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BY JARED BREY

Pashek + MTR works with two public agencies to design a heavy-hitting stormwater park in Pittsburgh.

FROM THE DECEMBER 2021 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

One bright-blue Friday afternoon in October, I was paused at a stoplight in Squirrel Hill, a residential neighborhood about five miles from downtown Pittsburgh, when I saw a young woman with a red backpack try to summit a steep slope on her bicycle. She approached the hill with good momentum and no shortage of confidence and was halfway up the block before she started losing speed. Two thirds of the way, she began to wobble. Pedaling a few more yards, she surrendered to the inevitable and finished the journey on foot.

At the bottom of the hill sat Wightman Park, recently redesigned around the very force the young woman was trying to overcome. In Pittsburgh’s Hill District, stormwater accumulates in the valleys. In 2014, the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) began a master-planning process for the low-lying, two-acre park, with its small baseball field, half basketball court, and aging playground, through which a long-since channelized stream used to flow. In the process of collecting community input for the master plan and redesign, the landscape architects at Pittsburgh-based Pashek + MTR heard from neighbors that basement backups during storms were getting worse.

“And so we thought, ‘Oh, this would be a great place to really bump up the stormwater capacity and start to try to capture water from the surrounding streets,’” says Sara Thompson, ASLA, a principal at the firm. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The Morton Salt site will feature a riparian ecosystem grown in a synthetic medium. Image courtesy Lamar Johnson Collaborative.

In Chicago, a synthetic growing medium will provide a healthy buffer between contaminated soils and riparian plant life.

 

For nearly 100 years, the Morton Salt facility on the North Side of Chicago, with its massive rain slicker and umbrella sign, has been an iconic presence along the industrial corridor that traced the North Branch of the Chicago River. The warehousing and packaging facility closed in 2015, and within a few years, the company announced an ambitious adaptive reuse plan for the site, turning it into a mixed-use campus featuring a concert venue and office spaces. (The sign will stay.) It will also be home to Morton’s R&D facility, relocating from Chicago’s suburbs, where the company will research water softener salt, pool salt, deicing salt, and salt solutions for other industrial applications.

The project’s innovation will extend to the outdoors: The landscape of the campus will include a synthetic growing medium developed by Omni Ecosystems. According to the company, it’s the first site in Chicago that’s been approved for the use of special stormwater soils designed to mitigate runoff and stormwater from combined sewer overflows. Working with the Chicago Plan Commission and the Department of Buildings, Omni Ecosystems will use 60,000 cubic feet of Omni Infinity Media, largely composed of an ultra-light, kiln-dried mineral similar to volcanic rock. This medium will allow a rich wetland and riparian ecosystem to thrive on top of a degraded and polluted site that’s been capped with concrete and asphalt.

The Omni Infinity Media is mostly air—it has 78 percent void space, compared to standard topsoil, which has 25 percent. “It’s quite literally and physically a sponge,” says Michael Skowlund, ASLA, the director of landscape architecture at Omni Ecosystems. (more…)

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FOREGROUND

The Scripted Surface (Tech)
For a complex paving pattern that was less of a chore to design, DAVID RUBIN Land Collective embraced
parametric modeling.

Not Just Any Garden (Preservation)
A historic garden is redesigned at the White House, but not without attracting partisans on both sides.

FEATURES

Good Work
The founders of Portland, Oregon’s Knot used pandemic relief funding to sustain the firm during a work slowdown, but staff needed purpose with their paychecks. Pro bono projects with a public service bent were money in the bank.

The Divining Rod
Stephen McCarthy has turned Greenseams, a program that converts disused agricultural lands to stormwater-soaking green infrastructure, into one of Wisconsin’s most successful
open space programs.

The full table of contents for November can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and on our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be posting November articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “Good Work,” Knot; “The Divining Rod,” Zach Mortice; “Not Just Any Garden,” Andrea Hanks/White House Photo Office; “The Scripted Surface,” DAVID RUBIN Land Collective. 

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BY JARED BREY

Buffalo plans the country’s biggest environmental impact bond to fund green infrastructure.

