In one session at the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting, “Landscape as Sponge: Re-engineering a Historic Campus to Absorb the Rain,” Nicole Holmes, Nitsch Engineering, and Robert Rock, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), explained the ways landscape design plays an integral part in Princeton University’s 2008 Campus Plan.

Holmes described how the evolution and expansion of the Princeton campus have impacted hydrology. Most significantly, explosive growth over the past century has led to buildings creeping into the ecologically sensitive zone along Lake Carnegie, to the south of campus. With Princeton’s recent decision to only expand only within existing campus boundaries, the university is faced with the challenge of how to grow without compromising its character or ecology.


Thankfully, with its 2008 Campus Plan, Princeton took a progressive stance toward planning. According to Holmes, “for the first time, landscape became a critical part of the planning process.” Instead of trying to remove water as quickly as possible, or maintaining the status quo of slowing and detaining stormwater, Princeton aims to improve conditions by viewing water infrastructure as a campus amenity.

To improve the campus stormwater system, Princeton looked to the campus’ pre-development conditions. Before development, most water infiltrated into the ground or was dispersed through evapo-transpiration. Since development, the vast majority of stormwater became runoff. Integrating landscape design and stormwater into the campus plan, Princeton aims to reduce its impervious cover, preserve open space, and reduce runoff. To accomplish these goals, it calls for stormwater management to be integrated into landscape-based solutions.


Robert Rock, MVVA, showed examples of his firm’s efforts on the campus. Rock described their work on the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment as an “intricately co-mingled landscape and building project.” Faced with the challenge of integrating a 60,000 square foot building into a relatively small site, the project required an intense collaboration between landscape architects, architects, and engineers. The resulting design is a layering of landscape and building, using green roofs and highly designed soils, ultimately exceeding stormwater goals for the project.


For the Frick Chemistry Building, MVVA had to address a site that had problems with runoff, stream bank erosion, and water quality. The architects working on the project proposed the building be sited adjacent to existing woodlands. Instead, at MVVA’s urging, the building was pushed back, allowing the woodlands to expand and avoiding potential impacts. Stormwater on the site is collected and directed into rain gardens, enabling the removal of two of the three existing outfalls into the nearby stream and dramatically reducing erosion. Additionally, pedestrian pathways are included in this landscape design, improving the human experience of the site.


These examples at Princeton University demonstrate the power of integrating landscape design and landscape-based stormwater solutions into the master planning process. By using landscape as infrastructure, communities can not only become more efficient, but also ecologically and aesthetically vibrant.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer associate.

Image credits: (1) Princeton University (2-5) Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates