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Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Landscape Architecture by Balmori Associates, Inc., N.Y.C.
Landscaping, Irrigation by ValleyCrest Landscape Companies, Dallas





The Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Fort Worth, founded in 1987, has a mission to document the diversity of plant life and conduct research around the world. According to BRIT, in the last 10 years its scientists have located and described scores of species previously unknown to science. A vine trellis, a mix of coral honeysuckle, climbing dogbane, crossvine and Texas clematis, is installed around the entire building. One day it will reach heights up to 40 feet. The trees here are red buds.


The 5.2-acre, LEED Platinum Botanical Research Institute of Texas campus in Fort Worth, Texas has been referred to as the "most aggressively 'green' project in Tarrant County history." LEED certification is based on credits earned in five categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy/atmosphere, materials/resources and indoor environmental quality. The facility and campus reflect BRIT's core principles of conservation, sustainability and a connection to the land and its history.

The site design and landscape management of the BRIT campus is all about environmental sustainability. The key goals for the new BRIT building was to reduce energy and water consumption, enhance indoor environmental quality and use recyclable and renewable materials. These objectives were achieved through daylighting, photovoltaic panels (solar energy), low-flow and low-energy fixtures, low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials, wool and linen furnishings, certified wood products and recycled-content steel and rubber.

 




Another element of the landscape architectural design is a winding path that leads to a grass oval outdoor classroom. The seating is thin limestone and sandstone ledges representing the geological strata of the Fort Worth Prairie.
Photo: Balmori Associates



The BRIT landscape of course opts for native plants. Other elements include vegetated walls, bioswales, a living roof and a retention pond.

The campus is designed to eliminate use of potable water, reduce overall maintenance costs, curb energy consumption, extend the life of building materials, mitigate urban heat island effects and manage onsite stormwater. The sustainable ethic filters down to BRIT employees, who are encouraged to practices recycling, composting and water and energy conservation.

 




ValleyCrest, known as experts in tree relocation and preservation, salvaged native Quercus fusiformis ('Escarpment' oaks) from an area some 75 miles southwest of Fort Worth, as such oaks of this size were not commercially available.



The facility features classrooms and space for BRIT to expand its herbarium collection of plant specimens. ValleyCrest Landscape Companies installed landscape and irrigation. The landscape scope of work included planting trees and shrubs, an extensive palette of native plants; hydroseeding; a 40-ft. tall espalier attached to the building; a green roof (soil and preplanted BioTrays); wetlands pond plantings; a research garden (the "Braid"); and gravel paths.

The BRIT building and campus highlight myriad ways organizations and people can contribute to sustainability. The BRIT campus is a research site for local scientists to do long-term performance studies of its stormwater management; living roof; the reintroduction of two native ecosystems (Fort Worth Prairie barrens and mid-grass prairie); colonization patterns of native and invasive plants and animals; and of course the benefits of all the green building features.

 




In addition to being a rain collector, the green roof is something of a depository for the disappearing landscape known as the Fort Worth Prairie barrens. Barren habitat is characterized by rock outcrops, shallow soils and plant species adapted to drought and high sun exposure. The thin soil favors low-growing vegetation, a characteristic of green roof plants. Working with Tony Burgess, a professor at TCU, and two of his graduate students, a series of BioTray green roof test beds were set up to determine which prairie plants would fare best. Fifteen perennial species selected for their prevalence on the barrens and their hardiness grew to over 45 species, including prickly-pear, little blue-stem, prairie verbena, purple three-awn, buffalograss and Dalea reverchonii.



Background of Green Roof Plant Selections
When Jon Kinder was a graduate student at Texas Christian University (TCU), he and classmate Dave Williams, in cooperation with BRIT, took on the task of researching the best plant species for the proposed green roof. The idea was suggested as a master's thesis by biology professor Dr. Tony Burgess. Kinder, Williams and Dr. Burgess began exploring Fort Worth Prairie barrens for plants that would grow well on a Fort Worth green roof. Barren habitat is characterized by rock outcrops, shallow soils and plant species adapted to drought and high sun exposure. The thin soil favors low-growing vegetation, a characteristic of green roof plants.

