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American Society of Landscape Architects


January 2007 Issue

Making Hydrology Visible
Using stormwater management as the basis of the design solution, landscape architects integrated ecological intentions into the often-overlooked landscape of the rural factory.

By Vernon Mays

Making Hydrology Visible Ron Anton Rocz

Making an exemplary landscape was never an intention of Herman Miller Inc. when it decided to build a furniture factory in Canton, Georgia, but it was no accident either. Call it a matter of fate, perhaps, that a progressive company, a persuasive architect, and an insightful biologist-cum-landscape architect collided in the rural South to create a place grounded in principles that others would be wise to follow.

The company purchased a 70-acre parcel near a pool of available labor and an interstate highway about an hour north of Atlanta. The characteristics of the site, however, were contrary to almost every desire from a design standpoint. For starters, it was a hilltopósimply the wrong place to begin for a building type that demands a sprawling, flat floor surface. Added to that was the fact that streams ran along either side of the hill, and the factory would have devastated them with its runoff from 330,000 square feet of impermeable roof and 10 acres of asphalt.

Using hydrologic management as the underpinning of its design solution, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) integrated ecological intentions into the often-overlooked landscape of the American factory, thereby creating a new model for low-cost, low-maintenance, environmentally sound manufacturing landscapes.

The approach was not an entirely original idea, notes Matt Urbanski, ASLA, the New York-based principal in charge of the landscape design. He readily acknowledges the precedent set by Frederick Law Olmsted, who in the late 1870s expanded the purview of the profession by taking on Bostonís Muddy Riverís chronic sanitation problems. Defying conventional engineering practices, Olmsted made the hydrologic system visible, redirecting the riverís flow and restoring the areaís original salt marshes. Urbanski maintains that MVVA simply extended the tradition of Olmstedís work with hydrologic systems to a new project type: the rural factory.

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