National Aquarium Floating Wetland Prototype Wins ASLA Honor Award for Research

September 5, 2018
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An innovative, high-performing floating wetland prototype, created by Ayers Saint Gross for the National Aquarium, won a 2018 American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Honor Award for Research.

“I’m so pleased to see our wetland prototype honored by ASLA,” Ayers Saint Gross associate principal Amelle Schultz said. “Reimagining existing technologies with a team of engineers and curators to create a more resilient and functional floating wetland with the ability to improve the biodiversity and water quality of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was a very rewarding challenge.”

The National Aquarium sits on an urban waterfront. The organization is well positioned to be an agent of change for urban water quality, given its national leadership position in conservation science and restoration. With the ultimate goal of transforming its campus into a living laboratory, the Aquarium teamed with designers, engineers, and researchers to investigate new technologies to produce a better floating wetland.

“The innovative fusion of technology and design in this wetland development, and the collaboration with organizations like Ayers Saint Gross, creates a model for acting on our mission to protect and conserve aquatic treasures,” said Jacqueline Bershad, VP of Planning and Design at the National Aquarium. “We are proud of the success of this prototype and look forward to making continual progress in transforming not only our own waterfront campus, but the health of the harbor and its inhabitants that form our urban ecosystem.”

Over the past decade, the concept of floating wetlands has gained traction in urban areas where native habitats have severely deteriorated as a low-cost opportunity to introduce native species back into aquatic habitats. However, the simple design and short lifespan of typical floating wetlands don’t offer a truly sustainable solution for urban waterfronts.

In collaboration with the Aquarium, our multidisciplinary team of in-house landscape architects, supplemented with scientists and engineers from Biohabitats, McLaren Engineering Group, and Kovacs, Whitney & Associates, designed a new kind of floating wetland. It improves upon the technologies of conventional floating wetlands while remedying their shortcomings in terms of habitat-creation capabilities and the lifespan of the final installation. These new technologies and variables have been prototyped and are currently being tested in the harbor on the Aquarium’s campus.

“We are encouraged by the progress and success this new floating wetland model shows in this prototype stage. We have seen schools of fish, like Atlantic silversides and killifish, and have also had two successful nesting mallard ducks. It is reassuring to see the local wildlife utilize this natural habitat while in an urban city,” said Charmaine Dahlenburg, Chesapeake Bay Program Manager at the National Aquarium. “We continue to work collaboratively to adjust and perfect this model and see a future where more floating wetlands can transform the waterfront and make a true difference in our harbor.”

The floating wetland prototype is one of several collaborations between the National Aquarium and Ayers Saint Gross. The Waterfront Campus Plan is a revitalization project that sets a precedent for waterfront development planning in urban sites. The firm’s landscape architecture studio also worked with our graphic design studio to create a bird-strike prevention graphic applied to the existing architecture in identified trouble areas.

“The National Aquarium’s mission of inspiring conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures is an important one, and the wetlands prototype is an exciting example of how landscape architecture can contribute to that mission,” Schultz said. “We are eager to continue our research, and implement more of the Waterfront Campus Plan in an effort to make the site a true living laboratory.”

Ayers Saint Gross at ASLA 2018

September 5, 2018
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If you’re in Philadelphia next month, please make time to catch one of the terrific sessions that Ayers Saint Gross will be leading at the 2018 ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo. Here are the details:

Academia in Arcadia: Design, Sustainable Stewardship, and Pedagogy on Swarthmore’s Campus

As Swarthmore’s Scott Arboretum prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary as an arboretum and home to one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges, this field session explores the intersection of campus planning, sustainable stewardship, design, pedagogy, and community outreach in the art and science of a public garden. Learning objectives include:

  • Gaining insight into how a large scale and diverse landscape is planned for the 21st century mission of the college with a focus on horticulture, education, sustainability, and public outreach.
  • Learning how specific landscape values and planning strategies have been translated into an environmental framework for stormwater management.
  • Seeing how experimental horticultural and soil strategies are being employed to diversify the landscape while reducing long-term maintenance demands.
  • Discussing how these strategies inform the collaboration among the design professions, particularly landscape architects, engineers, horticulturists, and educators.