Williams and Kinder constructed 15 module boxes to test the viability of different species in roof-like conditions. Some of the boxes had native clay soil; others had commercial growth medium. With the help of some area master naturalists and TCU students and faculty, native species we planted in the boxes. Williams and Kinder measured soils, monitored moisture fluctuations and recording plant performance and phenology (plant germinating or flowering).

The 15 perennial species selected for their prevalence on the barrens and their hardiness, grew to over 45 species of perennials and annuals, mostly native.

The perennials included prickly-pear, little blue-stem, prairie verbena, purple three-awn, buffalograss, and Dalea reverchonii, a supposedly "extinct" species rediscovered by BRIT's Bob O'Kennon. Sprouting annuals included dove weed, Indian blanket, bluebonnet, and broom-grass. The students were convinced that green roofs with native species were entirely possible for the Fort Worth area, although a number of the species were less than inspiring. Still, this research was shared with the designers and green roof professionals.

 




Concrete pavers and crushed limestone differentiate the two braided pathways that wind toward the BRIT entry. The planting beds here are based on a type of research ("systematics") that is at the core mission of BRIT, research that seeks to understand the evolutionary relationships among plant species. The BRIT Research Garden has 45 different varieties of indigenous shrubs, grasses, and perennials. Prominent here are yellow floral representatives of the Fort Worth Prairie, Gaillardia pulchella (foreground) and common sunflowers.
Photo: Balmori Associates



Greenroof BioTrays
One of the compelling and challenging aspects of the BRIT green roof project was the planting of BioTrays. The BioTrays, procured from Southeast Asia, are made of coconut husks and natural latex, which eventually biodegrade and become part of the soil.

To give the roof plants the best chance of survival, ValleyCrest Landscape Development of Dallas planted more than 6,000 trays several months in advance of the rooftop installation. The trays, stored in an improvised nursery with temporary onsite irrigation, were monitored every day by a ValleyCrest employee for several months prior to the installation.

ValleyCrest created thousands of trays to match three different planting schemes. The challenge was to create an efficient assembly line-like system to allow the team to build multiple schemes in one staging area. ValleyCrest perfected an efficient series of steps to maximize biotray production.

Aledo, Texas shale topsoil was taken from one of the largest remaining tracts (2,000 + acres) of native tallgrass prairies in north Texas, an area dubbed Fort Worth Prairie Park, 18 miles south of downtown Fort Worth. The soil was shoveled into trays and the specified native plants from the onsite nursery were planted. Native seeds, including Texas 'Blue Bonnet', 'Greenthread' and 'Indian Blanket Daisy' were hand-broadcasted into the trays, with Walnut limestone gravel mulch added to top them off.

BioTrays Roof Installation
The next challenge the team faced was getting the delicate trays onto the roof. This was accomplished with a conveyor belt. The roof has its own irrigation system similar to one on any commercial property. The water for irrigation on the BRIT project is collected on site and not pulled from city water sources.

BioTrays Plant Varieties
One of the unique aspects of the BRIT project is the extensive list of native plants materials, such as Quercus fusiformis ('Escarpment' oak trees), which are not commercially available in the sizes required. ValleyCrest, experts in tree relocation and preservation, salvaged the trees from a native area some 75 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

 




The extensive parking (358 spaces) presented an enormous budget-consuming problem until the parking lot was considered, along with the roofs, as part of an active stormwater system. Densely-planted, water-gathering rills line each parking aisle, plus there's heavy tree shade cover. Runoff from the roofs goes to a cistern, which can water the landscape and green roof, and resupply the pond during droughts.



Landscape Design
The landscape design of the landscape architect, as described by Javier Gonzalez-Campana of Balmori Associates, Inc., of New York City, includes the green roof, overlapping vines that cover the walls of the herbarium, and a parking lot with water-cleaning plants. Even the parking area is used as an opportunity to integrate landscaping with the presentation of the "planted research fields." The green roof, plant wall, the plants of the Fort Worth Prairie, parking area and pathways all offer BRIT researchers opportunities for field study.

