Red Butte Creek at the Williams Building

LandsCape LaB

  

     

Prepared by VODA Landscape + Planning

www.vodaplan.com

3

University of Utah: Landscape Lab

TABLE OF CONTENTS

01.  

INTRODUCTION TO LANDSCAPE LAB 

5

02.  

DESIGN METHODOLOGY   

 

                                                    7

a.  Participatory Design Process
b.  Designed Experiments
c.  Research Questions
d.  Design Solutions

03. 

SITE ANALYSIS   

                                      

 

 

   11

a.   Built Environment  

 

b.  Natural Systems  

 

04. 

PROJECT PHASES  

                                      

 

 

   19

a. 

Existing Conditions    

b.  Design Considerations

05 

DESIGNED 

EXPERIMENTS 

      

 

 

33

a.   Water capture system
b.   Bioswale plants
c.   Water use
d.   Wildlife
e.   Red Butte Creek Bank Erosion
f.   Water Quality
g.  Oak grove
h.  Test plots

06.  

LANDSCAPE SYSTEMS & PLANS 

 

 

 

 

   29

a.   Water flow systems
b.   Plants
c.   Circulation
d.   Lighting
e.   Signage
f.   Irrigation

 

07. APPENDICES 

                                              

 

 

                  43

a. 

Bibliography

b.  Previous studies
c.   Meeting minutes
d.   Design process recommendations
e.   Soil analysis
f.   Engineering analysis

Landscape  Lab:  

A new approach to green infrastructure at the University of Utah

4 University of Utah: Landscape Lab

 

5

University of Utah: Landscape Lab

S

E

C

T

IO

N

01

INTRODUCTION TO 
LANDSCAPE LAB

The Williams Building, located along a key 
urban/wildland interface at the mouth of Red 
Butte Canyon, presents a unique opportunity 
to introduce a new type of landscape to the 
University of Utah campus, and to explore 
possibilities for integrating Red Butte Creek 
into campus life. The northern end of the site 
is located at the intersection of Red Butte 
Creek and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST), 
increasing its visibility and potential value as 
a connection between the University and the 
regional trail network.

Through a participatory design process involving designers, researchers, and campus 
planners, the Landscape Lab intends to increase the visibility of Red Butte Creek and 
to create a beautiful, more sustainable, and inviting place along the waterway. The 
project marks a significant first step in larger efforts to rehabilitate the Red 
Butte Creek watershed, 
including those currently in planning by the University and 
community groups. 

The lower Red Butte Creek watershed is one of the most urbanized of the four 
creeks that flow through Salt Lake City’s boundaries, and restoration at the Williams 
Building reach can have multiple positive impacts. At the same time, good design 
with thoughtfully integrated ecosystem services at the Landscape Lab may catalyze 
ecologically-sound interventions and restoration efforts throughout the Red Butte 
Creek sub-watershed.

The project includes hands-on environmental education and ongoing research 
opportunities, design strategies for capturing and treating stormwater runoff, and a 
significant reduction of irrigation water use in the landscape. 

PROJECT OBJECTIVES

CONNECT

 

» Connect site users to creek

 

» Connect to trail network 

(existing + future)

 

» Provide safe creek access

 

» Create recreational  

opportunities

EDUCATE

 

» Maximize educational 

opportunities  (formal + 
informal)

 

» Create experiments /

Research opportunities 
(data collection)

 

» Provide a case study for 

future projects

ENLIVEN

 

» Create a destination for 

humans and non-humans

 

» Reduce erosion & site 

run-off

 

» Increase on-site infiltration

 

» Reduce irrigation water 

consumption 

 

» Improve environmental 

quality

The Williams Building is located in the 

University of Utah Research Park at 

the mouth of Red Butte Canyon.

6 University of Utah: Landscape Lab

Landscape Lab will serve as a demonstration project for green infrastructure locally 
and regionally, and provide valuable performance data to support future projects.

