The Grass is Greener
Here’s how one landscape architecture firm found a technical
niche designing lawns and irrigation systems for difficult sites.
By Adam Regn Arvidson, ASLA
C/O David Karp
On top of the brand-new addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum
in Kansas City, Missouri, is a perfect green lawn. It is a summerlike day in
March, and though the new building itself is not yet open, the roof hosts a few
strolling and chatting locals. They sit contentedly on the elevated greensward
and look out over the Henry Moore Sculpture Garden, a 1989 Dan Kiley work that
unrolls downhill from the original classical-style museum building. The turf on
the addition’s roof spills between Steven Holl’s translucent blue boxes and
merges with Kiley’s grand lawn, where a few more Kansas Citians toss Frisbees
among Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s oversize shuttlecocks. It is an
idyllic scene: green and peaceful. After a few moments, the rising hiss and
click-click of rotary irrigation heads add themselves to the background
birdsong and send the rooftop locals running.
Among the list of big names responsible for this scene is
one perhaps lesser known: Jeffrey L. Bruce & Company. This North Kansas
City-based landscape architecture firm designed the irrigation, soil profiles,
lawn, and green roofs that together make Nelson-Atkins a community front yard.
Bruce & Company was not the lead landscape architect. In fact, the company
was hired by another landscape architect (Rick Howell at multidisciplinary firm
Gould Evans) to deal specifically with the ground and just-belowground layers.
Bruce & Company has spent 20 years carving out a specialty in athletic
fields, lawns, and irrigation, in the process consulting on well over 100
professional, collegiate, high school, and municipal facilities.
But most landscape architects design lawns, right? Lawns are
easy, right? And irrigation can be done design/build, right? Well, maybe on
perfect soils with regular rain and little foot traffic.
Millennium Park in Chicago, where more than a million people
per year abuse the turf with feet and blankets seven days a week, would be
another story. As would Invesco Field in Denver, where the Broncos play on a
hybrid natural/artificial surface. And Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State
University, where southern heat and competitive football combine to create a
very unfriendly environment. Even 909 Walnut, a green-roofed condo building in
downtown Kansas City, where little dogs are let out of little condos to lift
their legs and ruin the grass. And, of course, the Henry Moore Sculpture Garden
in Kansas City, a multilevel (at rooftop and ground level), steeply sloping,
heavily used showpiece. It is at these sites, where soil is not quite soil and
natural drainage is unreliable at best, that designers and developers have
turned to Bruce.
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