Title : Green Urban Spaces and Sustainable Architecture
An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for
BAR 505: Sustainable Design Programme 2013/14”
2. Brief look at History
3. Case Studies
4. Urban Greenery and sustainable architecture
The term paper seeks to draw parallels between urban green space and sustainable
In part one we look at the some historical uses of urban green spaces and if the green
spaces where intended to address sustainable architectural issues.
We then move to look at a few cases studies and how the various projects has used green
spaces to address sustainable design.
Finally we pen down the in exactly what way use of green spaces in an urban setting is
beneficial and to what extent it addresses environmental design and sustainable
In an era of global climate change and rapid urbanization, innovations on governance of
urban systems are critically required as more and more people are inhabiting the very
limited earth’s urbanized terrestrial surface. Without careful production of knowledge,
and large investments to link that knowledge to action, cities will be overwhelmed with
Both policy and architectural discourse (and science) now emphasize the critical necessity
of green areas within urban social-ecological systems. Architectural discourse can be at the
forefront of this sustainable push, both in practice and academic circles. Sustainability and
environmentally friendly design landscapes that can contribute to the design of
sustainable architecture as a whole.
At times especially in terms of an urban setting design of environmentally friendly
buildings can be carried out but design of the landscape adjacent to it may not reflect this,
thus a disconnect may arise that may at times cause such inconvincies as minor flooding
on the adjacent landscapes or destruction of subtle ecological balances.
Green spaces in urban settings when fully and intelligently incorporated in landscape
design can do much to address sustainability. We will explore just in what way urban
green spaces and buildings landscapes especially in urban setting can increase
sustainability and environmental sensitivity.
Briefly looking at the history and theory of sustainable landscape design we will also see
how past builders or architects expressed green spaces in an urban setting.
Brief Look at the History of Urban Green space
We will thus just briefly look at how open green spaces in the past in an urban setting
Image showing the early garden fringes in some early world cities premedival times.
Open spaces in towns and cities are as old as cities themselves. They have ranged from
the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to ancient London’s marshes and to the lavish
formal gardens of Paris and Vienna. Green spaces though in urban settings where
mainly restricted to gardens for philosophical and religious purposes but not really for
day to day basic human interaction of this green spaces especially pre medieval times
* In overcrowded Victorian cities and around Paris parks were seen as a way of
improving health and reducing discontent, and were provided by the new
municipalities and rich philanthropists, who sometimes wanted to boast works of art
in these green spaces that where adjacent to their buildings.
Image sourced from Wikipedia www.wikipediaancientegypt/
Some of the oldest surviving landscapes are in Egypt. The image above shows one such
example of landscaping with some greenery incorporated, this space was just outside
the temple and was mainly for religious purpose. But we can already see the tress will
provide shade and help break wind to some extent reducing dust getting into the temple.
Image sourced from livescience.com
In the above image we can see an artist impression of the ancient green spaces of the
Mesopotamian era, the green spaces served as for philosophical significance as some trees
were also considered sacred. Sadly with the advent of monotheistic religion into this
region the hanging gardens/green spaces where destroyed as the new religions wanted
to fully establish themselves
Image sourced from www.art-and-archeology.com
In the image above we see one of the oldest surviving green landscape space from ancient
India. Now in India this green spaces had monumental significance especially in terms of
Religion and some Trees symbolized Deities. The Green spaces also helped monks meditate
and realize there close relationship with nature.
Image sourced from www.art-and-archeology.com
The image above shows a city with numerous hard and soft landscaping, laid out in the
French Classical style include Slot Zeist (1677). Most of the green spaces served as chill out
spots for noble and high ranking citizens at the time. Also to boast works of art in terms of
architectural landscaping aesthetics. Little was even thought of in terms of environmental
sustainability and green spaces.
Using the aid of case studies, we will sift through projects that may acknowledge an
attempt to use green spaces to realize sustainable and environmentally friendly
James Clarkson Environmental Discovery Center
The James Clarkson Environmental Discovery Center. Image sourced from AmericanInstituteofLandscapearchitects.com
The James Clarkson Environmental Discovery Center is a museum and learning
center Dedicated to the exploration and celebration of the natural environment.
Located 30 miles outside of Detroit, Michigan, the 70-acre property was once used for
agricultural production. Years of cultivating a single crop has destroyed the land’s
diverse native plants and wildlife.
Consultants, Inc Architect: SmithGroup Inc, Environmental Engineering: EcoDesign & Engineering. Owner: Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority
Conceptual site plan. Image sourced from AmericanInstituteofLandscapearchitects.com
The project team spent a full growing season, from early spring to late fall, preparing
the site: clearing it of woody invasive, burning to expose the soil, and carefully treating
emerging invasive with several applications of a glyphosate-based herbicide. In late
fall, the site was seeded with a cover crop of oats as well as seeds of prairie plants
requiring cold stratification. The following spring, the prairie emerged.