 The project is a garden-laboratory, where ideas can be tested and outcomes 
assessed, 
all while providing opportunities for both active and passive recreation 
that create an immersive, restorative ecological experience. 

At the same time, Landscape Lab will reveal and celebrate ecological processes, the 
human place in nature, and provide opportunities for education in multiple forms. 

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

Green infrastructure 
incorporates ecosystem 
services (such as storm water 
remediation) into the urban 
landscape by supplementing 
or replacing existing built 
infrastructure (e.g. storm drains 
and storm water sewers) with 
living systems.

These systems provide cooling, 
beauty, and amenity value 
while improving environmental 
quality and infrastructure 
resilience, at lower cost than 
traditional, built infrastructure. 

7

University of Utah: Landscape Lab

S

E

C

T

IO

N

02

DESIGN METHODOLOGY

The design team employed a systems approach to the opportunities and challenges 
presented by the existing Williams Building landscape, and used research questions as 
building blocks to achieve project goals.  The team endeavored to create a framework 
with the flexibility to accommodate changing research and educational needs over 
time.  

PARTICIPATORY DESIGN PROCESS

The project was conceived of as an effort to 
bring the knowledge contained within multiple 
research disciplines at the University of Utah 
into the built environment through stakeholder 
input.  University faculty, staff, and students 
representing Ecological Planning, Geology, 
Ecology, Parks, Recreation and Tourism, City 

and Metropolitan Planning, Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Center for 
Sustainability Resources, Campus Planning, Red Butte Garden, Facilities Management, 
and Real Estate Administration all participated in initial site exploration, problem 
definition, programming, and evaluating proposed solutions. In addition, watershed 
planners with Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City provided valuable insights in 
solution evaluation.

DESIGNED ExPERIMENTS

A key part of the participatory design process is the team’s approach to the site as a 
“designed experiment,” which incorporates ecological research hypotheses into the 
design of urban landscapes.  An emerging area of research, designed experiments 
create a conversation between ecologists and designers regarding the formation of 
research questions, choosing of sites, configuration of treatment approaches, and 
planning of measurements and statistical tests. 

PARTICIPATORY DESIGN

Participatory design is an 
approach that attempts to 
actively involve all stakeholders 
(e.g. employees, partners, 
customers, citizens, end users) 
in the design process to help 
ensure the result meets their 
needs and is functional.

In participatory design, 
participants are invited to 
collaborate with designers, 
researchers and developers 
during an innovation process. 

Potentially, they participate 
during several stages of a 
design process: 

 

» initial exploration;

 

» problem definition;

 

» development; and

 

» solution evaluation.

8 University of Utah: Landscape Lab

Through the participatory design process, researchers provided input to the design 
team regarding both ecologic and social criteria to be analyzed and evaluated at the 
Landscape Lab.  The design team then collaborated with researchers to determine 
the ways in which this criteria could be implemented in the built environment.   It is 
hoped that data gathered from the designed experiment can be applied to future 
interventions within the lower Red Butte Creek watershed.

The process began first by clarifying objectives and then creating a number of 
research questions, which the team whittled down over time in order to develop 
a feasible landscape master plan which would meet project and stakeholder 
objectives.  Many of these questions, however, are relevant to sites along Red Butte 
Creek throughout the University of Utah campus, and are thus included here for 
consideration in future projects.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

The design committee posed several research questions that could be explored in the 
design of the Landscape Lab at the Williams Building.  The committee also advocated 
a flexible approach that could accommodate changing research goals and new 
technologies for future research.

Suggested research questions posed fell into four general categories: 

1.  water flows; 
2.  flora;
3.  fauna; and 
4.  human/landscape interaction.

WATER fLOWS

 

» How can we minimize water consumption and improve water quality in a 

measurable way that also allows us to determine unintended consequences?

 

» Do landscape elements designed to reduce runoff and increase infiltration work 

as intended?

 

» Do “low-water use” design elements actually use less water? 

 

» Which green infrastructure techniques perform best in arid climates?

