American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2005 Professional Awards
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This hydrologic context diagram shows the Herman Miller landscape solution: several shallow wetlands break up parking areas to steadily and consistently absorb runoff, minimizing and governing the amount of runoff that enters the sensitive regional watershed (photo: Timothy Hursley).
Unlike typical parking lots, where massive expanses of impermeable surfaces intensify runoff velocity and thus erosion rate, runoff in the parking bays at Herman Miller is mitigated by limited impermeable surface area and buffering hedgerows.
After heavy rains, the excavated landscape north of the factory becomes a large water retention area that is also a new habitat for a diversity of plant and animal species (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).
A hedgerow of Tulip Poplars along the entry drive mirrors the building façade, recounting the balanced relationship between factory and landscape (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).
Industrial elegance superimposes the hard edges of an extensive loading dock (photo: Timothy Hursley).
A horticulture symphony inserted in a vast factory landscape (photo: Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects).
Each landscape element—telephone poles, hedgerow, and paved surface— discrete and rhythmically arranged, together forms a visually diverse and multi-layered landscape (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).
When tall wetland grasses and a variety of native flowering plants flourish, the geometric order of the original design is still visible (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).

12,000 Factory Workers Meet Ecology in the Parking Lot, Canton, GA
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., New York, NY

"Really sets an example . . .. ingenious hydrology . . . creative initiative by the landscape architect to serve the best interests of client and community. . . this company made an enormous commitment to environmental sustainability.."

— 2005 Professional Awards Jury Comments

In the late 1870s, Frederick Law Olmsted expanded the purview of the profession by taking on the Muddy River’s chronic sanitation problems. Defying conventional engineering practices, Olmsted made the hydrologic system visible, redirecting the flow of the river and restoring the area’s original salt marshes. The success of this project demonstrated that landscape architects could take control of crucial aspects of site engineering, and in so doing, assume the ecological, economic, and political power needed to effect lasting environmental and cultural change.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., approached the project with a simple strategy: They graded the entire 22-acre building site at five percent to place the factory on a level base, so that water would sheet drain from impervious areas into wetlands they constructed for the purpose, thereby eliminating the need for curbs, pipes, and manholes. The parking lot was divided into three bays that drain into wetlands planted with grasses, forbs, and sedges. When dry, these areas become meadows. The edges of these wetland trays transition to 10 to 15-foot-wide thickets of floodplain trees.

Using hydrologic management as an engine of this project’s design, the landscape architects extend Olmsted’s lineage with hydrologic systems to a new project type: the rural factory. We showed the client how to redirect money from the engineer’s budget and use grading, planting, environmental stewardship, and site organization to integrate stormwater management into a vast factory system. In our scheme, parking became part of a thriving ecological system that neutralizes the impacts of runoff, provides habitat for wildlife, and offers a compelling arrival and departure experience to the three-shift factory’s employees.

The Herman Miller furniture manufacturing and assembly plant is situated on a 70-acre site in rural Georgia. The project’s modest building and site budget included no provision for landscape architecture before the architects invited Michael Van Valkenburgh, Inc. to join the design team. The client required parking for 550 cars and 120 semi-trailers—a total area of 10 acres. Runoff from the parking surfaces, the roadway, and the roof of the 330,000 square-foot facility would have had a devastating impact on the surrounding fragile creek ecosystems. The landscape architects determined that treating and slowly releasing the massive runoff in the landscape must become an essential priority for the project.

By integrating ecology into acres of hardscape in an honest, elegant manner, this project creates a new model for low-cost, low-maintenance, environmentally sound factory landscapes. This model could be applied with equal success in suburban and urban areas and demonstrates how landscape architects can take a lead in linking effective hydrological management with good design.



An early concept sketch shows the parking bays, hedgerows, and wetland meadows, and their relationship to the rolling hills and Etowah River beyond the property line.
A water systems diagram explains internal runoff patterns and reveals overflow connections to regional aquatic systems..
The factory’s clean lines frame the roughly hewn yet geometric order of the parking bay and wetland designs (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).
The alternating areas of impermeable and absorbent surfaces in the rear parking area echo the building façade’s rhythm of solid and void (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).
Unimpeded by curbs, parking lot runoff flows through riparian zones before settling in shallow wetland trays, where it is filtered and returned to the hydrologic system at large.
A riparian zone of densely planted, small caliper floodplain trees that lends textural variety to the site is a visual and physical buffer between the parking bays and the low meadow-wetland (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).
The hydrologic agenda that drives the design also provides a natural setting to the building (photo: Ron Anton Rocz).
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