April 12, 2008
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. (MVVA) 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.
MVVA approached the porject with a simple strategy: grade the entire 22-acre building site at 5% to place the factory on a level base, so that water would sheet drain from impervious areas into wetlands 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 tress.
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 storm water 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.
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.