Transforming Sustainability at Texas A&M

March 24, 2017
TAMU-Map
Share

When Texas A&M decided to update its 2004 campus master plan with a team of Ayers Saint Gross planners, six integrated focus elements guided the work:

  • Campus Development
  • Mobility and Safety
  • Sustainability and Wellness
  • Campus Guidelines
  • Heritage Conservation
  • Wayfinding and Signage

My role on the team was most closely aligned with Sustainability and Wellness, and our firm’s work in this area is the subject of a session I’ll be co-presenting with Texas A&M’s University Architect, Lilia Gonzales, and Director of Sustainability, Kelly Wellman at the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference on March 27. I’m excited about digging into the integrated approach that Texas A&M has taken in planning its campus.

A selection of Texas A&M’s planning work between 2004 and the 2017 Campus Master Plan includes:

  • Sustainability Master Plan
  • Bicycle District Strategic Plan
  • Energy Action Plan
  • Utility and Energy Master Plan
  • Stormwater Management Program
  • District Plans to Direct Physical Development
  • Biennial Sustainability Progress Reports
  • AASHE STARS Report

Each of these elements informed the vision for a sustainable campus that is integrated throughout the 2017 Campus Master Plan to facilitate transformation across the campus community. Coordinating these efforts under a single master plan will clarify Texas A&M’s visions of a sustainable campus and support the transformative ideas the institution has for its campus.

Among other subjects, the Sustainability and Wellness portion of the 2017 Campus Mater Plan includes initiatives about:

  • Building on the success of the recent upgrades to the campus central heat and power plant to continue reductions in energy demand and GHG emissions
  • Managing stormwater with green infrastructure
  • Improving pedestrian mobility across the university’s large campus footprint
  • Developing greater connectivity for the bicycle network both on and off campus
  • Continuing the transition from interior surface lots to perimeter parking garages
  • Advancing the institution’s stated objective of designing LEED Silver equivalent buildings to a more A&M-specific set of high-performance design requirements
  • Progressing the deployment of universal recycling containers on campus
  • Celebrating Texas A&M’s historic legacy while furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
  • Increasing opportunities for education, outreach, and engagement

Hope to see you at Smart and Sustainable!

Eating the Whale: Equity in Architecture

February 15, 2017
Share

To illustrate the very serious task of fighting for equity, AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design Committee uses the poem “Melinda Mae” by children’s author Shel Silverstein:

Have you heard of Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.

And everyone said, “You’re much too small,”
But that didn’t bother Melinda at all.

She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should…
…And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!

We in the architecture profession have slowly been “eating the whale” for more than 100 years, regarding the task of getting more women and minorities into the profession. There have been some great milestones along the way, including:

  • In 1881, Louise Bethune became the first professional female architect. (Like me, Bethune was from the great city of Buffalo, New York.)
  • In 1923, Paul Revere Williams became the first African American AIA member. He was also the first black architect elected into the College of Fellows and is this year’s AIA Gold Medal winner. He is the first black architect to be honored the AIA’s highest award.
  • Lou Weller said to be the first Native American architect* and was the first Native American awarded the AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award in 2000. Today, Native Americans represent less than 1% of licensed architects.

Despite these achievements, architecture still lacks diversity. As of 2014, 22% of licensed architects are female, 2% are African American, and 3% are Latino. That’s not great for a 136 year timespan. More than 50% of students enrolled in architecture schools are non-white, meaning that in five to 10 years, we should see this diversity reflected in our workplaces. But relying on diversity to happen over time only is not enough.

The Equity in Architecture Commission is the vehicle that creates a greater urgency within the profession (and AEC community at large). The percentages will continue to grow at a snail’s pace until the profession allows all of its members to flourish. We must create equitable and inclusive practices to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to get licensed, remain in the profession, and ultimately thrive. Pushing for equitable practice will create the surge needed to make the diversity of our firms reflect the diversity of the clients and communities we serve. Hopefully, it will take less than another 136 years.

