Accommodating a Desert Climate

06/24/2016 |

Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse, Albuquerque, NM

When it was constructed in 1998, the federal government demolished an existing park in Albuquerque to make room for the Domenici U.S. Courthouse. Shortly after, however, the site’s plaza planting and fountain repeatedly leaked and flooded the parking garage below street level. Further, the extensive lawn required 3.5 million gallons of potable water each year for irrigation.

A sustainable landscape retrofit by Rios Clemente Hale Studios (RCHS) served as a pilot project for the Sustainable SITES program. The new planting design replaced underutilized and inefficient lawns with native plants that thrive in the desert environment. More than 21,000 square feet of concrete paving were removed and reused to construct 2,000 linear feet of recycled concrete garden walls and curbs that redirect rainwater.

“We added 30 or 40% more landscape area to the project and planted thousands of plants on site,” says Mike Tramutola, RLA, Associate at RCHS. “We brought a lot more geometric complexity, but because the plants were climate appropriate, the costs to maintain them were neutral and the procedures more seasonal.”

Tramutola notes that the landscape renovations averaged about $25 per square foot, but included selective demo and masonry work, regrading, and retreating areas for waterproofing, which can be tremendously expensive. “We really were able to get tremendous bang for our buck for the project,” he says.

  • The improved landscape design achieves a number of sustainability goals, including:
  • Decreases water usage by 85%
  • Cuts energy costs by using solar panels installed atop existing surfaces to provide power for the grounds
  • Provides irrigation by collecting and re-using rainwater from the large roof
  • Detains, filters and treats stormwater runoff in on-site bioswales and rain gardens
  • Simplifies landscape maintenance, reducing the need for mowing, additional watering, herbicides and fertilizers

Four months after the project was completed, Albuquerque experienced a 100-year storm during which the streets surrounding the courthouse were completely flooded. According to Tramutola, the parking garage was dry.

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