Making Hydrology Visible
The Dell, on the University of Virginia campus, proves that
restoration and sustainable stormwater management can be beautiful
as well as smart.
By Linda McIntyre
The Dell in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a multifunctional
landscape. It uses stormwater best management practices (BMPs) and is a
beautiful park, a tribute to the past and a beacon for the future, a place
University of Virginia (UVA) students immediately took to heart, and one that
neighbors, often at odds with the campus, have adopted as their own. How did
such a place come to be? Good planning, tenacity, and serendipity all played
important roles, as did the creativity and skills of landscape architects both
inside and outside the university.
Back in the early 1990s, Mary Hughes, FASLA, UVA’s campus
landscape architect, and her colleagues in the university’s Architect’s Office
developed a new master plan for the grounds. The plan didn’t simply suggest
where to put new buildings; it identified areas for future stream daylighting
and restoration projects and also took a hard look at the way UVA was growing
with an eye to its impact on the region. “We had the choice of spreading out
more from the core or being more dense,” she says. “UVA does not have a tradition
of being very densely developed. You see a lot of ground area and low
buildings. But we made the deliberate decision that we wanted infill over
sprawl, and once you do that, every surface parking lot is up for grabs.
There’s no room to create an ugly detention basin.”
The master planning process begat a university-wide
conceptual outline for the new approach by Philadelphia landscape architecture
firm Andropogon and engineering firm Cahill Associates that examined hydrology
and drainage throughout the campus. A stormwater master plan by Judith Nitsch
Engineering for the Meadow Creek and Moore’s Creek watersheds followed; it
raised the possibility of several interventions.
Impressed by the potential for improvement, Hughes
commissioned a concept study by Charlottesville landscape architecture firm
Nelson Byrd Woltz and Baltimore-based environmental consultants Biohabitats
examining the possibility of daylighting and remeandering part of Meadow Creek,
a tributary of the Rivanna River. Most of the creek had been channeled into a
pipe during a 1950s construction boom on the UVA campus, but the
760-square-mile Rivanna watershed is considered one of the most important
systems in the Piedmont region.
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