 

» How will carbon and nitrogen (currently stored in the soil) destabilized by the 

new landscape design impact the creek? How significant will these impacts be?

 

» The assumption is that fertilizer and pesticide application harms the creek. How 

do landscape changes alter this? Are there measurable improvements?

 

» Is the site too small to measure changes in hydrology? Can we instrument 

outfalls above and below the project site? What about flows specifically from the 
rooftop?

9

University of Utah: Landscape Lab

 

» Can changing the sub-surface and overland flow have an impact on the stability 

of the bank and the rate of slope failure?

 

» Can we address bank and channel issues with this project?

HUMAN INTERACTION

 

» How does food production work in tandem with green infrastructure?  

 

» What are energy use implications of the goals of this project?  

 

» How do different features and amenities influence different connections with the 

environment?

 

» Can we do a before/after survey of building occupants who are regularly using 

(or at least proximate to) the space?

fLORA

 

» Which plants are the most effective in terms of root mass for erosion control?

 

» What are the differences over time between a plant bed started with 1-5 gallon 

plants versus tubelings?

 

» Does a design intended to create habitat for a particular species of bird or animal 

actually attract that species?

 

» Which planted species are the most successful on site, and which volunteer 

species emerge and do well? Which species fail? 

 

» How should we monitor invasive species?

 

» Is root depth the critical element in plant water use? 

 

» Why are existing trees on site failing?  Should they be replaced and the new trees 

studied?

 

» What are impacts of new irrigation regime on the existing trees?

 

» What plant species do well with varying amounts of supplemental irrigation?

 

» Can we test methods of preserving the existing trees?

 

» How much green infrastructure do we need to implement (at what scale) to see 

a measurable change in the creek?

 

» What are the processes at play with the soil and vegetation?

fAUNA

 

» Can we try to attract pollinators to create research opportunities? Perhaps 

existing Utah State University research  on pollinators at Red Butte Garden could 
be expanded?

 

» Are there integrated-pest management  solutions for annual box elder bug 

infestations we can evaluate?

 

» What are the impacts of changing landscapes on wildlife prevalence, diversity, 

etc.?

10 University of Utah: Landscape Lab

DESIGN SOLUTIONS

CONNECT (HUMAN INTERACTION)

Goals for people revolved around connections; both connections between 
destinations as well as a larger sense of connection to place.  To accomplish this, the 
team created places to rest, recreate, discover, and educate, along with places to 
visually access the deeply incised creek. Physical access was located where feasible 
along the creeks deeply incised banks, but designed to remain inconspicous in 
order to balance research needs with stream health. Visual access to the creek was 
strengthened by the inclusion of a bridge from the site to Cottam’s Grove.

ENLIVEN (FLORA + FAUNA)

Plants were selected  to increase biodiversity on the site, filter storm water runoff, 
and to reduce the need for both water and fertilizer in the landscape. Aesthetic 
goals for plants included creating a meadow landscape with multiple colors and 
long blooming seasons that would inspire exploration and delight. Goals relating 
to animals included increasing habitat value for birds and insects, pollinators in 
particular. Places of pause, including areas with shade and seating, were included in 
the design both to maximize plant water uptake during the hot summer months, and 
to encourage visitors to the Landscape Lab to stay and take in their surroundings.

EDUCATE (WATER FLOWS)

The design of water flows on site uses green infrastructure techniques to slow water 
flows into Red Butte Creek, increase groundwater recharge, filter pollutants from 
stormwater runoff, harvest runoff for plant use, and to reduce irrigation water use.  To 
accomplish this, a series of connected bioswales was designed to lead downslope 
from the lower parking lot to Chipeta Way.  The the water flows are engineered 
to treat parking lot runoff is treated separately from roof runoff in the bioswales.  
Additionally, two types of bioswales were engineered, one to promote infiltration, and 
the other to retain water for plant use. Both the design and signage will explain the 
purpose and function of the bioswales.  Additionally, the two types of bioswales will 
provide a test and control for researchers exploring multiple hypotheses.

Meadow landscape

Bioswale