Category Archives: Water

The value of the public realm to a great city should not be taken for granted.  When we think of great public spaces in a city, we are often drawn to the iconic large parks.  And when citizens think of their needs for green space, it is often channeled into their ideas of gardens, sports fields or playgrounds.  Without a doubt, every great city has their share of well known and loved parks.  But there are aspects of the public realm that should not be discounted even though they seem less glamorous or obvious.

So, what is the public realm?  I would define it as the realm that belongs to the public as a whole, in which we carry out our every day tasks and errands.  It includes streets, pathways, corridors, parks, publicly accessible open spaces, and built elements that are accessible to everyone regardless of ownership.  These are really places where vehicles may be able to traverse, but the pedestrian rules.

In Charleston, we can all immediately name the great parks we are familiar with.  White Point Gardens, Marion Square, Hampton Park and Waterfront Park are jewels of greenspace for the city.  But so often a lot of the social life of the city happens on its streets.  King Street is a great shopping street with its narrow right of way, many shops and well defined edges.  I meet friends, colleagues or clients along this street almost every time I walk it.  It has such great value.  Upper King street has become a thriving area as well, with restaurants that incorporate outdoor seating, and great little side streets that offer more gracious sidewalks.  This allows for gathering nodes such as fountains, benches for seating shaded by trees and civic buildings that open up onto plazas that act as impromptu spots to eat lunch or sit with a cup of coffee and take in the bustle of the city.  These less defined spaces are where everyone in the community is welcome and people have the opportunity to mingle and meet and feel a greater connection to the city as a whole. This is where children walk to and from school every day, business people take lunch, tourists sightsee and citizens conduct errands.

A sidewalk, a plaza, a bench or a small fountain may seem like ordinary things, but with the right attention to design, these spaces and elements elevate the life of a city from ho-hum to lively.  Charleston’s Mayor Riley and design professionals at the City have done a superb job of giving attention to these aspects of the city in the lower peninsula and filling in the small holes in the urban fabric to bring a richness that the community can enjoy.  In the future, we will have the opportunity to take these aspects of design into areas such as the upper peninsula, and the suburbs of West Ashley to allow for the continued development that is already happening here to bring richness to those areas as well.  In addition, there is opportunity to add a greater element of sustainability to our design standards.  Thankfully the city has already begun to think of these areas as a whole and are prepared to be proactive instead of reactive.  As a Landscape Architect, it is exciting to consider the opportunity to be a part of the future of this area as it grows.  With each new project or renovation, a small part of the public realm is mended and improved for the entire community.  High standards for design and continued thoughtful consideration given to details of this new public realm are sure to increase the vitality and enjoyment for all citizens.

In part two of this discussion on the public realm, we will get into a few of the specific details for design:  Corridors, plazas, parks, and complete streets. -H

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June is here and the heat is on in Charleston.  We have several recently completed Residential projects that take advantage of the beautiful Charleston weather and either feature a water element prominently or take advantage of stunning water views.  Whether you are looking to add a cooling water element to your outdoor space or just take advantage of the beauty of your surroundings, the following projects should give you plenty of design inspiration!

The graceful front entrance to this elegant coastal home features a generous staircase and landing from the natural stone drive flanked by cooling native plantings.

Upon entering the home and proceeding to the backyard, you are greeted with stunning water views and a modern designed pool, walkway and planting that maximize the view and outdoor enjoyment.

While the project below is not on the water, its internal courtyard was designed for maximum outdoor enjoyment.  A simple and generous outdoor patio allows for ease of circulation from the driveway into the house, while still feeling like a secluded garden.  The lush plantings provide a sense of calm and quiet and a well placed water feature gives a much appreciated cooling affect.



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urban farm in the heart of Philadelphia

I am so intrigued by the rising interest in urban agriculture.  It seems like not a week goes by that I do not see an article somewhere discussing the topic or showcasing a new project.  Here in Charleston especially, I think it so easily fits in with our culture of gardening and the love of local food.

