Sustainable landscape design projects

Sustainable landscape design projects

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Sustainable landscape design projects are increasingly the purview of nonprofits, said Margaret Grover, chairwoman of the nonprofit membership section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

“They are recognizing that the private sector will continue to design and create landscapes, but that nonprofit organizations are already demonstrating a commitment to environmental stewardship. This includes sustainability as the baseline requirement,” said Grover, a landscape designer with Landar Architects in Gainesville, Fla.

With fewer large property-development projects in the pipeline and the need to play down damage to the environment, Grover said landscape architects are paying more attention to the design of site, as well as on-site systems such as water, waste and energy systems.

“Historically, landscape architects have had a very small footprint on the landscape industry, but that is changing,” Grover said. “These programs can help in the construction of new facilities or work on existing infrastructure or operations, or they can help in the maintenance of the facility, or they can help in the relocation of the facility.”

Connie Mortenson, executive director of the Institute for Building Performance (IBP), said the nonprofit landscape design industry is responding to several trends, including the growing demands for building-performance measures. IBP recently added sustainability and green building to its official definition of landscape architecture.

The landscape architecture trade group American Society of Landscape Architects reports that about 90,000 people are registered as landscape architects in the U.S., and that about 7,000 are in a design or building program, with about 5,000 of those design professionals in nonprofit organizations.

“Our members are now working on nonprofit-related projects that can include urban parks, visitor centers, hospital gardens and nursing homes, for example,” said Michael Vetter, president of the ASLA nonprofit section. “These projects usually are focused on improving the health and well-being of the people who are in them.”

After the tsunami in 2004 killed 30,000 people and displaced more than a half-million others in southeast Asia, landscaper Charles King took over responsibility for the installation of hundreds of trees, parklike plantings and ornamental-plant species in 10 new parks across northern Thailand, including Khao Luang, near Bangkok.

The government's ensuing legal dispute with King was settled in November 2008, but the relationship continues to be productive. The parks opened last fall.

“The program began with the goal of creating jobs,” King said in a phone interview. “They needed workers. I had the experience of working with the government, and they asked me to start the program.

“The timing is better than a year ago,” King added. “Everything was just beginning to get going.”

Six weeks of intensive planting, excavation and soil work followed the planting of seeds, which take about three years to grow, King said. “If there was a big wind, there would be trees falling down. They had to dig them out.”

King said an additional 14 parks will be under way in the next two years. “It is great for people to see that these parks are all created and maintained by the local people,” he said.

Echoing Vetter's comments about nonprofit landscape projects, King said that generally they are more concerned about the health and well-being of their community than they are about green design, which is the province of the private sector.

ASLA is at the forefront of the movement for green buildings and green landscapes, Grover said.

“ASLA has been using sustainable, renewable and sustainable/recyclable materials and materials science and environmental remediation processes for several years, but recently we have added a goal of low- or zero-energy building and energy efficiency to our definition of sustainable,” she said. “Over the past few years, we have grown our Green Section by more than 100 members, and we are focused on education and advocacy, as well as getting green building products into the market.”

ASLA will also be hosting a sustainability symposium next June in Toronto. “As the nonprofit landscape industry expands, so does our mandate,” Grover said.

Continued vigilance is needed in the area of building-performance improvements, Grover said. “Landscape architects do a lot of research, and our members are engaged in projects that try to improve how buildings perform.”

She said the movement is coming full circle, back to the sense of concern for the health of the planet that landscape architects began with.

“We are seeing the people who did the buildings or the landscapes understand that they cannot separate themselves from the impact their work has, and their built environment has on the land, air, water and the community,” Grover said. “They need to look at those relationships in a more holistic way, and it will make their work more meaningful and more sustainable.”

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Posted on Jan 27, 2009

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