Tag Archives: wetlands

Architecture Theory Writing

Reburbia and the future of suburbs

Frogs Dream, the winner, brings back the wetlands
Frog's Dream, the winner, brings back the wetlands

Beginning with this post, I’ll be writing on some local and urbanism-related issues at Greater Greater Washington from time to time.

In “Eyes That Do Not See,” Le Corbusier noted that airplane designers were unable to achieve heavier-than air flight until they understood the underlying issues of aeronautics – until they had posed the problem correctly. Until the tinkerers stopped imitating birds and kites and began investigating lift in a scientific way, they just produced spectacular failures and beautiful dreams. So, when looking through the finalists to the Reburbia suburban redesign contest, it was curious to see how, although many projects owe a debt to the Swiss architect, a great deal show confusion about the problems of “suburbia.”

Reburbia was a design competition where designers were invited to remodel, reuse, redevelop, and restructure the landscape of suburban development. Sponsored by Inhabitat and Dwell, the contest presented 20 finalists and a number of other notable entries for public viewing. Although they’ve already announced winners, the issues that appear in the submissions deserve more discussion. These open competitions are like fashion shows, where the offerings exist as inspiration for other designers more than practical solutions. Some of the ideas tossed around here might make their way into an abandoned mall, but the ideas that grow out of Reburbia are more important. As architects, planners, and citizens look for solution, we have to keep in mind what the problems are to judge any given solution.

Edible Parking? Bumper Crop
Edible Parking? "Bumper Crop"

Declaring that the suburbs need to be re-burbed begs the question of how much, and which kinds, of suburban development are unsustainable, undesirable, or inefficient.  Following that line of thought, designers need to consider whether mitigation of costs can solve an issue, whether simply pulling out unfair subsidies would help, or whether a total revamp has to occur. The projects in Reburbia revolved around a handful of issues that are unique to automobile-dependent sprawl, as well as others that all cities face. The entrants posed their problems around land use, energy waste, sustainable energy production, loss of natural habitats, low density, unappealing or unwalkable street design, transportation inefficiency, water runoff, and the legal mandates for development. read more »

Architecture

Sidwell’s Machine for Environmentalism

Rain garden with wetlands in rear.

Landscape-oriented architecture blog Pruned is carrying an excellent post about the wastewater-recovering wetland installed at the center of their new campus. The LEED Platinum building, which opened in 2007, was designed by KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia. The firm designed the building to recycle all of its graywater and brownwater through an elaborate wetland, as one of its many sustainable features. If you go visit the building, the trickle filter is wrapped with a sign that explains how the system works. The sign rests at a child’s height and leads readers around and around with arrows, which I find a little obnoxious. Luckily, Pruned has explained the process more clearly, so without further ado, go read their article

Pruned also notes a very important civic issue this solves: the cost of runoff on municipalities and local watersheds. This beautiful oasis reduces the amount of water that flows out of the building, or flows off the hard surfaces of the building (there is a separate rainwater recycling system), and into Rock Creek and the White Plains treatment facility. Among the general public, a lot is made of water conservation (which this building also assists), but the strain on public facilities caused by sewage and stormwater is quite severe. At least up in Cleveland Park and Tobago, we do not have combined sewer overflow systems, like the do downtown. 

For elite Washingtonians worried that their children will become astronauts or mutant mer-men, the recycled water is dyed blue with a non-toxic coloring agent and reused in toilets and janitorial sinks. Meanwhile, St. Albans School’s non-LEED Marriott Hall, by SOM is in the interior-fit out phase, and has just gained its green roofs. More on that some other time.