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Belo Center for New Media

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Saves an average of 465,000 gallons of potable water and $2,700 annually by using air conditioning condensate and harvested rainwater for irrigation.
  • Reduces the peak rate of runoff flowing off the site by 46% for a 2-year storm by 46% compared to site’s previous use as a parking lot.
  • Sequesters 5,211 lbs of atmospheric carbon and intercepts 18,720 gallons of stormwater annually in 55 newly-planted trees.
  • Maintains summer surface temperatures in the seating area that are an average of 19.8°F cooler than surface temperatures on the nearby sidewalk and street.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

  • Project Type

    Courtyard/Plaza
    School/University

  • Former Land Use

    Greyfield

  • Location

    300 W Dean Keaton Street
    Austin, Texas 78712

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    1.5 acres

  • Budget

    $1.6 million - landscape; $54,770,000 - total project

  • Completion Date

    2012

Previously the site of a parking lot, the courtyard at the Belo Center for New Media was constructed as a new kind of landscape on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Built to accompany a new LEED Gold-certified building at the Moody College of Communication, the courtyard features a native landscape with an innovative water system, which was inspired by Lady Bird Johnson, a graduate of the program. Water is conserved through use of air conditioning condensate and harvested rainwater for irrigation. The path that water takes through the site is a critical element of the design, and the plaza incorporates a new sustainable palette of plants and materials never before seen on campus.The garden also provides formal and informal gathering space for faculty, students, visitors, and staff. 

  • During storm events, rainwater falls from the roof and the first flush enters through a biofiltration fountain. When the fountain reaches capacity, a valve directs to on-site cisterns where it is stored for irrigation. In extreme flood events, excess cistern water is rerouted to the biofiltration fountain, causing it to overflow into the streetscape bioswale. 
  • The unique recirculating biofiltration fountain is the centerpiece of the site and reveals the path of water through the courtyard. In contrast to the turquoise, chemically-cleaned fountains found elsewhere on campus, the vegetated, cast-in-place concrete fountain embodies qualities of an actual wetland and is lined with 3 ft of pea gravel with a coarse sand top mix. Aquatic plants like buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) are set into the gravel in individual containers.
  • 4 cisterns behind the building hold almost 30,000 gallons.The cisterns store water collected from rainwater harvesting, air conditioning condensate, and potable city water. The stored water is used to irrigate the landscape. 
  • A 12 ft-by-120-ft bioswale on the south side of the site is planted with Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) and collects and filters stormwater runoff.
  • 11,797 sf of permeable pavers allow sheet flow to percolate down into the ground.
  • The Belo Center’s courtyard features the most significant use of native plant material on the University of Texas at Austin campus, incorporating 30 different species such as red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), pink skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), and Texas honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa).
  • 20 of the newly-planted species attract pollinators. For example, Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) attracts butterflies and is a larval host for the gray hairstreak butterfly, and flame acanthus attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and carpenter bees and is a larval host for Texan crescent butterfly.
  • 12 existing live oak trees were preserved during construction.
  • Educational signage with the name of each native plant is placed next to each plant group.
  • The advanced irrigation system is completely digitized. Each plant has its own emitter, and the entire system can be turned on or off from a tablet.
  • The courtyard offers various types of seating with 13 picnic tables, 4 benches around the turf lawn, and additional cast-in-place concrete benches on the lower level near the small waterfall of the fountain.
  • Seating in the courtyard is arranged to facilitate use as an outdoor classroom.
  • The lawn can be used as a performance space and is equipped with various state-of-the-art audio connections.
  • The multifunctional space is used by the Moody College of Communication for formal and informal outdoor events. For example, a small wood floor and tent on the lawn were added for a conference reception.

Challenge

For a relatively small site, the Moody College for Communication requested a considerable amount of programmed space. The Dean and head client envisioned an agora-like courtyard – a gathering place where students could collaborate in outdoor classrooms or watch performances. The gathering space also needed to accommodate a fountain, cafe space, and performance lawn. 