The project was designed to illustrate a complex of prairie landscape types, each
featuring plant communities appropriate to the situation. At the highest elevation,
where the team had found the right kind of sandy and gravelly soil, the prairie barrens
are dotted with scattered trees and shrubs and dominated by sedges, grasses, and
herbaceous plants. Meadows of Lupinus perennis (lupine) were planted within the
barrens as part of an effort to reestablish the endangered Karner blue butterfly, the
caterpillars of which feed exclusively on this plant. At some points at the edges of the
barrens and near some of the trees scattered around the landscape, savanna species
Eco site plan. Image sourced from AmericanInstituteofLandscapearchitects.com
Ecosystem Site Plan - This plan indicates the location of fourteen restored, reserved
and recreated ecosystems throughout the project site. In addition the location of the
Demonstration Garden is indicated.
To increase biodiversity, the land first had to be restored to its natural state.
Landscape architects utilized the site’s 40-foot grade change to reestablish fourteen
distinct ecosystems that are native to the region, including wetland marshes, prairies,
woodlands, and open water.
The project celebrates the complexities of the natural landscape and the interrelationships among all living creatures. Throughout the site, educational
engagement with the landscape allows visitors to learn about the unique, but
James Clarkson Parking scene. Image sourced from AmericanInstituteofLandscapearchitects.com
Grass filtration swales, located around the parking lot, collect and filter rainwater
before releasing it to the wetland. This initial filtration system cleans the water and
protects aquatic plants and animals from pollution and toxins present in storm
water runoff. The swale drains into Kettle Pond, helping to maintain its water level.
Aerial view of Kresge HQ. Image sourced from AmericanInstituteofLandscpaearchitects.com
Ron Gagnon, Kresge Project
Conservation Design Forum,
Valerio Dewalt Train Associates,
Progressive AE, Civil Engineer
Interiors Group Searl Blossfeld,
Farr Associates, Consulting
Farmhouse Interior Designer
Architect for Sustainability
Lighting Design Alliance,
JM Olson Corporation,
Shiner + Associates,
Arup, Mechanical, Electrical,
Acoustic and Vibration Engineer
Plumbing and Fire Protection
Robert Darvas Associates,
The Kresge Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation that outgrew its suburban
Detroit facility a n d needed to expand. To accommodate its growth, the foundation
invested in a redevelopment project that added more office space and restored the
native landscape on its 2.74-acre corporate campus
Images sourced from AmericanInstituteofLandscpaearchitects.com
The new f a c i l i t y incorporates sustainable design practices into n e a r l y every aspect of its
Construction. The buildings and l a n d s c a p e work in harmony to minimize any
negative impact on the environment. At its core, the landscape functions to
ecologically manage and re- circulate storm water, restore biodiversity, re-use
materials, and p r o m o t e the well-being and productivity of workers.
The foundation occupies land that once supported a thriving prairieland habitat, typical
of southern Michigan. Years of agricultural-use gradually stripped the site of its
biodiversity. A major goal of the project is to restore the landscape to its original state.
To accomplish this, b u i l d i n g s are clustered together so that they only occupy o n e -third
of the total land. The remaining two-thirds of the land is dedicated to restoring native
wildlife habitat. The constructed prairieland and wetland pond now i n c l u d e more than
100 native and adaptive species of grasses and wild flowers. The dense green space is now
h o m e to numerous species of animals and insects.
Image sourced from AmericanInstituteofLandscpaearchitects.com
Green roof. The headquarters is partially covered by four green roofs-each populated with
drought-resistant native plants. Rather than deep soil, the rooftop plants are rooted in
five fine layers of materials selected to irrigate foliage and protect the building’s interior.
The remaining roof is covered with a membrane light in color so that it reflects, rather
than absorbs, sunlight to minimize heat pollution, a major problem in urban areas.
Linking the Two
So from the previous case studies we have seen how plants can be used to create
Sustainable architectural projects especially in the urban setting. Thus in the next part of
this paper we will be looking at exactly how plants when incorporated into the design of
Architectural works can increase the sustainability of the building and help in being
Environmentally friendly to the building.
1. Economic Sustainability
Using vegetation to reduce the energy costs of cooling buildings has been increasingly
recognized as a cost effective reason for increasing green space and tree planting in
Temperate climate cities. Plants improve air circulation, provide shade and they
evapotranspire. This pro-vides a cooling effect and help to lower air temperatures. A park
of 1.2 km by 1.0 km can produce an air temperature between the park and the
surrounding city that is detectable up to 4 km away.