The Equity in Architecture Commission was approved in May 2015, as a result of the Resolution 15-1, approved in May 2015. The commission is a call to action for both women and men to realize the goal of equitable practice in order to retain talent, advance the architecture profession, and communicate the value of design to society. With increasingly greater numbers of women and minorities in architecture schools, it is vital that AIA addresses this opportunity to foster and support a more inclusive workforce across the profession.

The commission serves as the framework for developing a well-conceived and thoughtful action plan and set of recommendations. The initial charge of the 22-person commission, of which I was proud to be a member, was to:

  • Develop specific recommendations that will lead to equitable practices
  • Create measurable goals and develop mechanisms for assessing ongoing process
  • Present a plan of action based on the commission’s recommendations

Dr. Shirley Davis who specializes in organization transformation, diversity and inclusion, implicit bias, and strategic development, facilitated the commission. We started by asking, “When we achieve equity in architecture, what does it look it?”

The question prompted hundreds of responses, which were then categorized into five topic areas:

  1. Education and Career Development
  2. Leadership Excellence (within AIA and the profession)
  3. Firm/Workplace/Studio Culture
  4. Marketing, Branding, Public Awareness, and Outreach
  5. Better Architecture

We then focused on these five areas for the remainder of the year, creating actionable items that could create change in both the short and long terms.

All of the recommendations and initiatives are being compiled into a final report which will act as a road map for equitable practice. For the next three years, the commission has recommended the following eleven initiatives which were approved by the AIA National Board of Directors in December 2015:

  1. Equity, diversity and inclusion as a core value for the board of directors
  2. Measure and report how equity, diversity and inclusion permeates within the AIA
  3. Equity, diversity and inclusion training for AIA volunteers and components
  4. Guides for equitable, diverse and inclusionary practice
  5. Create a firm self-assessment tool
  6. Position paper on equity, diversity and inclusion and the profession
  7. Collect equity, diversity and inclusion data of project teams, firms and clients on work submitted for AIA Awards
  8. Advocate for equity in higher education
  9. Engage and expose kids to architecture through K-12 programs
  10. Tell our stories
  11. Ensure media reflects diverse range of architects

To download the entire Equity in Architecture report, click here.

My experience on the Equity Commission was one of the most fulfilling things I have done professionally. The Equity Commission was charged with taking action and making real change. As a Millennial, this was music to my ears. I’m encouraged that the eleven initiatives will make real, long-lasting change in the profession.

There are so many great resources out there to read (architecture and non-architecture related) and get involved in the conversation. Here are five to you get started:

I’d like to end this post with a challenge for everyone: imagine if Melinda Mae had help eating the whale. She could have accomplished her task faster, and had more fun doing it!

If everyone takes a bite out of the whale, we can achieve equitable practice much more rapidly. This is a conversation must be inclusive of everyone that everyone must join.

For anyone who is more interested in hearing more about the eleven initiatives, please do not hesitate to reach out! You can reach me at LGraff@asg-architects.com. Let’s eat that whale together.

* AIA did not begin collecting data on race and ethnicity until 2000.

Built to Last: Creating Comprehensive Interior Designs

February 13, 2017
Howard-CC-Health-Science-Interior
Share

As a firm with more than a century’s worth of history, Ayers Saint Gross understands that design must stand the test of time. Working mostly with large institutional clients, we create enduring interior designs from a thoughtful pursuit of functional, beautiful, and durable selections. We balance our established knowledge of the tried and true with an eye towards the industry’s innovations and improvements to produce the best possible results. Here’s how we do it.

1. Developing good relationships with vendors who can work at scale. The Interiors team at Ayers Saint Gross has deep knowledge of quality products and is in contact with the industry’s best representatives. We take the vetting of our vendors seriously. It’s not unlike a job interview. Can your product meet or exceed the benchmarks of our and our clients’ standards of design?

In addition to a product’s performance, aesthetics, and contents, we also assess the principles of the manufacturers and expertise of their representatives. They are among the experts we consult to verify industry standards and to advocate for best design measures. This working relationship helps develop our acumen in materials before we propose solutions to our clients.

In the event of complications during or after installation, our vendors will be proactive in assisting our projects with attainable resolutions. We have to have confidence in them, so our clients can have confidence in us.

