Sustainable Design: Three Elements for Success

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Enhanced Sustainability in a Project Requires Three Elements for Success

The best way to achieve sustainable design is to focus on quality in design, materials, and installation. The increased desire by clients to incorporate sustainable design basics in their projects is encouraging and welcome. Addressing specific features to enhance sustainability in a project’s requires all three elements for its success.

Design: Multiple use design features are more efficient and cost effective and depending on the specific component, such as a seat wall, can cultivate connectivity and social benefits. One example is the Whispering Wall that features a curved seat wall at Berlin High School, which serves both as a retaining wall, and a gathering/seating area for students. Of course, a naturalistic residential setting provides diverse habitat for wildlife and connection with nature to the owner. Water features such as ponds and rain gardens, designed as green infrastructure stormwater treatment, also serve as recreational open space and visual beauty.

A high-quality design aesthetic is apt to be widely used and remain in place for a long time. Consider the creation of meaningful connections between people and the landscape, and to its surrounding community through gathering places and connecting walks increase social health and well-being. Respecting and enhancing a sense of place by reflecting the regional culture and ecology of the site links man with nature.

Less energy is consumed when the project is sited to take maximum advantage of existing features of topography, wind, vegetation, solar orientation, water, and man-made infrastructure. Designs for public plazas and parks that include open vistas, trees, and seating, attract visitors seeking respite and safety, providing higher tax and social benefits for its public investment. This is in contrast to bare, open, unused plazas devoid of people. One example is Bryant Park, occupying 9.6 acres in NYC, attracting over 800 people per acre daily with its ample shade tree canopy, and a multitude of seating options bordering an open lawn.

Materials: Durable, quality materials are cost effective from a life cycle cost. Some well-designed Roman roads and aqueducts, constructed of stone, still exist today, 2,000 years later. Natural stone is considered an environmentally sustainable product from a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) analysis, with low maintenance costs.

The use of quality materials that innately appeal to man is of importance to creating memorable, high quality designed projects that last. An example of pavement options includes cobblestone, flagstone (bluestone and slate), Belgian block, pavers, brick, and tile. Wall materials include stone, brick, and wood. Increase the diversity of wildlife and pollinator habitat by designing with predominantly native plant material when feasible, which will reduce watering, decrease maintenance costs and provide visual appeal. Utilize recycled building materials when possible, such as bricks from relocated walkways. Materials should be sourced as locally as possible to reduce energy and transportation costs, as well to providing a financial boost to the local economy.

Proper installation: The finest materials will not perform at an optimal level if the landscape architect’s specifications are not followed, and the materials are installed improperly. For example, decreasing the depth of aggregate base material will shorten the life of the finish surface or cause it to fail prematurely. Tests taken on roads in England indicated the following correlation between the depth of aggregate base and the time before the first pothole formed:

• 3″ base – 3 months
• 6″ base – 10 years
• 9″ base – 20 years

A street tree will have a shorter life if placed in compacted soil, or planted either at depths too deep or too shallow. Aris Land Studio analyzes each project to seek ways to maximize benefits to the client and the environment through sustainable design features.