Presenters
Richard A. Newton, Partner, Olin
Amelle Schultz, Associate Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Steve Benz, Founder/Consultant, SITEGreen Solutions
Dennis McGlade, Partner, Olin
Claire Sawyers, Director, The Scott Arboretum
Jeff Jabco, Director of Grounds, Swarthmore College
Rodney Robinson, Founder, Robinson Anderson Summers
Kristen Loughry, Senior Landscape Architect, Olin

Details
Friday October 19, 2018
7:45 AM – 4:35 PM
Meeting Location: N. 13th Street and Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Note: Preregistration required.

Credits
3.25 PDH, LA CES/HSW, FL, NY/HSW

Where Land Meets Water: Rethinking the Shoreline in Urban Waterfronts

In many cities, the threshold between land and sea is abrupt and impenetrable. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is no exception. A new paradigm is emerging, motivated by aquatic conservation and social justice. This session looks at design interventions that are transforming human and ecological interactions across the divide. Learning objectives include:

  • Identifying key design drivers and factors that contribute to ecological health in sensitive shoreline environments.
  • Sharing strategies designers can use to collaborate with scientists and other non-designers to frame experiments and develop prototypes that test ideas and collect data.
  • Prototyping tests ideas for fine-tuning before scaling up and learning how the design process can be structured to allow adaptation of design concepts in response to discovery.
  • Learning how ecological visioning plays a constructive role in unlocking the transformative potential of existing sites.

Details
Friday October 19, 2018
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Location 120
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Presenters
Jonathan Ceci, former Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Jacqueline Bershad, Vice President of Planning and Design, National Aquarium
Christopher Streb, Bioworks Practice Leader, Biohabitats

Credits
1.5 PDH, LA CES/HSW, AIA/HSW, AICP, FL, NY/HSW

A New Model for Floating Wetlands

May 10, 2018
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The National Aquarium has an ambitious mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures.

With its prime location in downtown Baltimore on historic shipping piers, the Aquarium wants to localize this mission by restoring aquatic environments in its own backyard, the Chesapeake Bay. To that end, the Aquarium is planning to redevelop an inlet at the heart of its campus with a large-scale floating salt marsh.

These recreated wetlands will serve multiple purposes. They will support greater biodiversity in the Inner Harbor and provide infrastructure for supplemental oxygenation of the water. They will also be an immersive experience for learning about the Chesapeake Bay watershed and its component ecosystems.

Several major technical challenges stand in the way of realizing this vision. First, conventional floating wetlands are costly, and yet they typically last a mere five years. It would be prohibitively expensive for the Aquarium to replace such a large floating wetland structure (planned to be 16,000+ SF) twice per decade.

Secondly, conventional floating wetland systems are topographically flat and not readily calibrated to create a range of microhabitats. They are incapable of supporting the ecological diversity that the Aquarium desires for this unique environment.

Lastly, conventional floating wetlands are not stable enough to support maintenance personnel. For the Aquarium to be able to manage such a landscape, the structure needs to be designed with a high degree of stability.

To realize the client’s vision, our designers (and our partners at Biohabitats, McLaren Engineers, and Kovacs Whitney) had to create a durable and more topographically varied floating wetland.

***

A brief history of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor: in pre-Columbian times, there was tremendous biodiversity in this zone of the Chesapeake Bay. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the area became a major shipping port. Hard infrastructure development mirrored rising urban populations into the early 20th century, replacing natural shorelines. Humans reshaped the harbor to suit the needs of industry and shipping, which resulted in lost habitats and waning species diversity.

The heavy industry eventually faded, and in the 1980s the Inner Harbor was one of the first post-industrial waterfronts transformed into a cultural amenity. Unfortunately, while the land surrounding the Inner Harbor’s water was revitalized, the water itself was largely neglected.

