IIT Takes First Prize in Water Saving Competition

By Linda Seggelke

The Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) recently took home first prize in the Campus RainWorks Challenge among small institutions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Challenge to increase awareness and to inspire the upcoming engineers, landscape architects and planners to focus on infrastructure that helps manage stormwater, improve water quality and prevent flooding caused by heavy rains on a college or university campus. The winning team consisted of a faculty advisor and 14 graduate and undergraduate students from various disciplines including landscape architecture, environmental management, business and engineering.

IIT_3IIT_2The IIT team’s project incorporates green infrastructure practices into the campus’ primary pedestrian thoroughfare to demonstrate water infiltration and conservation strategies while redefining some of the campus’ underutilized green spaces. The design features rain gardens that double as gathering and seating areas, and also includes 2.6 acres of permeable walkways, three acres of new native plant communities containing three large water gardens, underground cisterns to hold captured rain for irrigation and non-potable reuse, water channels and information panels.

This design stands to reduce the campus’ impact on Chicago’s sewer system by reducing annual stormwater runoff volume by 70 to 80%. With the addition of underground cisterns and native plants, the reduction of the campus’ dependence on potable water from Lake Michigan for landscape watering could be as high as three million gallons annually. Designed to achieve a complete reduction in stormwater run-off by 2020, the plan allows phased implementation to accommodate planned infrastructure improvements.

Left to right: Patrick Miller, Dr. Paul Anderson, Jacob Singer, Anne Brask, Brock Auerbach-lynn, Brandon Linder, MWRD Commissioner Patrick Thomson, Prof. Mary Pat Mattson, Lara Rivera, David Wilcox and Xingu Zhang.

Left to right: Patrick Miller, Dr. Paul Anderson, Jacob Singer, Anne Brask, Brock Auerbach-lynn, Brandon Linder, MWRD Commissioner Patrick Thomson, Prof. Mary Pat Mattson, Lara Rivera, David Wilcox and Xingu Zhang.

There were over 200 student teams competing for this honor and the winners were selected based on six criteria: analysis and planning, preservation or restoration of natural features, integrated water management, soil and vegetation management, value to campus and likelihood of implementation. For coming in first, the IIT student team was awarded $2,500 along with an $11,000 grant for faculty research on green infrastructure.

“This is a really great moment for the IIT Master of Landscape Architecture program, for the College of Architecture and for the University, because it brings focus and attention to an increasingly vital urban landscape infrastructure issue: a great design problem for design education,” said Mary Pat Mattson, Studio Assistant Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology. “The award gives us an opportunity to build on our ideas through further research and coursework. And we look forward to seeing how this impacts the campus landscape in very real ways.”

This may be the first didactic landscape and would serve as a model for other colleges. Stormwater is one of the most widespread challenges to water quality in the nation. Large volumes of polluted rainwater degrade our rivers, lakes and aquatic habitats and contribute to downstream flooding.

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