Two paths lead from the parking lot to the BRIT building. In the other direction, concrete pavers and crushed limestone wind together toward the building. The paths, pond and tree shaded walkways are an inviting welcome.

Other pathways explore different parts of the campus, including one leading to an outdoor classroom located south of the BRIT facility. Plants and colorful flowers mark the way to a grassy oval where students can gather. Ledges, cast in the form of the geological strata of the Fort Worth Prairie, make for seating and a place to enjoy storytelling.

From the moment you step from your vehicle in the parking lot, the campus grounds become one continuous green experience.

 




Sustainable Site Elements
o Rain gardens (deep-rooted native plants/grasses)
o Restored Fort Worth Prairie habitat
o Vegetated roof (45 plant species)
o LEDs with cutoffs for garden/path lighting
o Indigenous plants
o Stormwater retention pond
o Above ground cistern
o 166 geothermal "wells" (drilled beneath parking areas and landscaping)
o 285 Green Mountain Energy Solar photovoltaic panels (Herbarium roof)
o Living wall (light colored to reduce heat absorption)
o Low-emission vehicle parking



Sustainabilty
Rain Gardens: The rain gardens, planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses, help mitigate runoff to the sewer system, lessening the likelihood of flooding and erosion, and keeping some contaminants out of waterways. On artificial surfaces like parking lots, rain can't soak into the ground. It runs off, often overwhelming sewer systems and wasting water. Rain gardens are shallow depressions near runoff sources.

Low Emissions Vehicle Parking: Cars classed as "low-emitting and fuel efficient vehicles" by California's Air Resources Board, or scoring 40 on the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy rating guide, get preferred parking spots--as do carpool and vanpool vehicles.

Restoration of Prairie Habitat: The Fort Worth Prairie is beautiful, supports diverse species, and is disappearing fast. In developing this site, BRIT took great care to preserve existing trees, plant native grasses of the local prairie. The LEED credit requires that at least half of a developed site be restored to a viable ecosystem. BRIT restored over 76 percent.

Vegetative Living Roof: The adjective "green" has come to mean something environmentally responsible. That describes BRIT's living roof--a carpet of plants that insulates the building (cutting heating and cooling needs), reduces rainwater runoff, improves durability, provides habitat for native plants, butterflies, and birds--and is lovely to see.

LED Site Lighting: To help preserve Fort Worth's "dark sky," as well as the nocturnal environment on which many plants and animals depend, BRIT's exterior lights feature "cutoff" designs that eliminate light spill. The fixtures also use LEDs for energy efficiency.

 




To earn LEED credit for site restoration, at least half of a developed site must be restored to a viable ecosystem. BRIT restored over 76 percent of the site land by taking great care to preserve existing trees and plant native grasses of the Fort Worth prairie. The once 1.3 million-acre Fort Worth Prairie ecosystem is a southern subregion of the tallgrass prairie. The Great Plains Restoration Council considers it the most endangered major ecosystem in North America.



Water Efficiency
Indigenous Plants: Plants grow most efficiently in their native habitat, which is why planting indigenous species reduces maintenance costs and impact. Nature, not sprinklers, does the watering. BRIT chose a high percentage of local plants, creating a vigorous, hardy, self-sustaining ecosystem.

Rainwater Pond: BRIT captures rainwater for its high efficiency irrigation system. Rather than using precious potable water, the system draws from a retention pond that stores stormwater runoff from the roof and parking area.

Cistern: Some conservation ideas are cutting edge; some are age old. BRIT has two cisterns, one above ground and one below ground. The above ground cistern collects rainwater runoff from the roof and the underground cistern collects groundwater that is then pumped into the retention pond. The cisterns help ensure that the small portion of our site with an irrigation system uses runoff rather than potable water.

Low-Flow Fixtures: Many BRIT employees bike to work, which cuts transportation energy use, but increases personal energy use. Ultra low-flow showers allow them to be efficient in commuting and in freshening up. They are part of our larger water conservation commitment. Low-flow faucets, dual-flush toilets, and waterless urinals reduce water use 60 percent over EPA standards.

