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American Society of Landscape Architects


August 2008 Issue

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

Making Hydrology Visible

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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