Beauty and the Bioswale: How Sustainability is Redefining Landscape Architecture

GS&P's "Zooming In" blog series aims to highlight some of the unique design details that support our projects' overall success. It's easy to focus on the "big picture" of our designs, so we’re excited to make a special effort to help our Dialogue readers explore our projects even more closely. In each post, we’ll zoom in on unique design details and share the behind-the-scenes ideas that make them significant.

Sustainability and beauty. When it comes to landscape architecture, people often assume that the two are mutually exclusive. But the latest design solutions are defying conventional thinking, proving that a low-impact, low-maintenance site can also be attractive and functional. Of course, there are challenges associated with sustainable site design, but there’s a growing interest in preserving resources, being more eco-friendly and maximizing value as land becomes more scarce and environmental quality becomes a greater concern. As sustainability becomes a higher priority, it impacts the way landscape architects do our jobs. In many ways, sustainability is redefining beauty.

During my time in GS&P’s Land Planning market, our team has implemented plenty of new sustainable site design techniques that improve environmental health while also creating an attractive outdoor space. The below GS&P projects illustrate the many ways that sustainability and aesthetics can go hand-in-hand:

GS&P’s site plan for the Nissan North America Headquarters in Franklin, Tenn.,  provides an improvement plan to protect local wetlands and enhance local aquatic ecosystems while creating a valuable landscape feature for Nissan’s employees. Often seen as an obstacle during design and development, the 2.5 acres of existing wetlands are treated and addressed as a positive influence to the campus.  The structure also boasts an extensive green roof system, further impacting the site’s focus on sustainability through energy efficiency and water quality. While not an active space, the design provides color and texture patterns that improve aesthetics for users inside the building over a traditional roof system.  The drought tolerant plant selections will self-propagate, allowing the plantings to spread and cover the roof over time.

Permeable pavers were introduced in an East Nashville parking lot designed by GS&P’s Land Planning team. Permeable paving is an excellent alternative to traditional concrete or asphalt because the porous material allows better stormwater infiltration, reduces surface runoff, and prevents the transport of car oils from parking lots to nearby streams and water supplies. Permeable pavers are also a popular sustainable design solution because they’re considered to be more aesthetically pleasing and natural-looking than striped asphalt.

GS&P’s landscape architecture at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, Ga., is an excellent combination of sustainability and aesthetics. The site layout, grading and landscape work together to create a campus whose impact on the site is a positive one.  Generous amounts of open space were preserved to improve the user experience by providing outdoor spaces for clients and employees to take advantage of.  The design team focused on the use of native and naturalized plant material to reduce long-term maintenance and water consumption while incorporating underground drip irrigation tied to precipitation sensors to control the efficient application of water.

Vanderbilt Health at One Hundred Oaks is a GS&P-designed, 450,000-square foot mixed-use redevelopment project in Nashville, Tenn. Our team was tasked with rescuing the site’s failing mall facility by reimagining it as a top-tier medical and retail destination. Among many successes, the project exemplifies sustainable landscaping. Its many different types of large oak trees provide canopy cover throughout the parking lot, while the bioswales on-site are also planted with a variety of natural glasses and native plants which support biodiversity.

In what ways have you observed sustainability influencing a site’s aesthetics? What progress have you observed with the evolution of sustainable landscaping?

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DISCLAIMER: We encourage comments and welcome your thoughts; however, GS&P reserves the right to edit or remove any comments which are off-topic, blatant spam, abusive or slanderous, or violate copyright. Comments posted are not necessarily the viewpoints of GS&P. As each project is unique, the information contained in this article only represents general design related concepts and issues based on the author’s knowledge and experience, not specific design guidance or legal advice.

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