Pratt's Brooklyn Campus
Last April the NYC Department of Environmental Protection's Green Infrastructure Office awarded $475,000 to a proposal by Pratt Institute's Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development, and part of the money will go towards building two new green pilot projects for its Brooklyn campus. One of the exciting new projects consists of expanded tree pits with bioswales and the second is a green roof atop North Hall, which houses classrooms and a cafeteria. The incorporation of real, hands-on green infrastructure projects into an educational, academic environment began this summer.
Starting in late May, Pratt graduate students in the green infrastructure design + build course began learning green roof and stormwater management techniques. Preliminary designs for the green roof were completed under the direction of professors Gita Nandan and Elliott Maltby, of the design firm Thread Collective. These proposals, along with preliminary site analyses, were presented to green roof installers/designers Highview Creations, Pratt’s Facilities Management group and other project team members just last week in a classroom overlooking the site. Student designs have challenged the original grant proposal by pushing the envelope and making a wide range of recommendations and ambitious interventions as part of the project. Some proposals include a variety of habitats, considering the project as an educational tool and testing ground for bold plant combinations and green roof technologies. Others have introduced inventive components, such as a waterfall between different roof levels, artificial rolling hills, and green screens shielding air conditioning and other roof equipment. A couple of proposal incorporate seemingly disparate stormwater management systems, marrying blue roofs and green roofs into one composite system.
During presentations to the rest of the project team, students were urged to consider budgetary, structural, maintenance, accessibility and other constraints in a quantitative manner in order to provide a final product that can fit seamlessly within the project’s real-world restrictions. The students now have a month to consolidate their proposals into a few realistic options, which Highview Creations and the rest of the design team will then merge into a set of drawings to submit to the DEP.
Although the projects are somewhat unrealistic in these initial stages, and go beyond the scope of the grant awards, the academic setting gives students the possibility to experiment beyond the usual manifestations of a government grant proposal design. This infusion of creativity is necessary to make the most out of this opportunity, emphasizing Pratt Institute’s standing as a cutting-edge arts and design institution. As highlighted during the design review, a continued commitment to engaging various departments of the Institute during and after the design stage is essential in making this project stand out. Coordination with various departments of the school can include design charrettes for signage and community participation programs, competitions and programs to create art and visualizations based on stormwater and ecological monitoring data from the roof, and the creation of a student “green infrastructure steward” fellowship position. These stewards will be tasked with the maintenance and management of monitoring data for the green roof during the first 3 years after completion, eventually handing off maintenance duties to facilities managers.
The intent of Pratt’s initiative is to provide a green infrastructure program at the Institute that incorporates student and public education, community involvement, innovative technologies in green roof design and monitoring, and improvement in the stormwater performance and appearance of the physical campus. By building upon the basic requirements of the winning DEP Green Infrastructure Grant proposal, this summer’s students have elevated the discussion beyond what is required of the project, and shown what is possible. As a result of the project’s immersion within the academic arena, Pratt Institute’s green roof will likely include innovative features that would have otherwise been passed by in order to comply with the restrictions of the grant proposal. This project shows the power of collaborations between the academic and professional spheres, as well as between disciplines, in new fields such as green infrastructure and stormwater management. Fresh ideas and minds must be a part of any new process, and it is in academic institutions and young, effervescent minds that we find the most forward-thinking manifestations of our sustainable future.