If These Walls Could Talk

A well-designed home is oriented according to natural patterns, such as high-velocity air flow. In order to act as a wind-break for the cool winter winds of West Virginia, the WVU Solar Decathlon house included tall grasses around the structure.  image: John Wray, Team WVU / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A well-designed home is oriented according to natural patterns, such as high-velocity air flow. In order to act as a wind-break for the cool winter winds of West Virginia, the WVU Solar Decathlon house included tall grasses around the structure.
image: John Wray, Team WVU / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

During the sixth semester of my undergraduate tenure at West Virginia University, students were presented with the opportunity to earn an academic scholarship by writing a creative essay oriented around the profession of Landscape Architecture and how students and professionals explore the relationship between humans and natural environments. In this specific text that went on to win the scholarship, I focused on how the profession of Landscape Architecture is the catalyst for blurring the lines between the natural and built worlds by looking at the four elements of earth, wind, water, and fire and how they influence the design of built structures that work harmoniously with natural patterns.

Both visual and verbal pieces included in this article communicate what academic and extracurricular activities I have been involved with and how they shaped the formation of my essay. Through experience with the 2013 Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which “challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive,” I learned valuable sustainable principles of design. Through academic studio work, I have been able to explore these sustainable principles and include them in an array of design projects. My experiences with these international competitions and studio work leads me to believe that landscape architects are at the forefront of creating varying scales of spaces that are designed with nature in mind and with the goal of improving the way people live, work, and play. This essay creatively communicates how I believe a developing landscape architect sees how design works properly with natural systems.

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Allegheny County’s Monitored Green Roof

Foreground: intensive green roof and microcosm trials image: John K. Buck, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.

Foreground: intensive green roof and microcosm trials
image: John K. Buck, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.

To serve as an educational model demonstrating the benefits of green roofs and the technology imbedded in green roofs, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania decided to install a green roof exhibiting four types of green roof technologies:

  1. Intensive – 8-12 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with shrubs and plants requiring that rooting depth.
  2. Semi-intensive – 6 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with the ability to grow plants and shrubs with that depth.
  3. Roll out mat – a pre-grown sedum mat set on 4 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium, providing instant coverage.
  4. Tray system – pre-grown sedum established in lightweight engineered growing medium trays.

By exhibiting these four green roof technologies, it is noted that the substantial additional weight of the intensive and semi-intensive systems requires close examination of the structural integrity of a roof, whereas the mat and tray systems allow green roof application on roofs with less significant weight restrictions. In addition to the visual display, monitoring systems were installed to prove the benefits of green roofs. The performance of this green roof is amazing and noteworthy to share in the scheme of green technology.

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Urban Renewal & Resilient Design at SXSW Eco

The amphitheater at Historic Fourth Ward Park, part of the Atlanta BeltLine image: John McNicholas via Flickr

The amphitheater at Historic Fourth Ward Park, part of the Atlanta BeltLine
image: John McNicholas via Flickr

Interview with Nette Compton, ASLA

Nette Compton has served as an officer of the Sustainable Design and Development PPN for the past year, and she will be stepping up to the PPN co-chair position at this year’s ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver. Nette is actively involved in many sustainable and urban design initiatives and events through her work at the Trust for Public Land, and we wanted to highlight her upcoming session at SXSW Eco, which takes place next week, October 6-8, 2014, in Austin. Nette will be on the panel discussing “Urban Renewal and Resilient Design” on October 8. In the interview below, she shares some information about the session and why this topic is of such critical importance.

One of the reasons that we have decided to provide more exposure here in The Field about this event is to encourage other SDD PPN members to participate in outreach efforts on sustainability and resiliency aimed at groups outside of the profession. Landscape architects can raise awareness about how our profession contributes expertise and solutions for urban renewal and resilient design. We welcome contributions like this by SDD members, on talks that they will be or have been involved in on sustainability initiatives. Please share your ideas!
–Lisa Cowan, ASLA, SDD PPN Co-Chair

How did this presentation come about?

In my new role at the Trust for Public Land, part of my position entails speaking about the impact of public space on cities. As Associate Director of City Park Development, I focus on how parks can improve the livability and function of cities for its residents, from providing a place to play to landscape-scale improvements in air and water quality. The presentation’s emphasis on resiliency and creative use of urban space fit right in with my past experience at the New York City Parks Department, where I was the Director of Green Infrastructure and involved in climate and resilience planning both pre- and post-Sandy. We wanted to have practitioners from around the country as part of the discussion as well, to show how these big ideas of resilience planning for cities at the landscape scale can happen anywhere, and take advantage of a range of opportunities.

