscape architects can use web soil surveys, study soil maps, take their own samples, examine them, and send them to the lab. “Landscape architects need to learn how to do this.”
To learn how to go on to the next step and fix soils, check out Urban’s book, Up by Roots.
Image credit: Sugar Beach, Toronto, by Claude Cormier / Deeproot