Area: 14.5 acres
Former land use: The site consisted of sloping streets, sidewalks, parking areas and limited green space.
Site Budget: $14,935,480
Region: Chihuahuan Desert
Site context: The project is located at the center of The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The area receives an average of 9.6 inches of precipitation per year. The annual low temperature is 51.8 F and the annual high is 77.5 F.
UTEP is the educational center of a community uniquely situated at the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2015, the institution was ranked #1 among U.S. universities for the fourth year in a row in social mobility for its success in helping students achieve prosperity through hard work, fortitude and initiative. To celebrate its 100 years of service to the Paso del Norte region, the University transformed the heart of its campus into an inviting, pedestrian-friendly, multiuse gathering place that reflects the beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. The Centennial Plaza area promotes community with its richly detailed outdoor gathering spaces, such as a 130-seat amphitheater, and conservation with native and drought-resistant vegetation in stone-strewn gardens designed to absorb and channel stormwater.
Pre-design constraints included the sloped topography, limited ADA accessibility, and extensive bedrock. Among the pre-design opportunities were to reconnect historic arroyos, redefine stormwater as a valuable resource, and increase the native plant palette to reflect the beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert eco-region.
The CTP is one of the region's first and largest green infrastructure projects. El Paso's green building market is underdeveloped, which made sustainable construction practices and procurement of sustainable building materials more difficult. To overcome this challenge, Austin, Texas-based Ten Eyck Landscape Architects provided daily construction oversight and worked directly with the contractors and the University to achieve project goals.
The stormwater system mimics the function of natural desert corridors similar to a river bank. Stormwater is collected from upper portions of the watershed and moved slowly across the landscape in a series of vegetated arroyo bioswales (main waterways that gather runoff from the mountain and rooftops), acequia bioswales (smaller bioswales that run along walkways), and detention basins. The bioswale system reconnects historic arroyos that were filled as the campus was constructed. Contractors conducted a watershed analysis that extended beyond the project boundary to determine the stormwater volume moving through the site. In addition to the impervious surfaces within the project boundary, the arroyo system also manages stormwater from the mountainous region to the north, and parking and rooftops located outside of the project area. The total capacity of the stormwater features is 565,370 gallons per day or 75,579 cubic feet, which exceeds the 95th percentile storm event. This project is one of the first examples in the El Paso area where soils, vegetation and green infrastructure were used to manage stormwater. It provides new insight into how stormwater may be used as a sustainable resource to increase green space and provide habitats in a desert eco-region.
The CTP is one of the few projects in the El Paso region that displays the diversity and beauty of low-water use plants native to the Chihuahuan Desert. Prior to construction, the project area was comprised of roads, campus parking and turf grass lawns with few trees. The redesigned landscape dramatically changes the experience of site visitors. Asphalt was replaced with 651 trees, 2,409 shrubs and 3,337 perennials that are native or adapted to the local eco-region. In total, the site's vegetated area was increased by 60 percent.
Records show that 39 percent of the project's total material costs qualified as regional materials. In addition to native vegetation, the project also used rocks, soils and composts harvested and manufactured within the local region. Much of the stone was gathered on site during construction and was utilized as mulch.
The project area has 641 quiet outdoor spaces for mental restoration. Each location, whether in the sun or shade, provides visible and physical access to a diverse array of native and adapted vegetation. To mitigate noise and distraction, the spaces are located on the plaza's edge or outside major pedestrian corridors.
The transformed campus core can accommodate the social interactions of 1,884 students, staff, faculty and visitors. The two largest grassy areas are the Centennial Plaza and the adjacent Geology Green, which are multifunctional turf grass lawns that attract students for lounging, as well as organized or impromptu recreation. People also can socialize at the plaza's amphitheater and the garden balconies outside Union Building West and the UTEP Dinner Theatre. A unique and very popular nighttime feature is the ornamental fire pits that the University lights for special occasions, and can be reserved by groups for evening events.
The distinctive campus buildings set against the rugged foothills of the Franklin Mountains are unique among Texas colleges. Campus structures reflect the architecture of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. The Bhutanese style was suggested by Kathleen Worrell, wife of the school's first dean, who was inspired by a feature about Bhutan in a 1914 National Geographic Magazine. Distinctive features include sloped walls, decorative brickwork, red tinted roofs and deep, inset windows. The campus was listed as a historical site by the State of Texas in 1989.
Part of the project is the Lhakhang, a cultural exhibit given to the people of the United States by the people of Bhutan as a symbol of friendship and entrusted to UTEP. The hand-built wooden temple features intricately crafted ceilings, pillars and tapestries that tap into the story of Bhutanese culture. The structure, which was part of the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., was deconstructed, moved to campus, and reconstructed near Centennial Plaza.
As part of the specification requirements, the SITES sustainability consultant worked with the contractor to develop a Waste Management Plan that spanned demolition and construction. Recycled materials were sorted on site and placed in recycling bins that were labeled and kept separate from trash. In total, the project diverted 99 percent of demolition materials from the landfill.
A construction project such as UTEP's Campus Transformation demands the use of heavy machinery and vehicles of all sizes. With that understanding, University officials, in collaboration with members of its construction team, set up policies to reduce the levels of carbon emissions. The University, landscape architect and general contractor successfully enforced these specifications during the two-year project.
Ten Eyck Landscape Architects - Landscape Architect
Lake/Flato - Architects
Quantum - Civil Engineers
Biohabitats - Stormwater management
Aqua Engineering - Irrigation consultant
EEA - Mechanical and Electrical Engineers
Yarnell Associates - Lighting consultant
AEC - Structural Engineer
Regenerative Environmental Design - Sustainability Consultant
Jordan Foster Construction - General Contractor