Energy & Atmosphere
Geothermal Wells: You are standing atop a most remarkable and efficient heating and cooling systems. It's not an underground boiler or air conditioner. It's the Earth itself. BRIT takes advantage of Earth's constant temperature with 166 geothermal "wells" drilled beneath the parking lot and landscaping, an innovative technology that allows us to cut our heating and cooling loads by over half.

Rooftop Solar Panels: Green Mountain Energy Solar at Botanical Research Institute of Texas, BRIT's 51.87-kilowatt (kW) solar photovoltaic system uses Solyndra, Inc. cylindrical-designed photovoltaic tubes mounted on 285 solar panels. It covers 5,943 square feet and is installed on the Archive Block roof of the BRIT facility. The photovoltaic system will provide approximately 14 percent of the building's annual electricity requirements. It is expected to produce more than 65,000-kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year by converting sunlight into pollution-free electricity. The photovoltaic system is expected to offset as much as 84,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. That's the equivalent of not driving over 86,800 miles annually, or 362 one-way road trips from Dallas to Houston.

Wood Finish Materials: Most wood used at BRIT comes from sustainably managed forests. BRIT uses FSC labeled ash, a hardwood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as responsibly harvested. The sinker cypress wall in the foyer comes from cypress logs that sank to the bottom of the Mississippi River as they were being transported to market over 100 years ago. Once retrieved and dried, cypress wood looks beautiful and makes sense. It has become the eco-friendly building lumber of choice.

Wool Carpet & Bamboo Ceilings: BRIT has been careful to use rapidly renewable materials, defined by LEED as those typically harvested within six-year cycles. These include bamboo ceiling panels, linen and paper wall coverings, and wool carpet.

Recycling/Use of Recycled Content Materials: Approximately 97.4 percent (9,305 tons) of the materials used in the previous building were removed from the site (steel beams, joists and decking, aluminum, concrete, and brick asphalt) for recycling and use in land reclamation. Recycled Content Materials were used for over 20 percent of BRIT's building materials. The most significant recycled content materials are structural steel, steel pipes and other metal products. Gypsum board and the acoustical ceiling panels are made from recycled sheetrock. The rubber-based floors are made from recycled tennis shoes and other rubbers like tires and single-ply roofing membrane.

Indoor Air Quality:
All adhesives, paints, and coatings comply with established LEED standards. Low volatile organic compounds (VOC) carpets, floorings, and composite woods were all contribute to a healthy indoor environment. Instead of using standard insulating materials for the walls made from formaldehyde and fiberglass, BRIT's wall insulation is made from sand and postconsumer recycled glass bottles, baked and blown like cotton candy.

Air ducts were covered from the time of delivery until the time they were turned on, the above ceiling spaces were cleaned before ceilings were closed, and 'air-scrubbing' machines were used when conducting dust producing activities; all to prevent dust and particulate from building up and effecting occupants. Carpets are 100 percent wool, a natural product without fumes from the harsh solvents that are used in traditional carpet manufacturing.

Lighting: Indoor lighting is fluorescent and LEDs. Smart lighting (motion detectors and light sensors) decreases artificial lighting as the natural light in the room increases, while growing brighter with reduced outside light. Sunshades on the south, east and west elevations allow light into the building, while reducing the amount of solar heat gain gathered through the windows. This contributes natural lighting for occupants while reducing the amount of work the AC system has to do to cool the building in the heat of the day, thus conserving energy.

Indoor Environmental Quality
Daylight & Views: Windows and glazing allow natural sunlight in more than 75 percent of the building. "Daylighting" cuts energy use and provides better quality light.

Project Team
Client
HCBECK, LTD. (The Beck Group)
Studio/Landscape Architect
Balmori Associates
Landscape Contractor
ValleyCrest Landscape Development, Dallas
Architect/Civil Engineer
Corgan Associates
General Contractor
HCBECK, LTD. (The Beck Group)







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