2. Building and maintaining a materials library. Even with a lot of electronic options for browsing products, Ayers Saint Gross maintains material libraries in our offices. We’re curious here, and we like to research and investigate. We compare, and we shop for quality.

Besides the ease of having samples on hand, our libraries are interactive ‘sketchbooks’ for materials. Collections continuously evolve, and they literally display our enthusiasm to study and innovate. Since many of our clients have facilities departments with their own materials libraries, we appreciate opportunities to collaborate on current preferences and valuable lessons learned that design standards documents might not provide. Information sharing is a two-way street, too; often clients use our product knowledge and libraries as resources in developing their own collections.

Industry experts also know the importance of our libraries and visit regularly to update holdings and canvass needs. In addition to keeping our libraries current, this contact strengthens Ayers Saint Gross’ voice (among other national design firms) to ensure our clients’ goals are represented as manufacturers improve and develop products. (We are excited about plans to make the libraries easier to navigate and access remotely. Stay tuned!)

3. Finding quality materials and using them correctly. Even quality materials can fail if they are misunderstood or installed poorly. The range of materials with which we work and the significance of the materials we select has never been greater. Our clients’ interests in interior design are many, including: demonstrating an investment in their communities, supporting branding and marketing campaigns, and streamlining maintenance practices. As a result, interior design is constantly changing where options, adaptability, and maintainability are among the indicators of quality work.

Our deep experience in higher education, designing residence halls, libraries, and other high-use buildings, has taught us the importance of longevity and durability. Materials are viewed and touched throughout an occupant’s day, placing our selections front and center for continuous evaluation and assessment of a project’s overall quality.

Clients have long memories, and may retain a bias against certain materials, colors, or designs based on past experiences. Often a material alone does not fail; rather, a non-standard application or low quality installation caused problems. The Interiors team at Ayers Saint Gross investigates materials and their applications to weigh the pros and cons. Our design process includes a systems-based approach to assess a material’s compatibility with other material selections, and evaluate its constructability in combination with other materials.

4. Listening to clients. The pop culture idea of an interior designer is usually someone who sweeps into a meeting with a pre-existing vision. This is pretty much the opposite of how Ayers Saint Gross approaches interiors.

Our design process begins with client-specific research and questions followed by very close listening to what our clients say. If we’re creating a common area in a residence hall, should it be energetic and bright? Or do the students need a more subdued space for relaxation and recharging? Once we understand a client’s goals and hopes, we can use our knowledge of a project’s context, architecture, and cost-modeling to evaluate and advise, envision and create, and transform spaces into places.

We host collaborative moments for our clients to contribute and respond to schematic ideas that help inform the next steps. This nurtures a creative partnership that distinguishes a project as client-specific vs. trend-specific only. Eventually, a fully formed design emerges from team vision. Clients notice when they see their comments realized in a completed project and our work to discuss and listen proves to be a wise investment in (and by) Ayers Saint Gross. This shared effort sparks enthusiasm in the success and endurance of our service and projects.

The Season of Giving

December 21, 2016
holidaycard_heroimage_1
Share

As 2016 draws to a close, we reflect on the Ayers Saint Gross mission statement: “We engage people and places to create designs that enrich the world.”

As a firm, we strive to make the world a better place through our designs and through service in our community. Real change takes real effort, a willingness to get involved and the strength of a team that shares those goals.

One of Ayers Saint Gross’ longest philanthropic relationships, now in its 18th year, is our commitment to Beechfield Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore. In addition to drives for school supplies, canned goods, and books, our firm participates in a six-week introduction to design seminar with Beechfield students. At the last session, the students come to our office to do design exercises and to receive certificates of completion and “honorary designer” business cards. In 2017, we aim to strengthen this relationship even more, by helping students map out the path from high school to college to real design careers.

