Once a campus parking lot, the Sonoran Landscape Laboratory transformed a barren concrete “gray field” into a desert oasis for students, professors, and numerous varieties of plant and animal species.
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From its inception, the project was intended to complement the adjacent College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture by serving as a living laboratory and demonstration facility for students in architecture, landscape architecture, and planning.
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Because the site was a natural catch point for stormwater, construction of a retention pond and bioswales laced with native Arizona vegetation enables the landscape to productively treat and retain runoff on site. By diverting water away from storm sewers, heavy rainfalls put less stress on the city’s drainage infrastructure.
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A water-harvesting system actively collects “graywater” from the new classroom building and directs it to an 11,600-gallon storage tank. As needed, the non-drinkable water is circulated into the landscape garden to nourish its resident plant life.
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Native, drought-resistant plants were chosen for the site to conserve water needed for irrigation. Over the next few years, the need to use drinkable water will be totally eliminated, resulting in a completely self-sustaining landscape, rare in such a harsh and inhospitable environment as the desert Southwest.
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An architectural scrim serves as a step ladder for vines to grow vertically up the building’s south façade, creating a “green wall.” The vines have climbed to a remarkable 50 feet high and have started to shade and cool the building.
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The five distinct biomes, or ecological communities, of the Sonoran Landscape Laboratory are now a haven for biodiversity. The pond is home for endangered fish and listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a "Safe Harbor" urban site.
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The cooler microclimate created by the garden has increased the opportunities for outdoor gathering and social interaction among students and professors. The site now inspires today’s students to incorporate sustainable principles in tomorrow’s designs.
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