C+S April 2020 Vol. 6 Issue 4 (web)

Land Development

Common Ground a challenging urban infill benefits from broad expertise and material certainty By Sean O’Keefe

Nature is an essential part of the human experience. As the universal backdrop of our lives, nature instills a sense of connection to some- thing greater than ourselves, something grander than now— something eternal. As densities of human populations have increased, first cities, and then metropolises have formed. Building ever larger, taller, and deeper, today superblocks and transit corridors fill space and concen- trate purpose in cities like Chicago, NewYork, and Los Angeles. Struc- ture and infrastructure, concrete and steel fill seemingly every space, challenging nature to find a way to fit in. Thankfully, nature is making a comeback. “Cities have started recognizing the importance of open spaces and the capacity of nature to enhance the quality of urban living,” says Laura Solano, a landscape architect and principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) in Cambridge, MA. Solano has been practicing landscape architecture for 37 years and is a recognized ex- pert in landscape technology and sustainability. “Nature has a willful wildness about it, an unpredictability and when it’s contrasted against the hardness of a city, a harmonic conversation happens.” Solano has earned a reputation for solving landscape challenges in complex urban contexts through innovative approaches to stormwater management, incorporating sustainable soils and native plants, and the resourceful use of landscape materials. Among the latter, Solano has high praise for an often-unsung hero in her tool kit - molded polysty- rene geofoam, used as a lightweight fill beneath landscapes. “MVVA has been working with geofoam for twenty-five years, using it in places that no one could imagine,” says Solano of the lightweight, rigid foam she regularly incorporates in her work. Molded polystyrene is a cellular plastic material used to produce incredibly strong geo- foam blocks, which are easily moved by hand and carved, sculpted, or stacked on site to create dynamic landforms in tight spaces. Atlas Molded Products is one of North America’s largest manufacturers of molded polystyrene and strives to be an asset to designers and an ally to builders. “Topography is essential to crafting a landscape that intuitively guides the user,” continues Solano. “Geofoam allows us to add undulation in landforms built over structures without adding a tremendous volume of weight. Carefully done, the results are natural and beautiful.” A recent success and brilliant illustration of Solano’s enthusiasm is One Bennett Park, a high-rise residential infill project along the north edge of Chicago’s loop. At 836 feet tall and 69 stories, One Bennett Park

Peter Aaron Exterior

is eighth among Chicago’s ten tallest condominium buildings. The building has handsome finishes, an abundance of amenities, and a com- munity green space at its doorstep. Located in the lively Streeterville neighborhood, One Bennett Park represents architectural collaboration at its best. Developers Related Midwest engaged world-renowned de- sign visionaries, Robert A.M. Stern Architects to work with executive architects, GREC Architects of Chicago, and MVVA for the landscape design, each independently contracted. “Infill properties always have challenges, and that’s where we thrive,” says Dennis DeCapri, a Principal at GREC, who took a leadership role in guiding his firm’s performance on One Bennett Park. GREC excels in the design and management of large complex commercial and residential projects nationally and internationally and welcomed the chance to collaborate with other visionary practitioners. A developer’s ability to leverage existing assets and realize strategic advantages like an adjacent urban park are often key differentiators in congested urban multifamily residential markets. “There is an existing parking structure on the site that was to be maintained, so a portion of the building and


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