Ayers Saint Gross is also a strong supporter of the United Way. In addition to our financial contributions, we sponsored a Day of Action, during which several staffers volunteered at My Sister’s Place serving women and children in need. One of our most beloved firm traditions is the annual Chili Cook-Off – a crossroads of giving back and strengthening our team culture. We are active in the greater Phoenix community, helping to build a playground for Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, making donations to the Tempe Mission, and more. We participate in (PARK)ing Day, celebrating green spaces in the urban environment.

Most recently, we won a Mayor’s Business Recognition Award for planning work in East Baltimore. In partnership with the Southern Baptist Church and other stakeholders, we began with two kick-off workshops in April and continued with a design charrette in September. Ayers Saint Gross designers facilitated these meetings, engaging with community members and teaching the value of thoughtful planning, successful placemaking, and sustainable neighborhood development. A final community meeting will occur in January 2017.

We hope that the successful conclusion of that project is the first of many opportunities we’ll have in 2017 to engage, create, and enrich. The new year will be full of innovative thinking and problem-solving, as well as investment in people and places. We look forward to the many good things that are to come, at our firm and in the communities we serve.

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

December 16, 2016
Luanne_EDIT
Share

It’s been an eventful year for Ayers Saint Gross. As we turn the calendar page, here’s a look at our most popular blog posts of 2016. We’re proud of what we accomplished with our clients, and are excited about what’s to come in 2017.

1. Luanne Greene is Ayers Saint Gross’ New President. Having distinguished herself as head of our Planning studio and as an acknowledged industry leader, Luanne rose to become the President of Ayers Saint Gross. She is the first woman to lead the firm in its 100-year history.

2. Anne Hicks Harney Elevated to AIA College of Fellows. Our Sustainability Director is now one of four FAIAs at Ayers Saint Gross, alongside Glenn Birx, Luanne Greene, and Adam Gross. Anne was also named a LEED Fellow this year.

3. Placemaking for People: How Stormwater Management Can Be a Design Asset. The unglamorous necessity of stormwater management can be a starting point for truly great design in landscape architecture.

4. Place Matters: Cortex Innovation Community Wins SCUP Award. Recognition from the Society of College and University Planning was a huge honor. Innovation Districts like Cortex provide a new paradigm for research, business, and job creation.

5. National Aquarium Waterfront Campus Plan Wins AIA Maryland Award. The National Aquarium is a world-renowned conservation organization, and we are excited to be a part of the revitalization of its campus.

6. 2016 Comparing Campuses Innovation Districts. We did a deep dive on Innovation Districts in our 18th annual Comparing Campuses poster. (We also have an online archive of all the Comparing Campuses posters.)

7. A Brief History of the Ayers Saint Gross ACUHO-I Housing Book. We’ve been creating these tiny but informative books since 2005 for the annual ACUHO-I conference. We’ll see you in Providence in June with the 2017 edition.

8. Telling a Story with Data. Lisa Keith, head of our Space Analytics studio, wowed the KA Connect Conference with her data visualization expertise.

9. Ayers Saint Gross Reaches $1B in LEED Construction. With the LEED Silver certification of Georgetown University’s Ryan and Isaac Halls, our firm crossed the billion-dollar mark in LEED certified construction. To celebrate, we created an infographic that illustrates exactly what $1,000,000,000 in LEED construction looks like.

10. Going Green, Staying Green: How to Create and Enduring, Sustainable Landscape. Align your sustainability goals with available resources, and consider the life cycle costs of your choices.

National Library for the Study of George Washington Wins AIA Design Awards

December 6, 2016
Share

Ayers Saint Gross is pleased to announce that the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon recently received two awards: an Excellence in Design honor from AIA Baltimore and a Merit Award for Institutional Architecture from AIA Maryland.

The 45,000 square-foot library, located on 15 acres within walking distance of George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, serves as a national archive for his books and letters and as a center for education and scholarly retreat. The AIA Baltimore jury praised the design as “both traditional and crisp, pared down, and abstracted. It is grand, but also shows humility, appropriately reflecting George Washington.”

Additionally, the AIA Maryland jury called it “a well-conceived project that honors the Washington legacy with a timeless, well-scaled building.”

