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University of Rhode Island: Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences

Landscape Architecture by CRJA-IBI Group
Photos courtesy of CRJA-IBI Group

The University of Rhode Island's Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences Building frames the newly developed sustainable courtyard, which has become the home for a rain garden and integrated stormwater management. Site furnishings include 'S1' steel benches (DuMor Site Furnishings) and 36-gallon 'Ironsites' trash and recycling receptacles (Victor Stanley).

Green infrastructure is a major component of the sustainable movement; as such, LASN chose a stormwater management project that illustrates how rainwater capture can maintain a garden without taking from the common water supply. This project also created a habitat for insects and wildlife.

CRJA-IBI Group, a landscape architecture firm in Boston, Mass., was selected to design a stormwater management feature and rain garden at the University of Rhode Island's Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences (CBLS) complex. The project demonstrates a new way to conserve and treat water and has become a living, working ecosystem that engages the community.


Stainless steel runnels carry water to the rain garden collection area, which sits by a fieldstone wall with granite capstones that match the feature stone of the building's interior. Riverstone boulders and assorted irises create the image of a natural waterway.

Cultural History of the Site
The Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences Building is located on the 1,200-acre University of Rhode Island campus. It was the first structure to be built within the emerging Sustainable Science District, referred to as the North District, which brings together undergraduates, graduates, educators and researchers.

A prior master plan for the North District proved cost prohibitive to implement, so the design team for the district's first new building, the College of Biotechnology and Life Sciences (CBLS), was asked to update the North District master plan. This provided the opportunity to explore stormwater management on a district-wide basis, rather than on a building-by-building basis. Impervious clay soils, steep slopes, and remaining buildings at different elevations presented interesting challenges to cohesive open space design, as well as perceptions of a new, informal rain garden aesthetic as different from the historic campus character dominated by open lawns and shade trees.


An 'October Glory' red maple sits inside the two-foot, circular fieldstone seat wall that surrounds the stormwater overflow area.

Using positive models of successful rain gardens, the team of landscape architects advocated for a landscape-based stormwater management (rain gardens and detention ponds) in visible locations to address the institution's ecological, educational, aesthetic, and identity objectives for the district. The North District Plan supports important goals laid out in the earlier 2000 campus master plan for distinct academic districts, strengthened campus spines, clear campus gateways, and additional quality campus open space.

The campus is located on a steeply sloping watershed that drains into White Horn Brook. The university's growth over 100 years has inundated the brook with increased amounts and rates of untreated stormwater, resulting in sedimentation, erosion, and a decrease in biodiversity and general degradation of the natural ecosystem. One of the challenges the design team faced was providing a landscape that could best minimize stormwater creation at its source, while capturing and biologically treating it in a way that would create a site feature that could be enjoyed by the campus community.


Roof runoff flows from gutters to pipes to two stainless steel runnels on the southwest face of the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences Building, then across a pedestrian path to a rain garden. The water then travels across a terraced weir wall and under a small pedestrian bridge before entering the first of three treatment ponds. These ponds create a collection area to store a large amount of water during periods of inundation. They have been designed to allow for sediment and suspended solids to collect behind strategically placed weir walls that also serve to aerate the water.

A Sustainable Neighborhood
The design team used a collaborative approach to create the preliminary master plan concepts for the North District that integrated the site program both for CBLS and for anticipated future buildings. These early planning sessions focused the efforts of the university staff and design team on viewing site opportunities and challenges in a comprehensive manner.

By looking at the entire district at the conceptual stage, the team of landscape architects were able to collaborate with a team of architects and engineers, as well as institution academic and maintenance staff, to create a fully integrated solution for district-wide stormwater management. District-wide approaches proved to be cost-effective, whereby a single rain garden built in phase one, could handle phase two with no expansion and phase three with minimal expansion, reducing infrastructure costs across the district.

The master plan open space vision sought to create a quadrangle, mimicking the village greens of New England along the main campus pedestrian spine and a sustainable courtyard, featuring a stormwater basin at the lower elevation of the site, with a gateway building bridging the cultural and topographical differences between the two. A physical site for the development of CBLS was chosen based on its potential to become the 'gateway' to the new science district.

The North District redevelopment has now been fully designed and is being implemented in three phases, with CBLS as phase one, College of Pharmacy as phase two, and the Chemistry Building as phase three. Each project was designed in collaboration with a different architectural design team.


The rain garden, also an outdoor education area, was planted with deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs, groundcovers and wetland plugs. Plantings include sweet gum, Austrian spruce, dwarf winterberry, lilyturf, and purple stern aster.

