Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., New York City USA
Client: South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority
On a limited budget of around $5 per square foot, this project raises the bar for municipal infrastructure design. Using techniques adapted from restoration ecology and bioengineering, the landscape creates a microcosm of the surrounding regional watershed, from mountain source to reservoir. The result is a rich, humanely scaled terrain that invites neighbors to engage with the land from the perspective of the water that flows through it.
—2010 Professional Awards Jury
Located on the suburban outskirts of New Haven, the facility is a reserve water source for the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority. It draws water from nearby Lake Whitney, at the base of the Mill River Watershed. The site is adjacent to the Eli Whitney Museum, which commemorates the famous inventor and his son, who first dammed the adjacent Mill River for use as a water supply in 1806.
The use of the most elemental of landscape architectural toolssoil, water, and plantsoffsets the sleek form of the facility building. The design creates topographical variety and interest through sustainable reuse of excavated soil. Swales replace a traditional engineered drainage system. The planting program, inspired by restoration ecology, is at once primal and sophisticated in its extent and complexity.
The new topography is stabilized using bioengineering methods. Site stormwater and runoff from the building's green roof are filtered as they move through the landscape. The planting scheme uses native species that require no fertilizers or pesticides, reducing the facility's impact downstream. The plant palette is also calibrated for seasonal variation in color and texture, and anticipates the natural evolution of plant communities over time.
A Watershed in Microcosm
The landscape is designed to be a didactic microcosm of the entire regional watershed. The swales guide site runoff through a series of discrete landscapesincluding farmland, meadow, and valley streabefore collecting it in a new pond that recharges the groundwater table. Meandering footpaths allow visitors to move through this narrative and consider how water interacts with the land.
While the utility is privately owned, the landscape architecture and building work to engage, rather than ignore, the adjacent residential neighborhood. The site also hosts the historic Eli Whitney Barn, a space for community events and programming. By transforming a formerly flat lawn into a dynamic, ecologically diverse public space, the design improves long-standing community use of the grounds and integrates the site with its suburban surroundings.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, Principal
Matthew Urbanski, Design Principal
A. Paul Seck, Robert Rock, J.P. Weesner
Steven Holl Architects, New York USA
Tighe and Bond Consulting Engineers, Westfield, MA USA
CH2M, Boston USA
C.H. Nickerson & Company, Inc.,
Torrington, CT USA
Emanouil Brothers, Inc., Chelmsford, MA USA
The Bioengineering Group, Inc., Salem, MA USA