The design complements the Mount Vernon estate by incorporating qualities that are familiar and appropriate, but without literal form or material reference. It creates a timeless place that is elegant, ordered, and principled. These qualities allow the Library and grounds to be, in subtle ways, both reflective of Washington’s character and connected to the place.

Visitors approach the Library via a gently winding drive through the woodland site. The drive leads to an arrival court inspired by the geometry of the mansion’s gardens and defined by low stone walls. Native deciduous and evergreen plantings supplement the existing forest and drifts of George Washington’s favorite trees, including dogwoods and redbuds, adding spring and fall interest. Visual and physical connections to the land were key design priorities. Preserving open spaces and trees, and generally creating a sustainable site, reflects Washington’s legacy as a landowner and a farmer. The project achieved LEED Gold certification.

The U-shaped building fulfills the dual goals of scholarly study and educational outreach. A sunny, south-facing courtyard is defined on the east by an education wing that provides spaces for seminars, lectures, and training programs on George Washington’s life, times, and leadership. The west wing provides two floors of office space for visiting scholars and staff.

At its core, and the heart of the design, is the light-filled, two-story reading room with paneled walls of American Sycamore, a tree that grows at Mount Vernon.

The Washington family’s collection of books and papers are kept safe in the rare books and manuscripts room, a sequence of three increasingly secure spaces that culminate in an oval vault.

The project’s materials express permanence and dignity. The central portion of the building is clad in sandstone and limestone, and the wings are finished in stucco. Zinc-clad eaves, soffits, and porches accent slate roofs. Windows and doors are made of mahogany and the terraces and porches are paved with sandstone.

From a 1797 letter to his friend James McHenry, we know that George Washington hoped to build a library on his estate for his papers, but that dream was never realized until now. Ayers Saint Gross is proud that we were able to play a role in preserving the legacy of America’s first president, and are honored that AIA Baltimore and AIA Maryland both recognized our efforts.

Small Wonder: Baltimore Visitor Center Wins ENR Mid-Atlantic Award

November 29, 2016
Share

We’re pleased to announce that the Baltimore Visitor Center won Best Small Project from ENR Mid-Atlantic. The renovation updated the 12-year-old building to incorporate modern technology to serve its 400,000 annual visitors during daytime hours. The design also includes a more flexible layout that allows the BVC to be transformed into a revenue-generating event space at night.

Typically, a visitor center is designed more for tourists than for city residents. But with the possibility of using this beautiful waterfront location as an event space for special occasions, it becomes a space of gathering and celebration for Baltimoreans as well.

To achieve that kind of flexibility, we developed a concept of completely mobile displays. The custom millwork gives daytime visitors easy access to information they need, and then the displays can be moved and stored for evening events.

The installation of “Seagrass” by local artists McCormack and Figg required a long lead time, but the results speak for themselves. It’s a wonderful piece with a shape that echoes the aquatic grasses of the Chesapeake Bay, and it can be lit in many different ways, from customized animation sequences to holiday colors to (of course) orange and purple for the Orioles and Ravens.

Along with our partners at Wohlsen Construction, we completed the project on a tight deadline in conjunction with the inaugural Light City festival, which opened on March 31, 2016. The debut was a success, as you can see in this video. We’re glad that the Baltimore Visitor Center had such a great beginning to what is sure to be a long tenure as a centerpiece for the city.

National Aquarium Waterfront Campus Plan Wins AIA Maryland Award

October 27, 2016
Share

Ayers Saint Gross is pleased to announce that the Waterfront Campus Plan for the National Aquarium in Baltimore recently won a 2016 AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Honor Award for Urban Design and Master Planning. The jury lauded the design for “creating dynamic, welcoming, educational public space while restoring ecosystems and providing a living lab as a model toward resiliency in the built and natural environment.”

Our team proposed a design for the 2.5 acre space between Piers 3 and 4 in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that challenges existing urban waterfront models. It merges aquatic and terrestrial communities by softening existing engineered bulkhead barriers, including amphitheaters, vegetation shelves, and an oyster reef that serves as a natural water filtration system.

“Located on the historic piers of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium is ideally situated for demonstrating how its conservation mission can be applied at its own doorstep,” Jonathan Ceci, PLA, Director of Landscape Architecture, said.

