Wenk Associates: Working with water

The need to adapt quickly to climate change rightly takes center stage. But the links between climate change and stormwater management are often overlooked. Climate change impacts the hydrological cycle by increasing water scarcity and the frequency and intensity of flooding while contaminating waterways. Better stormwater management is essential to manage water resources and protect our safety and the health of our environment.

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Unfortunately, stormwater management is usually described as a purely technical problem to be solved on site. Instead, stormwater management systems should be viewed as essential green infrastructure that provides design opportunities and is fundamental to shaping the larger built environment.

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Working water: reinventing the rainwater collector. Image © ORO Editions

While stormwater management may not be sexy, it is essential to understand it and integrate it into larger efforts to protect our ecosystems and environment. The book Working water: reinventing the rainwater collector by landscape architecture and planning firm Wenk Associates says the challenges of “any city’s water supply and urban stormwater management can be solved, in part, by changing the way we manage our resources urban water in systems that make widespread use of natural technologies. The company, founded by landscape architect William Wenk, FASLA, has integrated stormwater into the design of built environments and landscapes across the West and Midwest for more than 35 years.

Projects in the book illustrate how stormwater, typically viewed as a nuisance, can be managed and integrated as a resource into landscape design, making communities more livable while restoring ecological function and health. The selected projects range from constructed work at the beginning of office practice to contemporary projects that explore the integration of function and beauty in stormwater management at various project scales – from a small rain garden to outside their first office in Denver to restore the natural functioning of the Los Angeles River. In addition to cataloging the projects, the author carefully reflects on lessons learned, revealing both successes and failures in suggesting new approaches to creating “the next generation of stormwater infrastructure, resulting in urban systems and natural environments, making our cities better places to live”. Direct.”

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Confluence Park, Denver, Colorado. Image courtesy of Wenk Associates

Wenk himself describes his trajectory from a boy growing up on a farm in Michigan, to his foundational undergraduate studies in landscape architecture at Michigan State University, his observations of arid environments revealed during travels through Europe and North Africa, and the influential work of artists, writers, and thinkers he explored during his graduate studies at the University of Oregon. These experiences combine to illuminate the theoretical underpinnings of his life’s work.

He also shares his early career lessons regarding the value of urban green infrastructure that has been enhanced while working closely with civil engineers. These professional experiences eventually led to the establishment of his practice in Denver, Colorado. Wenk wants to “reinvent the storm drain”, a metaphor for “expanding – down to the most basic details – the components of stormwater systems to invent new strategies for effective stormwater control and promote the restoration of the natural functions of urban waterways in ways that add beauty and value to the urban landscape.

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TAXI mixed-use development, Denver, Colorado. Image courtesy of Wenk Associates

The first part of the book explains the close relationship between water resources management and culture and technology and clearly describes the impacts of urbanization on the water cycle and the land. Explaining how the positive aspects of ancient and contemporary water management systems can be integrated to solve contemporary problems of water scarcity and improve water quality, the book sets the stage for examining how water resources urban areas can be better planned and designed. Ultimately, successful projects restore the function of ecological systems while creating meaningful gathering places for people.

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Diagrams illustrating the impacts of urbanization. Agricultural irrigation system. . Image courtesy of Wenk Associates
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Diagrams illustrating the impacts of urbanization. Conventional rainwater system. . Image courtesy of Wenk Associates
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Diagrams illustrating the impacts of urbanization. Contemporary solutions. Image courtesy of Wenk Associates

Next, the book offers a carefully curated selection of Wenk Associates projects that exemplify what is meant by “working water.” The scale, type and complexity of the projects highlighted vary considerably from small site designs to large river corridors. Each of the case studies, which focus on sites, neighborhoods and corridors, demonstrates the rigor of the designers’ intention. The context, vision, design strategies, constraints, and results of each project are thoughtfully communicated with clear, jargon-free narratives, diagrams, renderings, and engaging photographs of the constructed work.

The third part of the book reviews the critical factors leading to the success of Wenk Associates’ constructed work, as well as lessons learned about the legal, financial and other challenges of implementing natural technologies, and the involvement of profession of landscape architecture in the integration of “multiple values ​​and functions in the infrastructure of the city” and communicating “these values ​​to the communities concerned”. The lessons go further than most stormwater books by calling for encouraging district-wide stormwater control systems, identifying barriers to implementing natural technologies, and calling on professionals in exercise and the public to be advocates for change.

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Lowry and Open Space Parks, Denver, Colorado. Image courtesy of Wenk Associates
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Lowry and Open Space Parks, Denver, Colorado. Image © Brad Nicol Photography

At the same time, the scope of the book has limits. As this is a monograph, working water thoughtful thoughtful represents the experiences and philosophy of a single company.

Lacking of working water is also a stronger recognition that underserved and historically marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by poor stormwater management, and that residents of these communities can play a greater role in designing a healthier, more livable environment.

The Menomonee Valley redevelopment is an example that intentionally enriched underserved neighborhoods in Milwaukee by creating more than 1,400 jobs, connecting neighborhoods to a new network of streets and green spaces, and providing access to a river. healthier and cleaner. Certainly, this project has included community input during the design processes to achieve these beneficial outcomes. However, the residents and the role they played in this process are not given the importance they deserve.

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Menomonee Valley Redevelopment, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image courtesy of Wenk Associates

working water is a necessary addition to the literature on how to integrate engineered green infrastructure with stormwater management to create more livable cities for several reasons. It addresses issues specific to the midwestern temperate climate of savannah and steppe ecosystems, while most of the books focus on the wetter environments of the east and west coasts. It also provides examples of beautiful projects that demonstrate regionally appropriate responses from the drumlin-inspired landscapes of Wisconsin to the semi-arid grasslands of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Front Range.

working water is intentionally written as an educational resource for students, policy makers, regulators, municipal staff, designers, developers, and community advocates. A pleasant surprise included at the end of the book is a ‘Water Working Glossary’ which provides the reader with a general understanding of the definitions of terms and concepts used in the book.

Wenk Associates were early leaders in integrating stormwater design. Their work was so successful that it is now considered mainstream in the practice of landscape architecture. The functional requirements of successful stormwater management are so well integrated into each project that the unprecedented nature of the designs can be overlooked.

The monograph is written in the same way. It’s humble; he is not flashy and does not use fancy words. It offers simple yet beautiful charts and diagrams without cryptic collages; just solid, well-designed and thoughtful work.

Like Ian McHarg’s layering process, the incorporation of stormwater management has been so integrated into landscape architecture that it goes unrecognized when done well. This collection of completed projects, when assembled as a monograph, can seem simple, as if anyone could do it. But make no mistake, Working water: reinventing the rainwater collector shows how Wenk Associates makes the complicated and difficult job of imagining and implementing a complex project simple, clean and elegant, with a vision for the future.

This article originally appeared on The Dirt.