American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2006 Professional Awards
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Aerial Diagram of Alumnae Valley Design and Layout. (Image courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
The restored Alumnae Valley combines different aspects of environmental remediation and sustainable stormwater management, and fits seamlessly within the larger campus landscape. (Photo by Landslides Aerial Photography)
The siting of the Lulu Wang Campus Center heightens the prominence of Alumnae Valley in the daily lives of Wellesley students. (Photo by Peter Vanderwarker Photographs.)
Existing conditions, Winter 1999: A 175-space asphalt parking lot filled the valley. (Photo by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
Post-restoration, Summer 2005: Immediately after construction meadows begin to take root, and cattails thrive. (Photo by Michael Lutch Studio)
Axonometric Section Diagram of Soil Contamination Issues. (Image courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
Stabilization of the slopes and the marsh edge is aided by geo-fibers and by coir logs and required specialized construction techniques. (Photo by Charles Mayer Photography)
Axonometric Section Diagram of the Valley's Hydrologic System. (Image courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)

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From Brownfield to Greenfield: A New Working Landscape for Wellesley College Wrenched from its Toxic Past, Wellesley, Massachusetts
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects, Cambridge, Massachusetts/New York, New York

"The landscape architect backs up an understated, sophisticated design with real science. This project totally transforms the campus and sends a very strong environmental message. Excellent planning and execution--truly elegant."

— 2006 Professional Awards Jury Comments

The Alumnae Valley Landscape represents our firm's reworking of 13.5 acres of this campus over a seven-year period. The restoration confronts a history of contamination on this site and results in a new, ecologically functioning landscape structured by a remedial purification system.

When Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. surveyed Wellesley College in 1902, he saw a topography of glacial landforms, valley meadows, and native plant communities--campus characteristics he emphatically suggested be preserved. During the initial years of the college's development, the area now known as Alumnae Valley was a neglected remnant of that original landscape. Neglect soon became indifference, and in the ensuing decades the valley became the site for the college's physical plant, industrialized natural gas pumping, and ultimately, a parking lot over a toxic brownfield.

In 1997 we were hired to prepare a Master Plan for the college. In that report, the valley--at that time a parking lot for 175 cars--was indicated as a potential locus for new campus development. The siting of a campus center building to the north and a newfound focus on the pedestrian experience heightened the importance of the valley as both a visual and physical link between the hilltop nodes of campus life. We conceived of the plan to relocate those cars in a new garage as part of a future campus center.

The construction of a parking garage in association with the new campus center relieved the site of its burden as a car corral. However, the site's toxic history lay embedded, manifest in its soil. Removal of the asphalt parking lot promised to exhume the contaminants, as did excavation for the new structures. Hazardous soil was dealt with in two ways in our design: removal and in situ treatment. Heavily toxic soil was located, excavated, and removed offsite for treatment. Dense non-aqueous phase liquid, a byproduct of natural gas processing, found the ancient watershed beneath the parking lot and collected there. Pumping infrastructure was incorporated into the design, and toxic residue is periodically removed for treatment. Capped with clean fill, mildly contaminated soils could be kept on site and used as fill for a trio of meadow-planted, drumlin-like mounds. As a result, the entire site was raised 6 feet above the previous grade and a new wetland, the engine of our design, was artificially perched. Toxicity caused many problems, and each inspired a creative solution.

Parallel to the passive neglect of the twentieth century ran the destruction of the site's original hydrology that Olmsted so admired. The valley's role as a link between its 80-acre watershed and the adjacent Lake Waban was broken by an access road. The valley, after our project, is once again an intermittent wetland and more; a series of sedimentation forebays and basins hold and treat the site runoff water, which mingles with forbs, sedges, and cattails before trickling back into Lake Waban. A geosynthetic clay liner simultaneously seals contaminated soils and prevents water from prematurely returning to the original water table.

The restored Alumnae Valley again becomes part of the natural valley hydrological system that structures the form of the Wellesley campus. Not merely a restoration, the reconceptualization of the site included an understanding of its historical function: from glacial valley to industrial dumping ground to parking lot to a valley restored yet informed by its previous incarnations. Its use of topography as both a means of design solution and experiential enhancement underscores a landscape that is at once willfully artificial and unabashedly picturesque.

Project Resources


Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects

Civil Engineer:
Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB)

Geotechnical Engineer:
Haley & Aldrich, Inc.

Soil Scientist:
Pine & Swallow Associates, Inc.

General Contractor:
Richard White Sons, Inc.
Site Contractor:

Maxymillian Technologies

Electrical Engineer:

Irrigation Management & Services

Meadow Consultant:
Prairie Restorations, Inc.

Bamboo Consultant:
Susanne Lucas

Landscape Contractor:
ValleyCrest Landscape Development
Graphics and Signage Consultant:
H Plus Inc.



Ecological transitions defined by strongly geometric edges make this constructed landscape legible. (Photo by Landslides Aerial Photography.)
Complementary to paved walkways that connect key nodes, a system of mown and woodland paths allow for meandering strolls along the marsh edge. (Photo by Paul Warchol Photography, Inc.)
The drama of landscape is heightened as movement is directed over and around landforms abstracted from the site's glacial topography. (Photo by John Mottern)
The inscription of the topography and wetland on the winter landscape is an annual reminder of dormancy and renewal. (Photo by Peter Vanderwarker Photographs.)
The restored valley is a visual and physical link between the Wang Campus Center and Lake Waban. (Photo by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)
In addition to their ecological role, forebays and sediment ponds make for contemplative gathering spots. (Photo by Paul Warchol Photography, Inc.)
The elegant integration of topography, hydrology and campus life brings Alumnae Valley back into harmony with its surroundings. (Photo by Michael Lutch Studio)
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