Some of the sustainable landscapes newly certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, or SITES™, prove that sustainability can be fun. In Burbank, the Burbank Water and Power EcoCampus features three green roofs where cobalt blue recycled glass takes the shape of a stream to evoke water. At landscape architect Margot Taylor’s private residence in Pennsylvania, stormwater travels through the green roof of a garden structure then down a whimsical rain chain and into a small water feature.
SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), formed to develop a voluntary, national rating system for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance. Four projects that participated in SITES’ pilot project study achieved certification this month. To date, 15 pilot projects have achieved SITES certification.
“These projects include a park, a private home, an industrial plant and university playing fields,” says Susan Rieff, Executive Director of the Wildflower Center. “They demonstrate how SITES guidelines can be used in different settings to produce landscapes that make a positive contribution to the environment.”
Evan Mather of AHBE Landscape Architects describes how power plant parts were salvaged and integrated into the courtyard for BWP’s 300 employees on their newly improved EcoCampus.
“The space used to be covered in gravel and full of power generation equipment. We salvaged the frame of an electrical substation and covered it with a variety of vines as well as many pads that transformers sat on and plinths that are visible as remnants. Native and well-adapted plants have created a garden with industrial follies throughout,” says Mather.
Employees who used to spend their free time indoors can now be found enjoying the outdoors in the courtyard amidst the wildlife attracted by the vegetation. The campus also features one of Los Angeles’ few green streets. Spanning three blocks, the public green street showcases products and techniques for stormwater treatment including permeable pavers, tree-pod bio-filters, Silva cells and planted infiltration planter bulb-outs.
Stormwater management is also an important component of Margot Taylor’s nearly 2-acre Pennsylvania property. She hopes visitors leave her home with the impression that it’s not so hard – and boy can it be fun -- to achieve a sustainable site. For example, the rain chain that ushers stormwater from the green roof over a mushroom-shaped garden hut proves that drainage systems can be pleasing to the eye as well as useful, says Taylor.
She tried to reuse as much existing material as possible in turning this former dairy farm into her own sustainable dream home. Unearthed stone was repurposed into stairways and walls, and she eats at a dining table carved from a black walnut tree that was removed. Materials not found on site were sourced as nearby as possible. This includes plants grown and stone quarried six miles away.
Taylor is committed to maintaining the site and its garden rooms sustainably and has changed the way she approaches land management.
For example, the only mowing that takes place on site is at the edge of roads and garden pathways. When choosing plants, the goal is to establish enough vegetation that provides shade so that weeds don’t take root. She will feed the soil with compost teas and tinctures to encourage microbial activity. Her goal is to improve fungal presence that she will monitor with soil tests.
“I’m doing things differently than how I was trained. Instead of choosing plants because they have beautiful bark or foliage, I’m choosing plants that provide habitat and nourishment for wildlife,” Taylor says.
Anything but private, Seattle Center is a 74-acre urban park and cultural campus that hosts 12 million visitors a year. The Theater Commons and Donnelly Gardens project is a highly visible, redesigned entry to the Center’s campus located between the Intiman Theatre and the Seattle Repertory Theatre.
“We included a pretty strong emphasis on public education in our application to achieve SITES certification because we wanted to inform visitors about landscape sustainability,” say Amy Cragg of Guftason Guthrie Nichol and Layne Cubell of Seattle Center.
Three interpretative exhibit panels and occasional site tours describe some of the sustainable practices involved in transforming a 1.6-acre parking lot, service road and isolated lawn area into a vibrant, inviting pedestrian-focused entry to Seattle Center.
Permeable pavement is used in many places throughout the site, and visitors learn about its value. Other stormwater management features include five bioretention gardens in the large garden space that are linked into the drainage system for one adjacent theater’s roof. Plants are native to and sourced by Seattle Center staff from the surrounding Cascadia region.
The project sprang from a true community partnership, say Cragg and Cubell. “The staff of both theaters, representatives from the disabled community, staff of Seattle Center and members of the public all collaborated to create this unique sustainable public space.”
At Michigan’s Grand Valley State University Student Recreation Fields, the long-term goal was to restore stormwater flows from the campus to Grand River and Lake Michigan. The restored flows were designed to be similar to the flows that existed before the campus was developed in 1960.
The student recreational fields project is one of several projects furthering that goal.
“In effect what we did is try to put time back into the stormwater equation so that the campus would ‘disappear,’” said James Moyer, associate vice president for facilities planning at the university.
They started by taking topsoil from a stormwater management project site and using it at the athletic site.
“The challenge that we have is a very heavy clay soil condition that causes stormwater to leave the site very rapidly,” says Moyer. “We slowed the water down by creating a series of pits that help filter and keep it on site for reuse as irrigation in the golf course and other areas of campus.”
As the water flows through the pits it gets progressively cleaner as dirt and other water-borne materials are released from one pit to the next.
“Mother Nature has a way of getting stormwater to the river and lake over an extended period of time, and that is what we tried to restore,” says Moyer. “We had reduced the time it took water to leave our site from days to minutes. By putting time back into the equation we are able to reuse some of the water for irrigation on our golf course and know that the water that does leave campus is cleaner.”
Each of these projects represents some of the various ways that a landscape can be seen as sustainable.
Story by Christina Kosta Procopiou