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The Santa Monica Water Garden

Landscape Architecture by KSA Design Studio

by KSA Design Studio

The Santa Monica Water Garden

Drawing inspiration from the San Antonio (Texas) River Walk, KSA Design Studio converted a 17-acre corporate campus in Santa Monica, California, which once was dominated by an artificial lake, into a much more water-efficient area with garden rooms and its own river walk, which connects a fountain with a small basin.

In Santa Monica, California, KSA Design Studio transformed an iconic office park famous for its massive artificial lake into a drought tolerant, sustainable outdoor space with a design that refreshes and reactivates the site, improving its aesthetics through thoughtful garden rooms and a winding river walk while increasing its functionality.

The landscape architectural firm first got involved when it was approached at the very beginning of the project's life by HLW International, an architecture, design, planning and strategy company based in New York City but with offices across the country and the world. They wanted KSA Design to provide professional landscape architectural services for what was being called The Water Garden site remodel in this renowned Southern California beach town.

Initial inspiration for the Water Gardens design was taken from the San Antonio River Walk in San Antonio, Texas, one of the country's most popular tourist attractions (see LASN April 2019). The landscape design on the 17-acre project site was intended to update the aesthetics of the campus, and to conserve precious water resources, in keeping with the Santa Monica City goals. The plans aimed to preserve the iconic identity of the Water Garden by remaining true to the spirit of the original campus design which included a large body of water to be situated in the interior portion of the site. The most significant design move was to reduce the extremely large lake to a more appropriate size.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

Night orbs float on the river while close to 50 bollards illuminate the river walk, walkway bridge and planting beds.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

Note the ripple effect on the water - the river bed was lined with textured concrete to give this look to the surface of water and create an illusion of depth though the water is only 1/8" to 1/4" deep.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

The curved river is 520' in length and varies in width from between 8' to 40'. To the left is one of two specified firepits on the grounds.

This was because the main purpose was to cut the amount of water being wasted by the site, while refreshing the look of the water garden itself with a new design, while still providing two key elements of the campus; enough water for irrigation of the great lawn and the river walk, so that they both remain effective and practical components of the overall design. The plan also included a drastic reduction of the amount of turf on the campus, and through creative use of concrete, the construction of an effective water feature that uses only a fraction of the water previously consumed when compared to the artificial lake that was
previously there.

The new water feature, built on the similar character of the existing lake and maintaining portions of the southern lake perimeter, includes simple refurbishing of the fountains at the corners and car courts, and creation of the river walk linking the Olympic Boulevard fountain to a small basin in the center of the site.

The landscape was reconceived as an exciting and fresh-looking drought tolerant park, featuring large drifts of low water use grasses, shrubs, and succulents. The existing turf areas, which totaled approximately 4 A 1/2 acres all around the site were reduced to A 1/2 acre and set in the center of the site for use during outdoor events and for general recreation and communal gathering. The remaining planted areas with drought-tolerant species are colorful, textural and seasonal, celebrating California's unique ecology and climate. Smart controllers manage resourceful irrigation systems.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

Paver lights also helps illuminate the path. Recessed lighting was specified to illuminate all of the trees on the walkway.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

A Pentair Whisperflo High Performance thermoplastic, self-priming pump, model #WFK-12 was designated for the river. It outputs 141 gpm running at 3450 rpm. The pump is actually oversized for the application and it was set to flow at 30% capacity so as to make sure there is never any strain on it.

Walkways with seating areas meander through the site, and as a means of promoting a healthy lifestyle to the Water Garden, a "strolling path" was created around the exterior perimeter of the site. The team also performed extensive LED lighting retrofits throughout the property and installed 12 electric vehicle charging stations.

KSA faced several challenges when designing the project. Firstly, the site itself was built over an existing, operational parking structure, which meant foundations could not be dug for construction. The large lake, which once sat at the center of the site had to be drained, demolished and repurposed, while still maintaining the project's identity as a water garden, and the office buildings that surround the site had to remain fully operational for the entire duration of the project.

The biggest priority was water wastage. KSA's design turned a notorious water guzzler into a drought tolerant park. By eliminating the central lake and repurposing it, more than 2.5 million gallons of water are saved annually, Still, the river walk is constructed in such a way that it gives the illusion of a deep, meandering river, while actually using very little water. The potable water use for landscape irrigation was cut by 100%, a major contributing factor in the award of LEED Gold Certification for the overall project.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

The hardscape elements include poured-in-place concrete in white, blue gray, field light gray, accent dark gray and seashell, as well as decomposed granite in paradise gold and San Diego gray, crushed blue stone and salt and pepper granite rock mulch.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

A drought-tolerant park was designed with low water-use grasses, shrubs, and succulents, and the existing 4 A 1/2 acres of turf reduced to A 1/2 acre. Smart controllers were specified for efficient irrigation of the landscaped areas.

True to KSA Design Studio's philosophy, this work embraced a sustainable approach that respects Southern California's ecology and climate.

Water Garden Team List
Structural Engineer: Brandow And Johnston Associates
Mep Engineer: Ama Consulting Engineers, P.c.
Landscape Architect: Katherine Spitz Associates, Inc.
Civil Engineer: Psomas
Graphic Designer: Looking
Water Feature: Sto Design Group, Inc.

The Santa Monica Water Garden

Receiving High Marks
Besides the LEED Gold Certification, another honor bestowed on this project was the 2017 Excellence in Stewardship of the Environment, Water Garden; given by the Sustainable Quality Awards, SQA - Santa Monica, which praised the project for its "many meaningful solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of the property and conserve limited natural resources (including) a redesign of (the) Lake Water Feature - projected annual savings of 136,240 kWh / 465,032 kBtu." Other accolades include the Decorative Use of Concrete Award presented by the Southern California Chapter, American Concrete Institute; The 2018 ACI Charles Pankow Award, Excellence in Concrete; The AIA 2017 Landscape Architecture Award; and the 2018 LABC Architectural Award - Landscape Architecture.

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September 21, 2019, 9:20 am PDT

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