Posted in education on May 8, 2014 12:46 pm EDT

On Holy Ground

A look at ways landscape architects employ native landscaping, green roofing, and rainwater harvesting in faith-based design.











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TAGS: landscaping, sustainability,


By Keith Loria

Today’s faith-based spaces have numerous options when it comes to sustainable practices, and not everything has to be done on the inside of the building. Consider landscaping.

“Sustainable elements with landscaping can be incorporated into most any building or site design provided that there is support, money, interest, and understanding,” says Barbara Brem, RLA, CPSI, CCA Landscape Architects in Dallas. “Due to the financial constraints of a church, this would require [a] strong commitment from not only the building committee but also the congregation.”

Ecological landscaping includes planting with low-water use native plants, growing edibles, installing permeable surfaces to promote infiltration of rainwater, and creating a habitat for birds and beneficial insects in the landscape.

Rainwater harvesting

Buildings all over the world rely on rainwater for all their water needs, with rainwater harvesting an increasingly popular way to reduce freshwater consumption. According to Seattle-based Magnusson Klemencic Associates, when combined with an effective rain garden, green roofs can make it possible to have zero discharge of rainwater from the site, therefore saving money by not having to connect to the storm sewer system.

Laura Allen is the founding member of Greywater Action, fiscally sponsored by the Ecology Center in Berkeley, Calif., a collaborative group of educators, designers, builders, and artists who educate and empower people to build sustainable water culture and infrastructure. Allen reports rainwater harvesting is an important practice that benefits faith-based structures.

“There are three main benefits: to prevent water pollution, to conserve and reduce water consumption, and to foster an awareness of how our buildings and landscapes are connected to natural waterways,” Allen says. “There are two main methods to harvest rainwater, in the ground or in a tank. The first way, in-ground harvesting, is as simple as reshaping the landscape so rainwater can soak into the ground instead of running off into the street or storm drain. These ‘rain gardens’ create lovely garden features while they hydrate the land.”

The second method is to direct rainwater from the roof into a large tank. Allen reports: “Once stored, this water can be used for either irrigation or indoor use (typically non-potable use, like toilet flushing).”

“There are three main benefits [to rainwater harvesting]: to prevent water pollution, to conserve and reduce water consumption, and to foster an awareness of how our buildings and landscapes are connected to natural waterways.”

—Laura Allen, Founding Member, Greywater Action, Berkeley, CA

Recently, Southern California experienced several days of torrential rain after months of the worst drought conditions in years, and landscape architects considered new ways to buffer the region from its historical dependence on imported water and oftentimes diminished snowpack.

“Storm water capture, the design of a more absorbent built environment, and integrating the hydrologic function into the urban planning process right alongside transportation and density are among the long-term solutions to Southern California’s drought cycle,” says Hadley Arnold, an architect and co-founder and director of the Arid Lands Institute at Burbank, Calif.’s Woodbury University. Arnold has focused on solutions to water scarcity since 1998, and he reports, “These are things that can be applied to a worship facility setting.”

Harvesting rainwater can reduce a need and demand for water transport systems that threaten the health of the water cycle and the local environment.  continued >>