Another significant development that affects the health of the Chesapeake Bay is sprawling urbanization throughout much of its watershed. Hard surfaces cover soil and prevent infiltration of rain water into the ground, so when rain falls on buildings and pavement, it carries lawn fertilizers, pet waste, and road salts into storm drains. Leaks in an aging network of sewer and stormwater pipes, running underneath the city, also added excess nitrogen and phosphorous to Inner Harbor waters. This polluted urban stormwater runoff joins suburban and rural runoff and ultimately flows downstream into waterways like the Inner Harbor. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous, transported in polluted stormwater runoff, is utilized by naturally occurring phytoplankton species and fuels an endless cycle of algae population explosions and crashes throughout the Inner Harbor. When the excess fertilizers that enabled the algal blooms to occur are consumed, a massive die-off of phytoplankton follows. The dead algae sinks to the bottom and provides food that fuels a major bacterial bloom. The rapidly growing bacteria population uses up all the available dissolved oxygen in the water and effectively smothers fish, crabs, and other aquatic life.

Reversing years of environmental degradation and creating a renewed and thriving ecosystem requires a large-scale intervention capable of delivering a wide array of ecological services. Floating wetlands were a natural choice for the Aquarium’s project. 

However, as noted above, conventional floating wetlands have some significant drawbacks. They are typically made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) injected with marine foam for buoyancy. Plants are placed in drilled holes to allow their roots to reach directly into the water. The PET layers are typically flat with upper layers extending out of the water – a form that does not mimic the varied topography and microhabitats of most wetlands or tidal shorelines. Thus only a limited number of aquatic species can thrive in them (falling well short of the Aquarium’s ambitions for this project).

Additionally, with time, biomass accumulates from plants and bivalves that colonize the PET mesh, causing the entire wetland to sink under its own weight. 

Therefore, while current models of floating wetlands can serve decorative and educational purposes, they are ultimately more akin to a flower show exhibit than to a real-life habitat that is both durable and functional enough to achieve the Aquarium’s objectives. We had to develop a new floating wetland model and adapt an array of technologies from other disciplines to realize our goals.

***

In collaboration with the Aquarium and our multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers, we designed a new kind of floating wetland. It improves upon the technologies of conventional floating wetlands while remedying their shortcomings in terms of habitat-creation capabilities and the lifespan of the final installation. These new technologies and variables have been prototyped and are currently being tested within the harbor on the Aquarium’s campus.

First, we addressed the issue of topography.

In lieu of a flat floating sheet of PET, our team created a layered topo-model with varied planting surfaces at different elevations, some submerged, relative to the water surface. In the middle of the prototype, a deeper channel provides habitats analogous to shallow salt marsh tidal channels. On the edges, the layers stack up to simulate the low and high marsh environments of the Chesapeake Bay. The prototype also features airlifts and air diffusers, which help to oxygenate and continuously circulate the water and prevent water stagnation in the channel and around the outer edges of the form. All together, these interventions create a variety of microhabitats, which will be utilized by a greater diversity of species and life stages of those species.

Secondly, we addressed the issue of buoyancy. Conventional floating wetlands have what is called static buoyancy from integrated marine foam, which means they can generally restore equilibrium in response to pressure (ie, they don’t capsize or sink easily). Our design adds a rigid support structure underneath the PET layers with capabilities for adjustable buoyancy. This “skeleton” is made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes and pontoon structures that provide the wetland with ballast.

Adjustable buoyancy is essential to longevity. As the plants grow and become heavier, the PET bed can be raised or lowered by pumping water into or out of the pontoons as needed. This design feature also allows for easier maintenance and unique research opportunities. The pontoon structure acts similarly to a ship’s ballast system, whereby trim and list are controlled through adding and removing water. That way, the elevations of individual areas of wetland can be controlled, rather than solely raising and lowering the entire structure uniformly.

The reserve buoyancy system within the PET layer is one of the most difficult and sensitive portions of the design. As buoyancy is directly related to the weight of water displaced, PET mesh itself has very little buoyancy in reserve to counteract the added weight of maintenance workers and waves. To address this issue, we filled hollow cavities in the PET layers above the waterline with marine foam, which is engineered to provide added buoyancy and stability to allow people to stand on the edge of the wetland without it swamping. The foam cavities are carefully spaced in linear strips to avoid interference with plantings.

Additionally, we added a cementitious bonding coating to the PET to increase longevity with regard to ultraviolet degradation.

The 200-SF prototype was shop-fabricated, transported in pieces, and then assembled in a shipyard on the Middle Branch River before being towed to its current position in the Inner Harbor in August 2017. Aquarium staff then planted it with over more than 1400 plugs of native plants. (The staffers were pleased to report that the wetland was stable and firm underfoot—a pleasure to work on compared with the small conventional floating wetlands that have been used on a small scale around the Inner Harbor.) Every square inch of this ecological powerhouse provides opportunities for a diverse range of organisms to grow, colonize, molt, spawn, or eat.

