Sasaki is pleased to report the landscape of the University of Texas (UT) Austin Dell Medical Center has been certified SITES v2 Gold. Located within the Waller Creek corridor, the design mitigates stormwater and flood risks by incorporating a suite of sustainable elements, such as rain gardens, pervious pavement, and native plantings. The landscape exemplifies a new approach to landscape at UT Austin, developed as part of Sasaki’s comprehensive 2013 master plan for UT Austin, which outlined recommendations for landscape, facilities, and transportation improvements.
“The landscape master plan prescribed a whole new approach to landscape on campus,” explains Joe Hibbard, FASLA, Sasaki principal in charge on the Dell Medical Center landscape design work. The new approach is moving away from planting design for the sake of visual effect alone, prioritizing ecological function as well.
“Traditionally, colleges and universities have invested in plantings to define outdoor space, provide shade, and improve the visual character of their campuses. More recently, there has been a shift towards more functional landscapes that provide ecosystem benefits in addition to the traditional visual and psychological benefits. Research has shown how plant communities can positively affect air and water quality, habitat value, biodiversity, and local climate. It is not a surprise that we see our clients increasingly interested in these benefits,” Hibbard explains.
UT Austin is one such client moving towards a more sustainable approach to campus landscape development. Working closely with UT landscape services and ecologists from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and Applied Ecological Services Inc., Sasaki developed an entirely new set of landscape guidelines far more sensitive to ecological function than previous standards. The guidelines codify new approaches to the design of campus streets, courtyards, quads, and open spaces—complete with recommended assemblages of planting palettes to be utilized for both aesthetic and functional effect throughout campus. The team also undertook moving a number of mature Live Oak trees, a feat which preserved magnificent mature shade trees and provided instant grace to offset the presence of large medical buildings. The trees are beloved for their shade, and also bolster ecological functions throughout the new medical campus landscape.
At the time Sasaki began working with UT Austin, Texas was experiencing a prolonged drought. The campus featured turf glass, clipped evergreen hedges, and many other non-native plant species requiring significant irrigation. The drought was uncommonly severe and was a significant factor shaping the thinking of decision makers as UT Austin engaged the Sasaki team to develop a more resilient and sustainable campus landscape approach.
Learn more about the project below:
UT Austin’s Dell Medical School Landscape
The Dell Medical School and its teaching hospital, Dell Seton Medical Center, are part of a vibrant health district that is one of Austin’s largest and most anticipated development projects. The 16.2-acre development is located in central Austin on the University of Texas campus. Prior to construction, the project area consisted of both green space and previously developed sites. Waller creek, a neglected urban stream that has been greatly impacted by development, runs through the middle of the district and was identified early on as an asset to the project.
Design efforts focused on improving the ecological function of the creek corridor. Restoration of the creek was an 18-month multi-step process that included the removal of invasive species, stream bank stabilization and the re-vegetation of diverse native plant communities. Formal planting areas around buildings prioritized the use of native vegetation, which has helped reduce irrigation by over 75%. Rain gardens, pervious pavers, rainwater harvesting, and a green roof, manage stormwater and connect visitors to the local climate and hydrologic cycle. Green spaces around the buildings and along Waller creek are an urban oasis that provides environmental and human health benefits to students, educators, patients and the greater community.
Site context: The project is located on the southern edge of campus between the I-35 corridor and Trinity, and 15th and Martin Luther King. Waller creek bisects the site and connects visitors and building occupants to nature. The surrounding area is highly urbanand within walking distance to local restaurants, museums, and recreational facilities. The site is easily accessed by public transportation. Challenges and solutions: The greatest challenges posed by the site were the construction of multiple large facilities in a dense urban environment and the Waller creek floodplain. To address these issues, construction was carefully coordinated to maximize use of space and minimize unnecessary disturbance to the Waller creek riparian corridor. Floodplain functions along the creek were improved through the removal of impeding street bridges, stream bank stabilization, the removal of exotic invasive species, and the restoration of native plant communities along the riparian corridor.
Lead image ©Albert Vecerka/ESTO. Subsequent images courtesy of John Kotarski, UT Austin Communications.