Feature Article - November 2010
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Landscape Solutions

Great Grounds Advice

By Dawn Klingensmith


Not Just Grass and a Gazebo

After seven years of planning and building at a cost of $19.5 million, Chicago's new Mary Bartelme Park opened in August to considerable fanfare, including praise for its marriage of sustainable and imaginative design elements. The Chicago Tribune calls the park "geometrically complex, engagingly interactive and highly stylized." Its angular layout features a raised lawn in the center for lounging and picnicking. Diagonal paths cut across the park, and there's a series of large stainless steel structures that people can pass through like doorways and that release a cooling mist that forms clouds.

The steel structures form a path to the playground. Instead of trucking dirt from the excavation off-site, the dirt was formed into mounds on the playground. The Tribune reports: "Approaching, you see the mounds first. They endow the park with that rare thing in pancake-flat Chicago: topography." The tallest is about 7 feet high and provides a view of Willis Tower (formerly called the Sears Tower).

The park incorporates native plants and an abundance of reused materials, such as playground surfacing made from recycled tires and seating made with terra cotta lintels salvaged from the demolished university infirmary that occupied the site. The park also features some cutting-edge sustainable technologies, including "smog-eating" permeable pavers that absorb rainwater runoff and pollutants from the air using special cement that oxidizes the pollutants. The pavers reportedly stay cleaner than other products, thus reducing maintenance costs.

A Heavily Trafficked Park

A degraded area beneath a highway overpass in Toronto will be transformed into a park. The park's design is influenced by the massive overpass columns and structures and will feature athletic courts, recreation areas for seniors, playgrounds and dining options, as well as community gardens. The existing site's eccentricities and built-in weather protection are integral to the design.

To park is lit by a combination of LED spotlights on the 50-plus overpass columns, shielded in-ground and in-wall lights and illuminated concrete ribbons at the seating areas. Sustainable features include granite cobblestones reclaimed from an avenue and landscaping designed for minimal irrigation.