In the gardens of Charleston and the surrounding areas you find a plethora of fruit trees, fruiting vines, and herbs filling containers and growing underfoot in gaps in patio stones.  A traditional vegetable plot even makes an appearance here and there.  We have recently had much interest in residential projects for incorporating vegetable plots, fruiting vines and trees in the design.  Even small urban homes can creatively incorporate climbing vines, tomatoes, cucumbers or containers for herbs in their outdoor space.  Utilizing underused or forgotten spaces for an urban farm is not such a stretch.  Urban farming on a larger scale is a very different animal requiring a system of management by volunteers or a paid staff or both.  But I think it can be a wonderful addition to the urban environment.  As Landscape Architects we are uniquely qualified to bring different interests together to create a space that functions well on all levels.  Urban agriculture has the potential to be more than a little community garden.  With good design it can be a ‘farm’ within the framework of a larger community space that functions as a beautiful respite from the urban fabric, a gathering space for community events, an educational tool, a much needed source of fresh produce for ‘food deserts’, a place for rainwater harvesting, and a place to integrate native plants and vegetables to promote wildlife.  One local urban garden I’m aware of is at MUSC, designed by a local Landscape Architect.  Another great example, although not local, is the Lafayette Greens in Detroit.

I grew up in the suburbs and rural areas of Georgia, but my maternal grandfather almost always had a garden growing.  They moved around, but he would have a space for a rather large garden even if it was adjacent to a cul-de-sac.  I have fond memories of him in his worn overalls and straw hat, helping to pick snap beans and husking corn.  We live on a small lot in a dense neighborhood, so my own backyard garden is quite small.  Still, we’ve managed to squeeze in an heirloom pumpkin plant, heirloom cherry tomatoes and cucumbers growing up a fence, a Meyer lemon tree and sunflowers in a narrow 3ft x 15ft plot.  Another small plot about 4ft x 5ft has carrots, beans, native rosemary, strawberries and green pepper.  The rest of our backyard is a modern take on a Charleston garden and boasts many native plants.  The size may be small, but the benefits have been great.  My children love running out to see the status of the vegetables and have been tempted to try new things.  They are learning the value of patience, hard work and the beauty of each season.  The number of birds, butterflies, dragonflies and frogs has greatly increased as well.

I’m hooked on the idea of urban agriculture.  The possibilities of landscape architects being able to beautifully combine the much needed functions of community gathering spaces, food production, education and opportunities for healthy living, water harvesting and wildlife habitat are exciting.  Hopefully this will not just be a trend, but have staying power.  Who knows, you might see a few vegetables, fruits or herbs working their way into some of our current projects.  As a mom, I’m always looking for a way to sneak in a few veggies here and there!   -HRK

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A rain garden is a garden that is designed to function both as a stormwater collector, and an aesthetic feature in the landscape.

What is the advantage of having a rain garden as part of the designed landscape?

  1. reduce the effects of erosion and water contamination caused by stormwater runoff
  2. support habitat for wildlife
  3. provide an attractive feature in the built environment
  4. provide opportunity for water infiltration and the recharging of the water table

We are all familiar with the typical rain event that produces a sudden amount of water that needs to be removed from roads, parking lots, sidewalks and away from our houses.  Typically, this water is directed as quickly as possible to the closest storm sewer, into a pipe and out of site.  From there, the water usually empties into our waterways filled with everything it picked up along the way including oil, fertilizers, pesticides and anything else it came into contact with.  By utilizing rain gardens, we can take back this natural resource by providing a place for it to be cleaned and discharged gradually.  And at the same time we are able to enjoy a beautiful feature in our urban and suburban environments.



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Project Description:

This residence in the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant was newly constructed within the context of an existing neighborhood of mainly ranch style homes.  The use of terraces helped to bring down the scale of the house and also served as a welcoming entrance from the street.  Old style details of brick and tabby concrete were used to harmonize with the traditional style of the house and provide warmth and human scale.  The retaining walls out front serve a dual function as seatwall and planter for the rain gardens that capture water from the site.  All native plants were organized in a traditional fashion to enhance the home.  Wood fences provide privacy for the side and rear gardens, where a simple lawn and native plantings provide a functional retreat for the owners and their pets.


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