Areas with enough greenery are aesthetically pleasing and attractive to both residents
and investors. The beautification of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was one of
the factors that attracted significant foreign investments that assisted rapid economic
In every sense potential business tenants are more likely to move into a building that has
good and attractive landscaping elements and green spaces being very key. Also in
residential areas especially urban areas where children and mostly adults would spend all
their time indoors watching TV. or on some other digital screen, green spaces attract
people to experience outside space thus helping reduce energy consumption in the house.
Also when native and local plants are used especially in terms of landscaping little
maintenance goes into this green space. Say a compared to pavers that may
deteriorate when adverse weather hits or when excessive physical load, more money
would be spent to repair the hardscape as compared to a softs scape (green space)
that would only need some time to recover from damage and a bit of maintenance.
2. Environmental Sustainability
First and foremost trees can be used to sunshade building that has exposed glazing. This
helps reduce the greenhouse effect in buildings. This helps make the building environs cool
and comfortable to be.
Images sourced from Time saver standards for landscape architects (Malestrom).
And in general trees can provide shade to the l a n d s c a p e making it cool. More often than
not most motorist will rush to get the parking under a tree with shade so that the car is not
turned into a furnace by the direct sunlight.
Images sourced from Wikipedia
As we saw in the case studies green spaces when well thought through in landscapes
and incorporated, biodiversity can be increased or restored where it was destroyed.
In today’s urban setting it would be a scary thought to even fathom the plethora of
biodiversity that has been destroyed because of building construction without proper
lack of providing for existing bio- diversity to continue to thrive.
An approach where green spaces are incorporated heavily into the landscape design
and just not green spaces but using local and native plant species goes a long way in
integrating architecture and environmental friendliness
Green spaces also help drain the landscape by letting water filter through and find its
way into the ground (Controlling storm water runoff) . This helps reduce flooding and
reduces incidences of stagnant water that maybe a breeding grounds for mosquitoes,
and just a plain nuisances when you have to hope skip and jump to make your way
Ameliorate heat island effect, temperature reduction and improve air quality. This
comes from the ability of most plants to take in C02 and release 02 back into the
atmosphere thus cooling and cleaning it. Not forgetting c02 is a major contributor to
Reducing sound transmission through absorption, reflection and deflection. Use
of green spaces reduces the noise pollution associated with urban life.
3. Human health
People who were exposed to natural environment, the level of stress decreased
rapidly as compared to people who were exposed to urban environment, their stress
level remained high. In the same review, patients in an hospital whose rooms were
facing a park had a 10% faster recovery and needed 50% less strong pain relieving
medication as compared to patients whose rooms were facing a building wall.
This is a clear indication that urban green spaces can increase the physical and
psychological wellbeing of urban citizens. In another re-search conducted in Swedish
cities showed that the more time people spend outdoors in urban green spaces, the less
they are affected by stress.
Certainly, improvements in air quality due to vegetation have a positive impact on
physical health with such obvious benefits as decrease in respiratory illnesses. The
connection between people and nature is important for everyday enjoyment, work
productivity and general mental health.
Urban green spaces serve as a near resource for relaxation; provide emotional warmth.
Especially in the work environment that can be dull and feel very detached, green
spaces can serve to break this monotony and help improve productivity of workers, by
making them feel more at home.
They are educational.
Bringing a little of nature indoors, especially in urban areas where people may not have
had much exposure to plant life can be both stimulating and educational. Where else,
other than the tropical plant houses of botanical gardens, will you see the variety of
exotic and unusual plant species usually on display in shopping centers and large office
atria? The increasing use by many establishments of plant labelling, with information
on species, origins and history, is increasing this benefit even further and encouraging
people to take more interest in their surroundings.
They can be used to reflect national or cultural aspects of a business.
In the multinational world of commerce, every country has businesses, whether
banks, hotels, manufacturing facilities or airlines, from every corner of the globe. Many
of them are proud of their origins and wish to reflect it in the style of building they
occupy and the way it is furnished. This doesn’t always just apply to the decor, fittings
and building design; companies are increasingly turning to interior landscaping to
make a national or cultural statement. The stones, water and plants that form the
basis of Japanese gardens in many Far Eastern organizations are an obvious example.
Time saver standards for landscape architects (Malestrom)
J. Dole, “Greenscape 5: Green Cities, Architects’ Jour-nal,” In: G.
Haughton and C. Hunterm, Sustainable Cities, JKP, London, 1994,
C. Y. Jim, “Green-Space Preservation and Allocation for
Sustainable Greening of Compact Cities,” Elsevier sciences: Cities,
Vol. 21, No. 4. 2004, pp.