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Designing for Food Production

An overview of Lafayette Greens in downtown Detroit image: Beth Hagenbuch

An overview of Lafayette Greens in downtown Detroit
image: Beth Hagenbuch

Farmers and landscape architects approach the landscape in fundamentally different ways, though they often share similar goals for the health of the environment and the communities where they work. Since discovering my green thumb as a college student, I’ve worked in both arenas, first as an intern on organic farms in California, later as a landscape designer and contractor specializing in edible gardens and, most recently, as an environmental planner focused on zoning regulations and other big picture concerns for urban agriculture. In the middle I had a seven-acre farm of my own, raising goats, chickens and pigs in a suburban neighborhood in Athens, Georgia.

Through these experiences I’ve found that while organic farmers and environmentally-minded designers both operate from a triple bottom line perspective, they operate under very different assumptions, yielding radically different outcomes in the landscape. The tremendous interest of today’s urban populations in food production has brought the perspectives of farmers and designers to common ground—literally—and if the urban agriculture movement is to be seen as successful twenty years from now, it is important that a greater degree of mutual understanding be reached.

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Rethinking Runoff: Shrubs & Stormwater

Harrison Street Bioswale in Syracuse, NY image: Ethan Dropkin

Harrison Street bioswale in Syracuse, NY
image: Ethan Dropkin

Stormwater retention is a hot-button issue among landscape architects. It’s something that all designers need to consider and can pose challenges on specific sites as well as in larger ecological systems. As landscape architects, we strive to implement creative practices to mitigate stormwater issues.

The planted retention/infiltration practice is one familiar to us all; however, this practice comes with its own unique set of care and maintenance issues. Enter the new guide from Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute (UHI): “Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices: Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions.” This guide by authors Ethan M. Dropkin and Nina Bassuk of Cornell University includes helpful information about issues associated with stormwater, various mitigation practices, and an extensive plant list.

In the past, designers have tended to select wet site-tolerant plants for these installations; however, while bioswale soils may be wet for brief periods, they are more often very dry between rainfall events. The authors tested several plants for their wet and dry tolerance and developed a bulletin describing many woody plants that are well-adapted to these conditions of alternately wet and dry soils.

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The Latest in Urban Agriculture

Riverpark Farm, located in a New York City neighborhood that previously had no grocery stores with fresh food, uses portable planters made from milk crates on a stalled building project site so it can move to its final location when the building is developed.  image: April Philips

Riverpark Farm, located in a New York City neighborhood that previously had very limited access to fresh food, uses portable planters made from milk crates on a stalled building project site so it can move to its final location when the building is developed.
image: courtesy of Riverpark Farm – photo by Ari Nuzzo

Interview with April Philips, FASLA

Spring seems like a good time to visit the subject of landscape architects and urban agriculture, and April Philips, FASLA, has put her time and passion to work in this rapidly emerging field that supports the creation of more sustainable cities and communities. In addition to her practice, April has written a book on the subject titled: Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Management of Edible Landscapes, published by John Wiley & Sons. After reading her interview in The Huffington Post last July—“The Urban Jungle: April Philips Has a Concrete Plan for Tasty City Landscapes”— I thought that SDD members would appreciate some follow up.
–Lisa Cowan, ASLA, SDD PPN Co-Chair

From the research for your book, Designing Urban Agriculture, and your on-going work in designing and facilitating urban agriculture projects, have you learned anything that surprised or challenged you as a landscape architect?

Simply put, food can become a platform from which we address other important elements of community, ecology, and livability, including the physical, social, economic, cultural, and environmental health of the city. Food is the gateway to the stakeholder conversations between city, community, and project developer or funder. It is also surprising how many edible projects and ideas are out there to learn from so there is still tremendous interest in delving deeper into this complex subject.

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The Cost of Green Infrastructure

image: Martha Sheils

image: Martha Sheils

As co-chair of the Sustainable Design and Development PPN, I work with other officers and ASLA staff to develop topics of interest and input from landscape architects and other allied professionals for this blog. Project economics are an important, but immensely challenging, topic in making the case for sustainable design. At the suggestion of Dena Kennett, ASLA, who worked on ASLA’s behalf to develop a green infrastructure workshop for the 2013 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference and worked directly with my colleague, Martha Sheils, a resource economics professional, to address this issue, we are trying something new here—adapting a PowerPoint presentation to this format to provide SDD members with access to information that resonated with conference attendees. 

When our company, Studioverde, was in its formative stages, I had many fruitful discussions with Martha—a friend and colleague from when we worked together in another multidisciplinary firm—about the importance of ecosystem services and the economic case for sustainable design, implementation, and maintenance. Martha has an uncanny ability to identify, distill, and communicate heady research outside of the landscape architecture profession that applies to our work. These early discussions and Martha’s research led us to the Sustainable Sites Initiative back in 2007, and she is currently working on education and outreach to help municipalities and professional organizations understand the benefits of integrated stormwater management models.
–Lisa Cowan, PLA, ASLA

The following article is Part 1 of a two-part series and was adapted from a panel discussion titled The Cost of Green Infrastructure as Convergence of Political Leadership, Architecture and Engineering: Cheaper than We Thought held during the 12th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth: Building Safe, Healthy, Equitable and Prosperous Communities Conference  in February, 2013.

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