Feature Article - November 2010
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Landscape Solutions

Great Grounds Advice

By Dawn Klingensmith

Meeting Mother Nature

Youth wellness and the concept of "nature deficit disorder" are shaping public landscape architecture and philosophy.

From minimalist playgrounds with expanses for running to the trend toward using traditional playground equipment as gateways to the natural environment, playground and landscape design may evolve to meet the needs of children and families who are spending less time outdoors and therefore are lacking in opportunities to develop an appreciation for nature.

Located on 34 forested acres in the New Jersey countryside, the Willow School in Gladstone puts kids up close and personal with nature. Each classroom has its own door so children can move outside for lessons or play, and large windows connect the indoors to the outdoors. The grounds design includes outdoor learning spaces and constructed wetlands for filtrating wastewater. Rainwater runoff is recycled to flush toilets and irrigate, though the native grasses and perennial plants onsite require little or no watering. Flushed water and any rainwater overflow are directed to constructed wetlands for processing. Hydroponic plants in septic water, along with microorganisms, feed off the pollutants, and then the cleaned water is pumped into the ground to help recharge the local aquifier.

Other design features include meadows, butterfly gardens and rainwater harvesting.

The school curriculum actively incorporates sustainable living principles at each grade level.

Art in the Park

The Indianapolis Museum of Art's new outdoor art park, 100 Acres, is a place where an ongoing commission of site-specific art appears out of the landscape and, in some cases, merges with and becomes part of it. The "site-responsive" art installations are set in woodlands, wetlands, meadows and even in the lake. Previously a gravel pit, the site has evolved through natural reclamation into its current state of untamed woodlands and wetlands.

One installation is a 50-foot-long boat that cuts across the museum's 35-acre lake. From a nearby guard tower, visitors can hear the voices of imaginary refugees fleeing an environmental disaster, as well as the sound of gunfire and other voices fretting about illegal immigrants trying to come ashore. Also in the lake is a floating fiberglass igloo that bobs around untethered and is accessible via rowboat.

Surrounding the lake is a continuous thread of yellow benches that have hills and dips, rather than platforms, for seating. One has been dubbed the kissing bench because when two people sit in it, they can't help but slide into each other.