***

Nine months into the experiment, preliminary results are promising.

Almost immediately after implementation, Aquarium scientists observed a rapid colonization of the submerged woven PET material by biofilms, a type of beneficial bacteria that creates a sticky, living coating of the vast PET surfaces. Biofilms feed on excess nitrogen and other nutrients in the water and are the first step towards reaching broader biodiversity and recreating a more natural and multi-layered food web.

By the third day, schools of killifish moved into the prototype’s central channel, and a blue crab was observed molting in the protected shallow water of the new habitat. More fish, anemones, and crustacean species soon followed, along with the arrival of larger species like wading birds and muskrat. The recreated wetland has brought several native species back to the Inner Harbor and into full view of people passing by.

Going forward, the performance of the prototype will continue to be measured. Its impact on water quality will be monitored using data collection equipment installed nearby in the same inlet. This information will help us to calibrate and refine the design of the floating wetland system, so that it has maximum impact when it is fabricated at full scale.

We’re excited to see what’s next for the Aquarium, the Harbor, and the Bay, and what role our newly designed wetlands can play in improving these vital and beautiful places.

 

Jonathan Ceci, Shelly Drees, and Amelle Schultz contributed to the writing of the article.

SITES 101: Creating Sustainable Landscapes

December 20, 2017
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Most people connected to the AEC industry are by now well familiar with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, more commonly known as LEED, the world’s most widely used green building rating system.

Less familiar to many is the Sustainable Sites Initiative, aka SITES. SITES is, broadly, LEED for landscape. The rating is a way of helping designers set and reach sustainability goals with clients. The system was developed through an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects Fund, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. After a rigorous testing period, the program was transferred to Green Business Certification, Inc (GBCI) in 2015. It’s a relatively new force in sustainability for the built environment, and in my opinion, it’s a powerful one. I am excited about how SITES can help create a holistic approach to sustainability in the built environment.

Every SITES prerequisite or credit is based on the idea of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits we receive from natural systems, comprised of both the living and the nonliving components of the landscape. SITES sorts these benefits into four categories: provisioning, supporting, regulating, and cultural. Below are more details on these categories and some suggestions for how designers and clients can thoughtfully approach the SITES certification process.

  • Provisioning. Any useful product produced by the landscape would be the result of a provisioning system. These products include food, lumber, energy supplies, medicines, and similar items. These credits can be earned through a variety of approaches such as incorporating edible gardens, or using local quarries for stone elements on a site.
  • Supporting. Supporting systems keep ecosystems healthy. They include soil formation, photosynthesis, habitat creation, and biodiversity. Credits for supporting can be reached through both design intervention and preservation. Much of the program focuses on preserving healthy soils and ecosystems that would take years of in-situ cultivation to recreate. Improving degraded sites through soil remediation and using native planting to improve habitat value are another way to earn credits.
  • Regulating. Regulating systems produce benefits by maintain larger systems through carbon sequestration, local and global climate regulation, and water and air cleansing. A common regulating technique is the use of bioretention and filtration to clean water and recharge the water table. Biofiltration facilities allow stormwater management infrastructure to function in a healthy way rather than adding to city storm water systems. These systems can often add a cultural value as well by improving the aesthetic of a place.
  • Cultural. This category includes a wide range of tactical choices, like outdoor exercise and gathering spaces, highlighting local icons, and healthy benefits. It’s everything from the creation of a healing garden near a hospital to the inclusion of native plants in a landscape design.

Personally, the thing that excites me most about the SITES system (and about being the first SITES AP at Ayers Saint Gross) is the ability to help a landscape project improve a place’s ecological functioning. Living landscapes are unique for their ability to recharge systems and can make a place function better than before intervention. Too often we see a LEED certified building that is a sustainable island in a landscape that doesn’t support the same high-performance objectives. SITES is a terrific tool to help align the development and management of land with innovative sustainable design.

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

December 16, 2016
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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 Aquarium Waterfront Campus Plan Wins AIA Maryland Award

October 27, 2016
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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.

