As a green building professional, I know I tend to focus solely on the building when determining the sustainability of a project. I look at energy efficiency, water efficiency, green materials, and other factors. However, the environment immediately surrounding the building, a.k.a. “the landscaping,” plays an important part in the sustainability of a project, and it is often overlooked.
This did not happen at The Cyan, a development in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. Over half the site is covered in landscaping, either on the ground or the roof. One of the highlights is a 7,200 square foot eco-roof, featuring a variety of sedums. The plantings are patterned to create a pleasing site from the windows of the floors above.
Another wonderful feature is the “backyard,” as described in a recent post on Green Building Pro:
The centerpiece of the landscape design is a private street level plaza and garden that is built over the parking structure and serves as a back yard and community space for the residents. Designed to accommodate a variety of passive and active uses, it transitions from a contemplative tree grove seating area near the building entrance to more active open lawn and patio area closer to the street. This space includes a wood pellet barbeque grill and a shade structure to accommodate gatherings and to encourage residents to congregate outside.
Areas like these bring community back to the urban setting. They foster relationships among the residents, and allow them to host events that would not normally be possible downtown.
Well-designed landscaping can offer many advantages to a green building. First, the use of native plants in place of grass lowers the amount of water needed for maintenance. If drought tolerant or climate specific plants are used, an irrigation system may not even be required. Also, features such as bioswales and small detention ponds can significantly reduce the amount of stormwater being shed by a site. This is particularly important in urban settings. In Portland, all stormwater goes into a dual-purpose system for storm and sewer water. When the system gets overloaded, untreated water is dumped into the Willamette River. This can cause concerns not only for wildlife, but for humans enjoying recreations on or near the river too.
I know that sustainable landscaping is something I need to learn more about. Keeping the use of chemical pesticides to a minimum and keeping our rivers clean are two very important reasons for paying attention to landscape design. Not to mention the precious water saved by not irrigating the site. Grass is nice, and it is green, but it comes at a price.
Photo courtesy of Green Building Pro.