In Seattle, a Humble, Mindful Campus

People / Places / October 2, 2014

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol’s work on the campus of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle has won an award of excellence from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

And for good reason.

The firm did its homework on the downtown project, catty cornered across from the Space Needle.

Its site was once a watery bog, later replaced by a toxic trolley repair center with fueling stations and garages. That in turn was torn down to make way for a 13-acre asphalt parking lot that emptied runoff into Puget Sound.

“We wanted to invert that,” says Shannon Nichol, founding principal in the firm.

So a new layer to the campus now captures rainwater in a million-gallon cistern below grade. It collects water for feeding the aquatic gardens, for irrigation and for flushing toilets.

“Where we don’t have pedestrian surfaces, we have green roofs with extensive sedum plantings,” she says. “They’re five inches thick and absorb 90 percent of water, so some water is absorbed and the rest is directed into that massive cistern.”

They introduced plantings of native materials mixed with new ones, like blueberries. By artfully juxtaposing water and landscape features, they’ve managed to produce a humble, mindful feeling for employees, a reference to two of the foundation’s cultural touchstones.

“We wanted to have a really dense, serene feeling that’s really grounded for the people flying around there all the time,” she says. “We wanted the stability of a moist, serene site with a black reflecting pool that you might get in a dark bog.”

They got it – and with it, the highest award the ASLA offers in its general design category.

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Michael Welton




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