The Endless Park: PARK(ing) Day 2016

September 21, 2016
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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.

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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.

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

August 23, 2016
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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.

Placemaking for People: How Stormwater Management Can Be a Design Asset

May 24, 2016
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Our role as landscape architects is to bridge the gap between aesthetically pleasing site design and the functionality of the landscape.

This responsibility is especially important when it comes to stormwater. Most states and municipalities have enacted more stringent laws to ensure post-development runoff conditions are equal to or better than pre-development conditions. As landscape architects, our job is to embrace these regulatory changes, and go beyond the regulatory standards to make stormwater an amenity to the site design.

Successful projects are a result of the entire project team working closely together while meeting the owner’s needs. Incredible ecological and educational benefits can result from an integrated project team with the same goals in mind. The following are tips for making stormwater management an asset to your site.

1. Involve landscape architects at the very beginning of a project. Buildings exist on a site, and the physical and regulatory realities of that site must be taken into account. It’s short-sighted to consider landscape architecture as an afterthought. The best projects are multilayered efforts that intimately tie the surrounding area to the building itself. For example, the courtyard at the University of Delaware’s ISE Lab is a direct amenity to the interior laboratories:

UDel Storm Drainage blog 2

 

Multiple layers of green infrastructure accentuate the movement of water as it hits the roof and flows through the site:

UDel rendering

That’s not something you can do in the late stages of construction. Think holistically about your project and you’ll get the best results.

2. Remember that appearances matter. A huge centralized pond and a flat green lawn may meet storm drainage requirements, but it’s a solution with little to no curb appeal or environmental benefits. Ayers Saint Gross took a more creative approach at a recent project at Howard Community College. In lieu of one large pond, we split up the roof areas so they were directed to several micro-bioretention areas scattered around the site, populated with a diverse selection of native plants.

HCC Landscape

The native plants have deeper roots that drink up more water, and they lend seasonal interest to the site. As a result, the micro-bioretention areas are useful, ecologically sound, and aesthetically interesting. Drainage went from a dilemma to a design element that enhances campus life. Stone slab benches invite students to engage directly with environment.

3. Use landscape architecture to enhance why your project exists. The ISE Lab design aesthetic was an intentional departure from the traditional Georgian architecture of the rest of University of Delaware’s campus. It’s a modern structure for cutting-edge science education, and we designed the surrounding courtyard to match. It’s an educational, immersive courtyard that brings the indoor classrooms outdoors.

Runnels pull stormwater away from the hardscape to the micro-bioretention areas.

UDel Storm Drainage blog 3

The runnels’ layout also compliments the benches that illuminate the courtyard without the visual disruption of freestanding light poles.

UDel lights

Getting the technical aspects of a project right can be tough. But when it’s done well, it can unify form and function, which is at the heart of what good design is.

UDel’s ISE Lab is racking up awards and getting published!

August 1, 2015
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Ayers Saint Gross is pleased to announce the University of Delaware Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (ISE) Laboratory Courtyard was published in World Landscape Architecture Magazine! It is one of 24 projects recognized among some very high caliber landscape architecture projects and leaders in the design field.

Download the magazine (scroll to page 81)

This publication comes on the heels of the ISE Lab project racking in many design awards, including a PA/DE ASLA Award of Excellence, a Maryland ASLA Honor Award, an AIA TAP Innovation Award, and an AIA Baltimore Design Excellence Award.

Teaching, learning and research come together in this nearly 200,000 square-foot building at the University of Delaware. In newly structured science classes, students apply principles of biology, chemistry, and physics to solve problems in such areas as renewable energy and stewardship of the natural environment. Classrooms, laboratories and other facilities within the L-shaped structure support this learning while accommodating teams of researchers from energy and environmental institutes.

The ISE Lab Courtyard is a high-performance outdoor space that exemplifies a growing trend on campuses toward multivalent landscapes. Serving as both social hub and outdoor learning space, the courtyard demonstrates the blurred line between classroom and commons, with outdoor terraces and seating used by students for group work and social gathering. With a unique collection of plant communities and progressive stormwater management treatment practices, students can perform experiments in their own backyard.

Congrats to the entire architecture and landscape architecture team!