Solution

To accommodate extensive programming within a small site, the design concept worked off the rhythm of the building to create an orthogonal landscape. The space fit together like a lock-box and could accommodate the many desired uses. After all preliminary design was finished and construction documents were already underway the client changed their mind about the orthogonal shape and voiced that they would prefer a curvilinear design. In an effort to illustrate that the original design would work and could accommodate the program, the landscape architects created many perspective renderings and conducted studies on its capacity. These images convinced the client that the original orthogonal design would be well-suited for the space. 

  • The design team originally planned to use stabilized decomposed granite for pathways and courtyard paving. The University of Texas at Austin had experienced an undesirable outcome with stabilized this material on another part of campus where flooding led to erosion of the decomposed granite and a large-scale maintenance problem with students tracking it into school facilities. As a result of this incident, the university requested that no new projects use stabilized decomposed granite. Therefore, the landscape architect decided to to replace this material with permeable pavers. A benefit to the material change is that the permeable pavers used at Belo are considered a pervious material by City of Austin standards while stabilized decomposed granite is not, which meant that during the LEED certification process, the project earned additional points for permeable pavement because the pavers were consistent with local requirements. 
  • There were difficulties establishing the complicated air conditioning condensate water harvesting system during installation, and it had to be refined in the first few years of operation. These challenges, in addition to plant establishment watering needs and issues with the fountain feature, resulted in a higher use of potable water than expected. The irrigation coordinator anticipates that beginning in 2016 there will be no potable water used on the landscape, and all irrigation needs will be met using rainwater harvesting and air conditioning condensate.
  • The project’s water system is a complex and innovative coupling of building and landscape systems, and its design and construction required multidisciplinary coordination between architects, engineers, landscape architects, and campus facilities personnel. As issues began to arise, the importance of clear communication between all groups working on the system became vital. The landscape architect created a laminated cartoon illustration of the water structure which outlined each party’s responsibilities regarding construction and implementation of the system. These diagrams were posted at various key points on-site to provide a consistent visual that all groups could reference.
  • The design team acknowledges that more communication with the maintenance group would have benefited this project. Including maintenance personnel from early stages of the design project would ensure that the crew responsible for maintaining the landscape has an understanding of the design intent as future issues arise. This is especially true for a project such as Belo Center, which requires different maintenance practices than any other location on campus due to the native plantings and water feature.

Waterproof Joint System: Krystol Internal Membrane (KIM) Waterproofing Admixture for portland cement concrete, Kryton International Inc
Bike Rack: Cycloops & Cyclocker Bicycle Management
Permeable Pavers: Pavestone Eco Priora

Project Team

Landscape Architect: Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
Architect (Principal): Lawrence Group
Associate Architect: Graeber Simmons & Cowan
LEED Consultant: Monarch Design & Consulting
Civil and Structural Engineer: Datum Gojer
Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing: Jose I. Guerra, Inc. Consulting Engineers
Water Harvesting/Fountain Design: Garza Consulting
Irrigation: Hines Irrigation Consultants

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect was involved in the project from the beginning, prior to the building design. The landscape architect met with the Dean, Assistant Dean, the head of KUT Radio (which inhabits the west wing of the building), facilities staff, and the campus planner at various times during every phase of the project. The firm was responsible for all concept and working drawings for the public realm design of the outdoor space, with exception of the space under the building overhang. These documents included the hardscape plans and details and the planting plan. Additionally, the irrigation plan, grading and stormwater concepts, and fountain design were carried out by landscape architect with the assistance of specialized consultants.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Allan W. Shearer, MLA, PhD, ASLA, Associate Professor & Co-Director of the Center for Sustainable Development, University of Texas at Austin
Research Assistant: Neive Tierney, MLA Candidate, University of Texas at Austin
Firm Liaison: Dan Sharp, Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture 
August 2015

Topics

Stormwater management, Water conservation, Temperature & urban heat island, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Educational signage, Efficient irrigation, Native Plants, Permeable paving, Rainwater harvesting, Learning landscapes

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