News Brief

Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors

by J. William Thompson and Kim Sorvig. Island Press, Washington, DC, 2000. Paperback, 350 pages, $45.

Those of us who have been promoting a stronger “sustainability agenda” within the landscape architecture profession have been anxiously awaiting this book.

Sustainable Landscape Construction provides, in one place, a thorough reference on how to design and build landscapes that work with—rather than against—nature. The book is packed with everything from protection of trees during sitework, to restoration of wetlands, selection of environmentally responsible landscape materials, and infiltration strategies for stormwater management.

Sustainable Landscape Construction is broadly organized into the following 10 principles:

1.Keep healthy sites healthy.

2.Heal injured sites.

3.Favor living, flexible materials.

4.Respect the waters of life.

5.Pave less.

6.Consider origin and fate of materials.

7.Know the costs of energy over time.

8.Celebrate light; respect darkness.

9.Quietly defend silence.

10.Maintain to sustain.Under each principle are specific strategies that address certain aspects of that principle. For example, under “Favor Living, Flexible Materials” are the following strategies: Hold slopes with biotechnical erosion control; Make vertical structures “Habitat-able”; Turn barren roof spaces into ecoroofs; Construct

for and

with plants; and Count on plants to sustain. Under each of these strategies is a wealth of information that gets into the nuts-and-bolts of landscape construction. For example, under “Construct

For and

With Plants” is an excellent discussion of “what is native.” We learn that it’s not such an easy answer. The authors suggest that there is no single definition and list a number of criteria that distinguish native plants:

•The species reproduces

in the region without human intervention.

•The species survives

in the region without human care (irrigation, fertilization, removal of competitors, or other maintenance).

•The plant shows distinctive local variations

that it lacks when growing in other regions.

•The species coevolved

with, and depends for survival on, the other plant and animal species of the region.

•The plant (or its ancestors) was not transported

to the region by humans, purposely or accidentally.Each chapter concludes with fairly comprehensive resource listings. Interspersed throughout the chapters are discussions and photos of dozens of projects. (Unfortunately, photo quality is not as good as it could be.)

Sustainable Landscape Construction conveys the strong opinions of its authors—they don’t like PVC or too much pavement, for example. One can accept this preachiness, however, because it is balanced with detailed information that is clearly grounded in experience. Some sections of the book go into a little more detail than some readers probably want. Almost 60 pages are devoted to materials, for example (including Appendix A on “The Hazards and Impacts of Landscape Materials”), and 35 pages are devoted to what some might consider arcane issues of energy conservation in landscape construction and embodied energy of landscape materials. While I found that detail interesting, it will doubtless prove to be more than a lot of landscape architects are willing to digest.

Bill Thompson, the recently promoted editor of

Landscape Architecture magazine and Kim Sorvig, a research professor of landscape architecture at the University of New Mexico, have been two of the leading champions of sustainability in the landscape architecture profession. (We have had the good fortune to work with both Bill and Kim on our

Green Building Advisor software tool and are well acquainted with their extensive knowledge and experience.)

Sustainable Landscape Construction is a must-read book for landscape architects and landscape contractors. It should also be required reading for students of landscape architecture as well as architecture. At the

EBN office, the book will find a home on a convenient shelf where we are sure to refer to it often.

Published November 1, 2000

(2000, November 1). Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors. Retrieved from

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