Transforming Stormwater
The vision of providing a naturalized stormwater feature in such a visually prominent location on campus presented a new challenge for campus officials. The landscape design needed to address the university's ability to maintain a natural system and its appearance in periods of drought.

The design responds to these concerns by providing a structure of riverstone stream beds, granite weir walls, stainless steel runnels and boulders harvested from onsite that create a sculptural feature in periods of drought and during the winter months. The planting design provides year-round interest, as early spring flowering trees segue into late spring/summer perennials, and flax-tinted grasses lend autumn and winter interest.

A band of flush stone pavement surrounds the feature to give university maintenance crews a distinct boundary to where their mowing activities should end in order to conserve the biodiversity of the new plantings. Detailing of the installations of all hardscape and planting was designed to ensure minimal maintenance over the lifetime of the feature. The goals of the landscape design have been met by removing redundant hardscape surfaces, which contributed to the overall impervious surface area of the existing site. The introduction of a green roof and minimizing the extent of hardscape materials contributed to minimizing the volume of stormwater created. The feature works to capture, direct and treat the surface flow that is created by the CBLS building and associated site improvements and has been sized to accommodate existing re-directed drainage lines and the anticipated load of future development in this district. The North District plan, in spite of having added three new buildings, reduces the impervious surface of the District, by 1.3 acres, considerably reduces the rate and volume of runoff, and vastly improves stormwater quality.


The plan rendering illustrates how the captured stormwater filters through the rain gardens.
1. Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences building
2. Rain Garden Collection Area
3. Filtration Pond
4. Sedimentation Pond
5. Bio-filtration & Infiltration Pond
6. Detention Pond
7. Overflow Area

Roof runoff is internally directed to two stainless steel runnels on the southwest face of CBLS and runs across a pedestrian path to an elegant rain garden that becomes the first collection area. The water then travels across a terraced weir wall and under a small pedestrian bridge before entering the first of three treatment ponds. These ponds create a collection area to store a large amount of water during periods of inundation. They have been designed to allow for sediment and suspended solids to collect behind strategically placed weir walls that also serve to aerate the water. Native and regionally adapted plantings have been selected for their adaptability to each flood zone and contribute to filtering the water within the main collection area, while remaining vibrant during varying periods of drought. The entire system has been created to slow the rate of runoff, infiltrate what volume was possible in an area with a high water table, and improve the quality of water through biofiltration.

The selection of materials used in the landscape respects the heritage of the campus. Boulders salvaged from on site have been scattered within the stormwater feature and set within the main pedestrian plaza to imitate the glacial activity of the region where native stones were scattered across the landscape. Fieldstone seat walls are indicative of the walls lining historic agricultural plots and grazing pastures throughout New England. The geometry of all hardscape and site furniture creates a relationship with the rhythm of columns and windows of the building and comes from the common palette of campus standards. This feature serves the function set out by the design team, but it also provides a unique and striking campus space that becomes a community asset for the emerging science district. It has become an important model for highlighting the sustainable initiatives set out by the university both in their academic curriculum and in their campus practices.

This project achieved LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and received Merit awards for Design Excellence from the Boston Society of Architects and AIA Rhode Island.

Design Team
Landscape Design Team - CRJA-IBI Group
Principal in Charge: Jennifer Jones, ASLA
Sustainable Design Principal: John Amodeo, ASLA, LEED AP
Project Manager: Lisa Esterrich, LEED GA
Landscape Architects: Rick Williams, Nathan Socha, Christopher Golden
Prime Consultant, Design Architect: Payette Associates, Inc., Boston
Associate Architect: Lerner Ladds + Bartels, Providence, R.I.
Civil/Geotech Engineer: Pare Corp., Lincoln, R.I.
MEP Engineer: Vanderweil Engineers, Boston
Structural Engineer: Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Waltham, Mass.
Sustainable Design: Integrated Design Collaborative, Arlington, Mass.
General Contractor: Gilbane Building Company, Providence, R.I.
Site Subcontractor: Fleet Construction, Cumberland, R.I.
Landscape Subcontractor: Central Nurseries, Johnston, R.I.

Bench, Steel Bench Model #118-60, S-1: DuMor Site Furnishings, Inc.
Trash & Recycling Receptacles: 36-gallon 'Ironsites', model S-42: Victor Stanley
Metal Runnel Grate, 'Tile Waves' style: Urban Accessories
Aluminum Mowstrip Edge: 'StructurEdge' Aluminum Edging: PermaLoc
Detectable Warning Pavers: Hanover Architectural Products

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September 18, 2019, 7:38 am PDT

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