FROM THE AUGUST 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In 2018, the City of Buffalo, New York, cut the ribbon on Jesse Clipper Square, a small park named for the first Black soldier from Buffalo to die in World War I. The square, originally dedicated in the 1930s, was designed by John Edmonston Brent, one of Buffalo’s first Black architects. Today it sits in the median of William Street, a wide arterial street connecting downtown Buffalo to the neighborhood of Willert Park. As part of a broader greening of William Street, the park was expanded and planted with new trees and a rain garden. According to the Buffalo Sewer Authority, the project helps prevent some 284,000 gallons of water from entering the city’s combined sewer system during typical rain storms.

Green infrastructure projects like the William Street overhaul—small-scale interventions designed to manage stormwater on public streets, parking lots, and rooftops—are the bread and butter of the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s Rain Check program, a $380 million commitment that originated in a 2014 consent agreement between the city and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and improve water quality. Under the terms of its Long Term Control Plan, Buffalo committed to spending $93 million on green infrastructure to manage stormwater on at least 1,315 impervious acres. In the first phase of the plan, Rain Check 1.0, which began in 2015, the sewer authority focused on public projects that could be carried out relatively easily, according to documents. But Rain Check 2.0, announced last spring, is going for tougher targets, mostly on private property.

To help push the project along, Buffalo’s Mayor, Byron Brown, announced in February that the city would issue a $30 million environmental impact bond (EIB) to help fund a grant program that will encourage private landowners to install green infrastructure. Environmental impact bonds are a kind of municipal borrowing that links bond investors’ returns to the performance of the projects funded by the bond. One of the first EIBs in the United States was issued in 2016 by DC Water, Washington, D.C.’s water authority, to help fund green infrastructure related to its own agreement with the EPA (see “The River Beneath the River,” LAM, November 2018). Since then, more cities have begun experimenting with the bonds, including Atlanta, New Orleans, and Baltimore. In many cases, new funds for green infrastructure equates to more work for landscape architects. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Curbing Sediment collects sediment washed along curbs and street aprons in shallow troughs. Image courtesy Halina Steiner and Ryan Winston.

Research at the Ohio State University aims to keep stormwater sediment stranded on the road.

 

When Halina Steiner tested new sediment-collecting infrastructure in her lab at the Ohio State University (OSU), she noticed a mysterious magnetism pulling people toward the bits of beveled foamboard she had crafted into sediment collectors. As water mixes with dirt and sand starts flowing across the planks of foam, and sediment settles into intricately carved CNC-milled grooves, “it’s very mesmerizing,” Steiner says. It’s like sending a paper boat down a stream or, more accurately, “down the gutter,” she says, because that’s the exact place Steiner is looking to intercept sediment that pollutes and clogs waterways. (more…)

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BY BRADFORD MCKEE, EDITOR

FROM THE MARCH 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

The National Association of Home Builders, among others, is giddy about a new Trump administration rule that allows widespread water pollution and wetland destruction. In late January, the federal government put out its final fixes to the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, known also as the Waters of the United States rule, under the Clean Water Act. The changes remove safeguards for most wetlands and more than 18 percent of streams. You are now free to fill these wetlands and foul these waters unburdened by law or by the unforgiving science that tells us which things turn water toxic and that water still runs downhill. The administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, even showed up at the home builders’ annual gathering in Las Vegas to announce the changes the group has wanted so badly. Their website headlined the announcement as “a big splash.” (more…)

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BY LYDIA LEE

Robert Royston’s 1967 Quarry Amphitheater has been carefully rebuilt in all its modernist glory.

FROM THE JANUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Like the classical theaters of Greek and Roman antiquity, Quarry Amphitheater at the University of California, Santa Cruz is an open-air venue with tiered seating. But what would the Greeks and Romans have made of the irregular rows, with their off-kilter angles? Even to modern eyes, the amphitheater’s erratic form comes as a surprise. Designed by the noted California landscape architect Robert Royston, the 1967 Quarry Amphitheater is as much a work of environmental art as a theater. The amphitheater had been closed for more than a decade owing to disrepair and reopened in 2017 after an $8 million rehabilitation master-planned by the Office of Cheryl Barton (OCB). Among the guiding principles, according to the OCB plan, was to improve it “without compromising the intimate, immersive, spiritual, and ‘magic’ quality of the landscape experience and the quirky spirit of the historic amphitheater design.” (more…)

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