Not Just Another Facade

Associate professor Mark Klopfer on landscape architecture and its role in the environment

“Landscape architecture” isn’t just about creating pristine parks or botanical gardens. Mark Klopfer, associate professor of architecture and partner at Klopfer Martin Design Group, explains that landscape architecture can do more than offer a passive backdrop—it can create active environmental solutions. —JULIE BARR

How is landscape architecture more than just planting trees?

It’s how we plant the trees. For instance, [my firm] has been working with this new system that places a high density plastic matrix under sidewalks to allow roots to spread while keeping the sidewalk from heaving.

How can a landscape architect respond to environmental concerns?

One way is by reducing the urban “heat island” effect by more carefully designing the pavement and planting more trees along the streets to produce a larger shade canopy. And storm water runoff—which can cause flooding and impact water quality—can be slowed with things like permeable sidewalks, rain gardens, and bioswales (vegetation that stalls and filters the runoff).

How do you address areas that are already polluted?

Our office is trying to specialize in environmental remediation—taking a site that has toxic soil issues and making it usable. Rather than exporting contaminated material and just transferring the problem somewhere else, we find ways to keep it onsite by mixing the contaminated soil with a binder so it can be put back into the ground. Then everything is capped with either pavement or a foot of clean fill on top of a noticeable covering, so if someone in the future were to dig there they would see the barrier.

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