Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory

Architype Dialogue presents

Todd Briggs – Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

With this particular landscape architecture project, what was the most difficult issue your firm faced or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought and unique approaches in the project?

Upon first visiting the project site, we were faced with the challenge of a project site that not only was an existing campus asphalt parking lot, but a site that was bordered on its north end by a six lane major arterial roadway appropriately named Speedway Boulevard. After further site investigations and analyzing some existing topographical information, we discovered that storm water from the parking lot essentially flowed right to the project site. As the Sonoran Desert region in Tucson receives approximately 12 inches of rain each year, capturing every drop of water we can for use in our gardens is essential. We began conceptualizing that we could capitalize on the existing drainage pattern by removing the asphalt and creating a desert oasis for both human and wildlife habitation, enhanced by the storm water from the parking lot. Thus, the challenge quickly turned into an incredible opportunity. Although the University was not pursuing LEED certification for the project, everyone on the design team, the client, the facilities management group and the College was on board for pushing the sustainability envelope. Because of this incredible collaboration and energy, capturing the rainwater from the parking lot ended up being just the tip of the iceberg really, as it became the first of numerous alternative water sources we investigated and ultimately ended up utilizing on the project including well blow-off water, gray water, roof storm water and HVAC condensate. Fortunately for us and the garden space, the building program for the new addition to the College influenced a building design that effectively buffered Speedway Boulevard from the garden, removing the noise and visual impacts that roadway could have had on the project.

In general, do you feel that the role of the landscape architect is changing on similar building types? Did this project expand or evolve your role as a landscape architect in any way?

Water resources are becoming a global issue, and this couldn’t be more true in arid regions such as Tucson, so the role of landscape architects as integral members of a diverse design team continues to be crucial to the long term success of numerous project types. The idea that buildings and landscape do more than co-exist together should be at the forefront of every designer no matter their area of expertise and practice. The fact that the landscape can live off of the waste of a building, to create diverse urban habitat while reducing our dependency upon potable water resources and even alleviate impacts on urban infrastructure such as engineered storm water systems is the new reality. The landscape thus blurs the line between site and architecture, which is allowing urban dwellers to reconnect with nature and natural systems and as landscape architects today, we need to think beyond beauty and consider the ecological influences we have upon the land and our cities.

How is your installation or project possible today in a way that it may not have been in the past, and how have current trends or thoughts in landscape architecture inspired new creative solutions?

Before this project, we had some modest water harvesting projects that were more passively accomplished. Having the context of being at the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture allowed this project to become more innovative than all our past work in terms of water use sustainability and habitat creation. Collaboration with the architect upfront was critical, and Jones Studio integrated the water storage tank within the building rather than hiding it. Telling this story within a building was important and had never been expressed on our projects quite this way. It’s now exemplified and reinforced the idea of architecture and landscape being so interconnected that neither can successfully exist without the other in an urban context. Reducing potable water use by nearly 100% in an arid environment has now become a reality, so we can point to this project for our biggest skeptics on new work and show them it’s possible.

In the context of this project, how is your office and your design process being influenced by current thoughts in academic curricula? In turn, are your current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

Because the project has a direct association with the academic college, the college and its program was the inspiration for the project. We strived to create a place for students and faculty to interact, to teach, learn and observe within a comfortable native garden. The idea of integrating students of different programs and studies together into a cohesive environment instills the notion that fostering a truly collaborative environment is the best and only way toward achieving truly successful environmental design. As our own processes continue to evolve, we hope that our continually advancing ecological design strategies inspire not only students and new professionals within the landscape architecture realm, but also other design disciplines so that habitat creation, resource sustainability and holistic design become the norm rather than the exception.
Architype Review thanks Todd Briggs for his interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.

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