Our Waterfront Campus plan also highlights the water’s movement with a network of floating wetlands that return native plants to the Inner Harbor. The design team gave careful analysis to ephemeral conditions like tides and how those conditions affect the user experience. The result is a series of installations that engage visitors and connect them with authentic Chesapeake Bay watershed habitat. The design advances the economic success of the Inner Harbor and of the entire city of Baltimore with renewed civic infrastructure.

The National Aquarium is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. It welcomes an average of 1.3 million visitors annually. The Waterfront Campus Plan is expected to be fully implemented by 2019.

“Ayers Saint Gross’ work on behalf of the National Aquarium and our waterfront campus is deserving of this award,” said Jacqueline Bershad, National Aquarium Vice President of Planning and Design. “Our vision – one we are diligently working to bring to life with Ayers Saint Gross – is that the Waterfront Campus will be an accessible green space for people of all ages to engage with and enjoy.”

For more on Ayers Saint Gross’ award-winning designs, visit our Awards page.

Vertex Student Apartments Wins AIA Arizona and ENR Southwest Awards

October 19, 2016
Share

Vertex Student Apartments, a mixed-use student housing development in Tempe, AZ adjacent to Arizona State University, recently won two awards, the 2016 AIA Arizona Distinguished Building Merit Award and Best Residential/Hospitality Project from ENR Southwest.

The goal for this project was to develop a vibrant community built within a tight budget that still provides iconic identity and exceptional efficiency. Our team was able to complete a really complex and tightly scheduled project on schedule, and the result gives the student residents both independence and community.

aia-arizona-vertex-award

Vertex’s triangular parcel, bordered by a light rail on one side, inspired its striking design with a prominent prow that became central to the project’s identity and branding. The development features 16 different unit plans and generous shared amenities for residents, as well as 6,000 GSF of ground floor civic, retail, and restaurant space. The inclusion of the latter increases visibility and connection to the street and neighborhood.

Sun-shading also influenced the design, including a light-colored shell and roof to reflect the sun and large graphic brise-soleil. A statement band of native desert plants fronts the dark shaded understory, creating an inviting and cool zone in the desert. We created view corridors that allow access-controlled pedestrian ways into the courtyard from the two street frontages. The new design is a welcome change from the fortress-like building on the site before Vertex’s construction.

Vertex was a continuous collaboration among the design team, construction manager, and developer. The project delivers a high-impact design through a minimalist design strategy, thus reducing its environmental impact. We decided to use wood on top of a concrete podium to give the project flexibility, increased construction speed, and greater sustainability. The wood structure was prefabricated off site and brought in by truck and erected via crane, thus minimizing the area needed for a saw yard on site.

Vertex provides 323,000 GSF mixed-use space and 600 beds. The project’s sensitivity to scale and experience emphasizes the owner’s commitment to develop the premier student housing community in the marketplace that incorporates and integrates unique building design, extraordinary amenities, and exceptional unit plans. The project was developed by Peak Campus and Titan Investments and constructed by hardison/downey construction, inc.

For more on Ayers Saint Gross’ award-winning designs, visit our Awards page.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Ayers Saint Gross Reaches $1B in LEED Construction

October 19, 2016
Share

Last month, Ayers Saint Gross reached an important and exciting milestone in our sustainable journey. With the LEED Silver certification of Georgetown University’s Ryan and Isaac Halls, our firm crossed the billion-dollar mark, having produced $1 billion in LEED certified construction.

To celebrate, we’ve created an infographic that illustrates exactly what $1,000,000,000 in LEED construction looks like. Congratulations to everyoneclients, designers, partners, and of course the USGBCwho made this tremendous achievement possible. I’m particularly grateful to Emory University, the University of Maryland system, and the University of Virginia, which collectively make up 14 of our 34 LEED projects. It’s wonderful to see clients build with sustainability in mind, and then come back for more when they see its many benefits. Great clients make for great buildings.

