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2011 Sweepstakes Winner Returns from China Trip

Last fall, Cara Smith, ASLA of Alexandria, Virginia won LAF’s 2011 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes and an all-expense-paid, week-long trip for two to EDSA’s Crosswaters Ecolodge & Spa located in the Nankun Mountain Reserve in Guangdong Province, China. She traveled to the resort in April with her boyfriend Brian, also a landscape architect, and had the following trip report. The two also compiled a slide show capturing their experiences.

crosswaterstrip1“While this was my first time in China, I think it is safe to say that the visitor experience at Crosswaters Ecolodge is highly unique to the region, if not the country. Brian and I were able to extend our stay in China for a second week to travel north to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Beijing, and though our time to explore was limited, in none of these places did we find or appreciate a similar kind of eco-luxury or very much ‘eco’-mindedness at all.”

“At Crosswaters we could connect the dots between people, place, and natural processes — we could see the garden from which our dinner was plucked; hike through a bamboo forest knowing that this local material played a major role in sustaining the community, as well as providing us with a stunningly crafted villa for seven nights; and we could and fall asleep to the sound of chirping frogs and a churning river just feet away. Crosswaters was the first ecotourism destination in China, after all, and it sets the bar high. (The luxury resorts that seem to be taking over a neighboring valley in Guangzhou pale in comparison.)”

crosswaterstrip2“The sustainable design philosophy, spearheaded by an ecotourism development company and  EDSA, resonates throughout the site. Crosswaters is nestled in a valley surrounded by bamboo forest, so the connection between architecture and the environment is quite clear. Bamboo is used extensively and elegantly in the architecture, as are river rock and reclaimed materials, such as roof tiles. The architectural details are stunning — from the delicately woven bamboo screen covering the roof inside of the villa, to the intricate river rock-studded medallions in the walkways. We learned that collaboration with the local Keija people living in the Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve was a priority from the very beginning of the design process, and they were involved in its construction, incorporating local building methods and learning new ones to take back with them. Principles of feng shui played a role in the site design, and though I am not well versed in feng shui, I can attest that there was an uncanny sense of balance, peace, and harmony flooding the space, much like the daily fog, that rose and sank over the valley.”

crosswaterstrip3“The staff at Crosswaters treated us like royalty.  They made sure that our tea cups were never empty and made every effort to keep us comfortable, entertained, and happy. The reception manager even took us on our own private tour of the local town and surrounding parks. Restaurant staff was extremely patient when it came time for us to order our meals, and we could not have been more pleased with the Cantonese and Hakka cuisines they prepared.”

“Needless to say, we are still riding the high of probably one of the best vacations we have ever had, and cannot thank LAF and EDSA enough for this opportunity. I believe that this experience will stay with me for a long time and provide a wealth of inspiration professionally, personally, and spiritually.”

Cara, a 2010 graduate of Virginia Tech’s MLA program, works for the firm Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects in Alexandria, VA. Cara’s name was drawn from nearly 200 sweepstakes entries, which raised over $12,000 to support LAF’s research and scholarship programs. Special thanks to EDSA for generously providing this prize package. Look for details on LAF’s 2012 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes soon.

Setting the Stage to Evaluate Performance: Chatham's Eden Hall Campus

Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus will be the first sustainable university campus built from the ground up and the home of the university’s new School of Sustainability and the Environment. As part of the 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, researchers at Chatham are working with designers at Mithun to collect baseline data and setup research protocols to evaluate landscape performance over the long-term.

The research is led by Molly Mehling, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Sustainability, working with student Research Assistant Kaitlyn O’Neill and collaborating with faculty from a number of disciplines. The research team will collect background and baseline information, outline the expected landscape performance benefits, and develop protocols that Chatham can use to measure them over time.

csi-chatham1Eden Hall Campus Phase 1 (Mithun)

The Eden Hall Campus encompasses 388 acres in Richland Township, about 20 miles from downtown Pittsburgh and Chatham’s main Shadyside Campus. The Master Plan for the site, which incorporates state-of-the-art sustainable technology rooted in the principles of permaculture, biophilia and integrated watershed planning, was done by Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell (BNIM) and Andropogon Associates and approved in June 2011. Mithun is providing architecture, landscape architecture and interior design for the first phase of the campus (~100 acres), with construction slated to start this summer.

csi-chatham2Rendering of New EcoCenter (Mithun)

The Phase 1 landscape will incorporate SITES best practices and advanced green infrastructure systems such as raingardens, constructed wetlands, composting toilets, geo-exchange systems, food production and aquaculture systems. The design will preserve and protect soils and support habitat for forest, meadow and agricultural areas. Rainwater catchment and treatment will reduce potable water needs for the project, and wastewater will be treated and dispersed on lot, with reuse of appropriate elements as fertilizer and soil enhancement. Phase 1 also includes 18,000 sf of classroom, office, library, café, lab and gathering space. Each building is designed to meet a combination of Living Building Challenge, Passive House, Net Zero and LEED Platinum ratings.

While the CSI program typically focuses on quantifying the benefits of built landscapes, this collaboration is being used to test and develop guidance for those at the stage in the design and construction process in which there is a completed design that has not yet been built. As part of their CSI work, Molly and Kaitlyn will develop a set of guidelines for designers, clients, academics, and other stakeholders who want to set up longer-term research to evaluate a project’s performance. LAF is thrilled to be part of this collaboration and to help set the stage for years of innovative research on the benefits of landscape at this model campus for sustainable learning and living.