Sustainable Site Design at Georgia Tech
by Rich Prakopcyk, ASLA, and Rob Staudt, ASLA

The new interdisciplinary Molecular Science and Engineering (MS&E) research building completes the Georgia Institute of Technology’s new Biotechnology Complex, where molecular and nano-scale techniques are applied to engineering and science research around a unique micro-campus quadrangle. First occupied in 2006, the building includes laboratories and offices to house 41 principal investigators, 50 support staff, and over 400 research staff and graduate students, as well as four 40-seat classrooms, a 150-seat lecture hall, and a café on the quadrangle.The sustainable landscape design for the new building and the quadrangle was created by the Site Planning Group at CUH2A, Inc., Architecture Engineering Planning.

When CUH2A began design work, there were already three of the four planned buildings around the new quadrangle. However, the space between them was still an undeveloped plateau with unsatisfactory walkways and a contextual circular paved space in the center. To the north of the quadrangle, across the street from the new building site, was the edge of the President’s Glade, a preserved natural forest, at an elevation 55 feet lower than the upper end of the mini-campus and separated from the rest of the site by an untidy maintenance yard and a 20-foot-high retaining wall.

sustainable site 1






Overall, the site transitions 55 vertical feet from the Eco-Commons
on the left t
hrough the Mid-Quad terracing up to the Upper Quad.
Image courtesy of CUH2A.

The proposed 3-story, 275,000-square-foot building on a 5-acre site had the potential to block the views of the President’s Glade to the north, but the design team saw an opportunity to develop an inviting link between the Quad, the Glade, and a future Eco-Commons. (The Eco-Commons Concept comprises a series of open spaces replacing existing parking lots, linked both physically and hydrologically as a continuous park extending through the north side of the campus.) In terms of sustainability, the new MS&E building reuses an existing building site, including replacing the existing service yard, an old 2-story concrete block maintenance building, and other structures. The architectural design created two laboratory blocks as solid masses to act as piers for a transparent connecting “bridge,” forming the gateway from the quadrangle to the glade beyond.

sustainable site 2







The site design invites people from the Upper Quad (foreground)
down the terraced slope, past the curving limestone façade under
the MS&E translucent “bridge,” into the President’s Glade on the far
side of the building. The Upper Quad, the flattest part of the site, now
features pathways that direct pedestrians where they actually need
to go. Na¬tive Southern Piedmont vegetation extends along the edges
of the quadrangle.
Korab photo courtesy of CUH2A

Sustainable Site 3








The design for the quadrangle energized the formerly bleak
and underutilized sloping site, replacing existing concrete with
permeable terraces to form an amphitheater-like space.
Image courtesy of CUH2A.


Sustainable Site 4










Site plan courtesy of CUH2A

Sustainable Site 5








The President’s Glade, just north of MS&E, is the destination of
storm water flowing through a series of underground detention
systems, infiltration systems, vegetative swales, and percolation
ponds from the Upper Quad 55 feet higher.
Image courtesy of CUH2A

The overall theme for the landscape design is the movement of a raindrop, flowing from the Upper Quad through lower elevations under the building to the Glade beyond. Since a sustainability goal for the project was to reduce storm water runoff to 1928 conditions, the designers worked to maximize infiltration, with hydrology and storm water management in mind. Underground pipes in the upper quad are designed with extra storage capacity. Perforated piping behind and in front of the terrace step walls, surrounded by clean aggregate, allows the water to flow to the pipes. As these fill, water can percolate and filter through the weep holes in the walls down to the next “check dam” holding/infiltration system, and so on. These storm systems daylight near the MS&E and then go through a series of vegetative terraces (with amended soil to aid percolation) around the west side of the building to the first of two infiltration holding ponds. The first pond spills under the walkway to a second larger pond, beginning a series of infiltration ponds and bio-swales that will be part of the future Eco-Commons, which will eventually gather all the storm water from this quadrant of the campus. A cistern system reuses rainwater and HVAC system condensation for site irrigation.

Sustainable site 6









Image courtesy of CUH2A

Sustainable Site 7









Views of the quadrangle show the terrace walls of Georgia granite,
ideal for students to hang out on. As the new trees mature, their
shade will be a further amenity.
Image courtesy of CUH2A. Image is a Korab photo.

Richard Prakopcyk, ASLA, is a Principal at CUH2A, A Division of HDR Architecture. He can be reached at: Robert Staudt, ASLA, is an Associate at CUH2A and can be reached at: 

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