Here’s to the next billion. We’re already on our way with the pending certification of the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management at Morgan State University.
leed_infographic_v6

The Endless Park: PARK(ing) Day 2016

September 21, 2016
Share

PARK(ing) Day got its start in 2005, and has since become a global celebration of public space in urban contexts. As a firm, Ayers Saint Gross celebrates sustainability and the importance of green spaces as a necessary part of good urban design. This year the DC office was thrilled to tackle a parking space in NoMa and turn it into an “endless park.”

The goal was to get passersby from the NoMa community to disrupt their daily routines and immerse themselves in an unexpected retreat while learning about urban sustainability practices.

We created our pop-up park out of salvaged wooden pallets from a local construction site, fresh layers of sod, and (most importantly) a series of mirrors. Mirrors have long been a go-to move for making interior spaces seem larger; we figured they could do the same thing for an outdoor space. Thus our mirrors faced each other, creating the illusion of an infinite, endless park.

img_7795

We also had a series of posters informing park-goers about urban sustainability. All together it made for a relaxing and informative spot.

Of course, the best urban design is not delivered from on high; it is a collaboration between the designers and the community. With that in mind, we wanted to include an interactive element in our park. We asked pedestrians to contribute by writing thoughts, activities, and feelings about parks and sustainability on tags. The tags became petals on flower-like stakes that were laid out on the park’s grass, creating a “endless” field of wildflowers in the mirrored reflection. As we grew our field of flowers throughout the day, it became a beautiful metaphor for the endless benefits of sustainability.

parking-day-flower

Photo courtesy of Laetitia Brock

To support sustainability once more at the conclusion of the day, our team returned the wood pallets to the construction site and planted the sod nearby in NoMa.

The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat. While our “endless park” lasted only a day, creativity and a thoughtful approach to urban space are ever-present parts of our firm’s philosophy.

img_7811

Going Green, Staying Green: How to Create an Enduring Sustainable Landscape

August 23, 2016
Pratt-Street-Hero-Image-v2
Share

Sustainable landscapes address a number of environmental concerns: habitat loss, natural resource depletion, air pollution, and waste generation. For those reasons and more, sustainability is an increasingly central part of campus planning.

However, as the methods used to create an ecologically sound site grow, so can the number of maintenance needs and costs.

Creating – and perhaps even more crucially, maintaining – sustainable landscapes is a multi-phase process. Here are a few points of advice that can guide discussions about how to create a sustainable design that will continue to function as originally envisioned.

  • Align your sustainability goals with available resources. Understanding your desired project goals and maintenance routine is paramount to a project’s success. Ask yourself a few questions in the early design process: What are your project’s sustainability goals? What are your long-term maintenance capabilities? What changes could be made to align your practices with your goals? Once both client and landscape architect understand the parameters, you can work together to produce a design that meets the needs of your institution.
  • Consider the life cycle costs of your choices. Evaluate the necessary steps that ensure you can meet your sustainability goals. For example, if you wish to diminish a site’s long-term energy and potable water use, your standard planting palette, hardscape materials, and irrigation technique may need adjustment. Depending on the project’s goals, the design may have unique maintenance needs, such as permeable pavers or a rainwater collection system. If you are unfamiliar with these elements, ask how to maintain them to ensure the design will receive proper care. There’s good news, though: Not every sustainable strategy has a high maintenance cost. In fact, many diminish total costs because more expensive materials provide benefits that offset their initial price. For example, a cistern will reduce your irrigation bill, and selecting native or low-irrigation plants reduces irrigation and labor maintenance costs.
  • Concentrate high-maintenance areas for maximum effect. An elaborate design with ambitious net-zero goals may be beyond your scope. Instead, consider small interventions that make a large impact. Prioritize your goals, and centralize the high-maintenance areas in high-visibility areas to make the biggest impression.
  • Monitor performance. Whether the goal is to achieve a net-zero energy site, reduce stormwater runoff, or provide wildlife habitat, monitoring how the site performs is necessary to ensure the goal is met. Track the site closely, adapting maintenance activities as needed. Recording the effectiveness of various methods will provide a guide for future management actions. With proper care, the benefits of the landscape can continue to function at optimum potential.