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Multi-Functional Green Infrastructure: Activating SWM InterventionsAnthony LaRocca

In my studies as a Landscape Architecture student and practicing in a professional setting I have set out to not only design stormwater management facilities, but to innovate the way they function post-implementation. I believe that these facilities should handle stormwater in an aesthetically pleasing manner as well as operate as an interactive element within the landscape. Human interaction with the environment is at the heart of every project in the field of landscape architecture and I believe there are ways to promote this when designing stormwater management facilities.

My attempt to implement this ideology is demonstrated in my senior project for a mixed-use urban district in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This particular intervention was designed within an urban park that utilizes high performance green infrastructure in an attempt to protect the integrity of the adjacent Monongahela River.

Named after a stage of steel manufacturing (a process well known by the City of Pittsburgh), Sinter Park is intended to become more than a landmark within the mixed-use development; it is designed to perform for people, the environment, and provide economic vitality all at once. My solution mixes the uses of green infrastructure, just as we mix the uses of buildings when designing the modern day urban fabric. Here is the breakdown:

Starting at the bottom is the typical structure of a rain garden. Rain gardens are an ever prominent means of capturing and infiltrating runoff and when constructed properly will function for the sole purpose of stormwater management. On its own, this facility will perform this function, but it has not yet adequately engaged users of the space and has not necessarily drawn in a higher number of visitors to the park.

The design of the Sinter Park rain gardens seeks to innovate the ‘base’ facility itself. Altering topographic conditions within the rain garden will add a higher degree of performance to the green infrastructure. Pushing and pulling the earth ever so slightly within the facility can promote plant self-ordering and help the designer to better predict the path of stormwater runoff. Utilizing this strategy, we can not only direct stormwater to the facility, but we can theoretically pick and choose its path once inside the rain garden.

On top of the now altered ground-plane, a very specific plant palette is utilized in order to get the most performance out of the facility. The chosen plant material is salt tolerant, able to withstand high rates of inundation while also tolerating drought and designed strategically in order to be aesthetically pleasing. A selection of grass, rush, and sedge species must stand strong to combat the impact of fast flowing runoff water within the depths of the facility. Herbaceous flowering specimens must beautify the rain garden to attract pollinator species and humans alike. Woody shrub groupings must fill the gap between ground and tree canopy for aesthetic value and native species habitat. Select tree species must provide habitat for wing and feather boasting visitors of Sinter Park.

In the situation of Sinter Park, the rain gardens are designed to be directly adjacent to active pedestrian pathways. In a typical setting, passersby may stop temporarily to take a peek into the stormwater management facility and then quickly move on. Within our design, we attempt to activate the space occupied by the rain garden by incorporating elements that give users the option to sit, relax, and truly enjoy the green infrastructure. Along with the concept of mixing uses in order to get more out of our developments, we designed seat walls on the edges of the rain garden facility that have more than just the purpose of human relaxation. The seat wall design extends along the rain garden edge and juts into the stormwater management facility, giving visitors the opportunity to physically get inside the patch of native environment within the urban park setting. Surrounded by lush plantings, hard-working insects, singing birds, and an ecosystem that is functioning how nature intended, the hope is that anyone who encounters this element of Sinter Park will gain a new appreciation for the beauty of our natural environment. Users of this space might even learn from informational placards surrounding each stormwater management facility.

I hope this project will inspire landscape architects and other design professionals to think about the way we incorporate stormwater management facilities into our designs. The more we continue to innovate and rethink typical constructed solutions to environmental challenges, the further we will be able to make the spaces we inhabit greener and more efficient.

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

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