Red Butte Creek at the Williams Building
Prepared by VODA Landscape + Planning
University of Utah: Landscape Lab
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION TO LANDSCAPE LAB
a. Participatory Design Process
b. Designed Experiments
c. Research Questions
d. Design Solutions
a. Built Environment
b. Natural Systems
b. Design Considerations
a. Water capture system
b. Bioswale plants
c. Water use
e. Red Butte Creek Bank Erosion
f. Water Quality
g. Oak grove
h. Test plots
LANDSCAPE SYSTEMS & PLANS
a. Water flow systems
b. Previous studies
c. Meeting minutes
d. Design process recommendations
e. Soil analysis
f. Engineering analysis
A new approach to green infrastructure at the University of Utah
4 University of Utah: Landscape Lab
University of Utah: 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
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
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.
» Connect site users to creek
» Connect to trail network
(existing + future)
» Provide safe creek access
» Create recreational
» Maximize educational
opportunities (formal +
» Create experiments /
» Provide a case study for
» Create a destination for
humans and non-humans
» Reduce erosion & site
» Increase on-site infiltration
» Reduce irrigation water
» Improve environmental
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.
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
These systems provide cooling,
beauty, and amenity value
while improving environmental
quality and infrastructure
resilience, at lower cost than
traditional, built infrastructure.
University of Utah: Landscape Lab
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
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
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 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
» 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.
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;
3. fauna; and
4. human/landscape interaction.
» 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
» 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
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?
» 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
» Can we do a before/after survey of building occupants who are regularly using
(or at least proximate to) the space?
» 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
» 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?
» Can we try to attract pollinators to create research opportunities? Perhaps
existing Utah State University research on pollinators at Red Butte Garden could
» 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,
10 University of Utah: Landscape Lab
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.