Thursday, October 5, 2017

The College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture’s (CAPLA) Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory and Downtown Tucson 2050 Plan, a sustainability plan for downtown Tucson drafted by assistant professor Courtney Crosson and her students, won “Crescordia” awards, Arizona Forward’s highest honor at this year’s 2017 Environmental Excellence Awards Gala. Arizona Forward is a 250+ member consortium of large and small businesses, government jurisdictions, and education and non-profit communities that promotes cooperation to improve the environment and quality of life in our region, advocates for a balance between economic development and environmental quality, and convenes business, community and civic leaders in thoughtful public dialogue on critical sustainability issues.

The Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory (SLL) won a Crescodia in the category of Site Development—Public Sector. The lab is the heart of the CAPLA. Transforming 1.2-acres of the parking lot into an oasis, the SLL was part of a 2007 expansion and integral to an architectural/landscape expression of college values. Designed by the internationally renowned landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck, FASALA, and constructed entirely through the generosity of donors, the SLL is a research-oriented public garden that demonstrates water-conscious design, urban wildlife habitat, urban flood mitigation and urban heat-island reduction. The project employs five classic arid landscape design principles:

WATER SUSTAINABILITY: The SLL harvests water to create and sustain five biomes. Water is harvested from roof runoff, heating and air conditioning condensate and drinking fountains into an 11,600-gallon cistern, and then used to irrigate native low-water-use plants and source a pond. The A/C condensate alone contributes 95,000 gallons of water annually with 85,000 gallons coming from rainwater, saving 230,000 gallons per year in potable water.

REDUCTION OF THE URBAN HEAT ISLAND: The SLL’s extensive tree canopies, vertical trellis, and porous ground cover reduce the buildup of solar radiation in the college’s adjacent building and providing a cool outdoor microclimate. By quickly dispersing daytime heat, in addition to shading the walls and adjacent ground plane, the buildings cool much more quickly.

REDUCTION OF URBAN FLOODING: The SSL dramatically slows stormwater runoff by diverting it through four microbasins and riparian area runoff channels lined with urbanite (recycled construction rubble). During storms, the SSL’s lower patio fills, then slowly releases over 18 hours, up to 6,000-gallons into the downstream portions of the garden.

RECONNECTION WITH NATURE: The SSL is composed of five biomes of the Sonoran Desert: the Upper Sonoran, Desert Wetland, Desert Riparian, Mesquite Bosque, and Desert Canyon, each populated by its respective diversity of plants and animals. The 18,000-gallon Desert Wetland, for example, is home to numerous species that includes three threatened or endangered fish- and two reptile-species that were introduced as part of a reclamation program. The constant presence of predators and prey are indicators of a healthy bio-diverse habitat.

AN INTERPRETIVE OASIS: Interpretive signage and videos were added to teach the guiding principles of the SLL. The college uses the space for formal dinners and ceremonies; students use it for socializing and events. The SSL is the heart of college life as well as a model of how architecture and landscape architecture should be mutually interactive: the air conditioner condensate feeds the garden, which shades the building, which reduces the need for air conditioning.

The School of Architecture nominated SLL for the award on behalf of Richard Underwood, the Underwood Family and AAA Landscape who continue to contribute 100% of the SLL’s maintenance and upkeep.

The Downtown Tucson 2050 Plan was awarded the Northern Arizona University Environmental Education and Communication Crescordia Award for a joint effort between CAPLA, GLHN Architects and Engineers, and the City of Tucson and Pima County employees for a plan to achieve year 2050 carbon and water neutrality targets without sacrificing either livability or projected growth in downtown Tucson. As cities are pushed to the forefront of global climate leadership, long-range design and planning are increasingly urgent, yet municipalities face resource constraints. This project offers a replicable model for academia to join with practice and local Arizona governments to educate and envision bold solutions to some of our largest urban challenges: climate adaptability, local resiliency, and future livability. 

The semester-long project, led by Crosson and ten students studying either architecture and landscape architecture, employed case study research, spatial mapping, quantitative analysis and design inquiry. The broad-based 2050 plan includes three components disseminated through a 204-page book: (1) district energy, water, and living infrastructure, (2) district land use plan with sustainable building prototypes and (3) three sub-district master plans with rendered visions. 

Two major trends are re-shaping our future Arizona cities: the projected effects of carbon emissions and water deficits. For the first, this project produced a net zero energy pathway for downtown Tucson now being incorporated into Tucson’s recent commitment to honor the Paris Climate Accord. For the second, this plan created an actionable model for Arizona urban areas to reach water independence while supporting economic viability, social equity, and ecological health. The living infrastructure integrated new technologies, 100% storm water retention and the revitalization of the historic Santa Cruz River.

While the downtown Tucson 2050 Plan is a vision for the future, meeting our largest urban challenges requires public, private, and academic partners to act now. This pedagogy trained Arizona’s future planners and designers to face large environmental challenges by leveraging local expertise and resources for viable action through regional cooperation. This educational initiative has secured multiyear investment from private and public partners as a result of the work in this Downtown Tucson 2050 Plan.

Sonoran Landscape Laboratory in action its site development plans

Sonoran Landscape Laboratory in action its site development plans

Tucson 2050 plans and a glimpse of the 204 page book produced as part of the project

University of Arizona