Feature Article - November 2009
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Parks Are People & Place

The Intersection of Culture & Ecology in Landscape Design

By Emily Tipping

From Trash to Treasure

Trinity River Audubon Center
Dallas, Texas

Another recent ASLA award-winning master plan, the Trinity River Corridor project in Dallas, has seen one project completed, with millions of dollars' worth of development still to come.

The now-complete Trinity River Audubon Center, recognized with an Innovative Architecture and Design Award, is a building that sits beautifully within its surrounding environment. Combined, the site and building offer Southeast Dallas an educational and community-building shared space for a variety of events throughout the year.

But the current beauty of the site belies its former condition. The site was previously the Deepwood landfill, containing more than 1.5 million tons of construction debris. The waste was consolidated into capped rolling hills, and then planted with prairie grass and hardwood trees. Clay-lined ponds were constructed to further enhance the site. They now attract wildlife, but also allow rainwater and runoff to collect, be cleansed and then flow back into the Trinity River.

The site invites human interaction with the environment through observation areas situated around the pond and 2.5 miles of walking trails leading deeper into the forest. An elevated footbridge connects these miles of trails to the entrance of the building.

In addition to the careful stormwater control of the wetland marshes and ponds, the site also was designed to be water-efficient, with many native North Texas trees and prairie grasses. This reduces the need for irrigation. The wetlands provide a resting spot and a home for wildlife and birds. In consideration of this wildlife's nocturnal activities, the exterior lighting at the center is automatically set to turn off after hours.

Ultimately, this project is just one pocket of a much larger project. In fact, the Trinity River Corridor will be one of the largest green infrastructure projects in the United States. The 9-mile urban park, floodway and transportation improvement project aims to anchor a transformation of the urban landscape.

Wallace Roberts & Todd came up with the ASLA-award-winning design guidelines for this multi-phase project. About 80 percent of the 2,300-acre area will be reserved for low-maintenance landscapes that can naturally withstand flooding, prairie grasses, wetlands, riparian buffers, bottomland woodland and recreational lakes. The other 20 percent of the land will be used for more active recreation including more than 30 miles of trails, promenades, amphitheaters, play areas and athletic fields.

Public art will include site-specific temporary works throughout the site, a single major permanent work strategically located on Central Island, as well as around a dozen "council circles," each designed by a different artists. The $300 million first phase was aiming for completion in 2014.