July 27, 2008

Sustainable setting for scholarship

None of the University of California campuses placed in the top tier of the Princeton Review's "greenness" index according to the Times reporter Kate Zernike. It is not hard to believe that UC Berkeley did not make the list; after all, the university will replace a carbon sink (an 80-year old oak grove) with a carbon source (a modern sports facility). Read about the lawsuit here.

However, the university has taken some steps towards sustainability which can be seen on its sustainability walking tour. Interestingly, Strawberry Creek is featured on the tour even though the proposed sports facility will add impermeable surface area to the creek's watershed. The creek feature is described as follows:

Cal has provided a role model of environmental education and stewardship through its program to restore Strawberry Creek: over 3,000 students use the creek as an outdoor lab annually, and design of new buildings incorporates features to protect water quality and improve habitat.

The newest dormitories on campus are also featured on the walk. Known as Units 1&2 Dormitories, the site's landscape (below) was designed by GLS (Gary L. Strang) Landscape/Architecture of San Francisco, California. The design received one of the ASLA 2006 General Design Category Awards of Honor. (ASLA is the American Society of Landscape Architects.) The dorms status as infill housing, pictured below, contributed to the project's receipt of LEED status.

Photos: ASLA 2006 Professional Awards

The university's walking tour does not include many landscape-related sustainability features like food production, cooling (the replacement of the oak grove with a building will presumably increase the urban heat island effect), habitat, or stormwater management though the latter exists on the campus.

In partnership with the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), the university designed a water conservation landscape south of the biological sciences building. There are several informational signs (above) posted within the project area but they are not at eye level and the graphic design is uninspired. Also, the lawn to the north of the oaks dominates the project area. Although "water efficient irrigation" has been installed, a lawn is not a traditional sustainability motif.

On the other hand, the vegetated swale, at the western edge of the project pictured below, signals an ecological approach to stormwater management. However, the swale is not striking; the vegetation is still immature and the species palette is lackluster.

Some next steps for the university could include meaningful integration with the City of Berkeley's environmental planning; green roofs; rainwater collection; treescapes for climate mitigation, stormwater management, and habitat; and more urban ecology and sustainability courses. The Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning sponsored a green roof demonstration project this spring and a green roof on Wurster Hall (the department's home) is a "Big Idea @ Berkeley." Wurster is often cited as "the ugliest building on campus" by tour guides and even John King, urban design writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, but its roof is an ideal candidate for modelling green roof strategies.

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