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Ideas / Research & Design / 5.24.2016

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

UDel Storm Drainage Blog 1

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:

The exterior and courtyard at the University of Delaware Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering...

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

A diagram depicts the various levels of stormwater management at the University of Delaware

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.

Native plants at Howard Community College

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.

Green Roof with view of the plaza at the University of Delaware Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering...

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

Custom benches at the University of Delaware Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Laboratory

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.

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