Superb Stewardship

Summer 2016

Burbank Water and Power Transforms an Aging Power Plant Site into a Regenerative EcoCampus

by Brad Causey


Superb Stewardship

Burbank, California, may be the famous studio location for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but the EcoCampus at Burbank Water and Power (BWP) broadcasts its own show worthy of a different fame. The project debuted as the only industrial category selectee among 150 national and international projects for the Sustainable Sites pilot program in 2012. BWP and its design partner, AHBE Landscape Architects in Los Angeles transformed an aging power plant site into a regenerative green campus with aspirations toward net-zero water use.

“Being good stewards, doing the work of service, our landscape is reflective of those values we have here,” said BWP Conservation Manager Joe Flores. BWP offers regular tours of its EcoCampus to educate visitors about several stormwater management technologies there which include permeable pavers and concrete planks. At the heart of the campus, Centennial Courtyard features 4 x 16 x 3 1/8 in. thick planks in a multi-colored array of pewter, amber, caramel, mocha and charcoal. While larger and longer paving units continue growing in popularity, this three-year-old project represents early pioneering with planks.

Contemporary Cool

Two distinct trends have emerged over the past few years including a shift from warm earth-tone colors to cooler shades of gray, and growing use of larger paver units, slabs and planks. AHBE designers wanted a modern, linear appearance for the courtyard, and once BWP saw samples of the planks from an ICPI member manufacturer, BWP fell in love with them. The decision was also influenced by the salvaged and repurposed structures BWP chose to retain from the original site. Though initially the plan was to remove everything, BWP envisioned a transformation rather than a complete demolition. Old generator pads became seating areas; utility tunnels became infiltration chambers; equipment plinths became garden sculptures; and a two-story steel skeleton substation became a trellis for a shade canopy. Multicolored planks provided the desired complement. “If we just poured concrete [for the courtyard], it wouldn’t be very visually interesting,” said Mr. Flores. “The pavers add a material richness you want in that kind of environment,” he added.

As Above, So Below

From the outset, BWP wanted to develop a green campus with sustainable stormwater detention and filtration technologies. The Centennial Courtyard planks sloped to drain stormwater into a phytoextraction canal. Formerly a tunnel that carried power cables from the power plant to the electrical substation, the six-foot deep tunnel floor was perforated and then backfilled with select soils and plants that filter stormwater runoff as it permeates down into aquifers. At each side of the canal, fountains of recycled water are circulated by solar-powered pumps.

A green street development spanning three city blocks along Lake Street includes an 8 ft wide permeable paver sidewalk and filtration planter bump-outs collecting and infiltrating water into concrete bioretention cells with trees. “With permeable pavers, you’re able to do stormwater capture and then direct the water to encourage trees and plants to grow roots downward, which is healthy for the landscape, and also alleviates problems of roots uplifting sidewalks,” Mr. Flores explained.

The visual qualities of the landscape are noteworthy, but what lies beneath—a campus-wide water filtration system—is truly remarkable. Five water filtration technologies were used: infiltration, flow-through, detention, tree root cells, and stormwater capture. According to BWP, this was the first time this number of sustainable landscape technologies were integrated into a single industrial site.

Watch a video about sustainable green infrastructure projects at Burbank Water and Power.

Pixilation and Progeny

Three types of pavers were used for the courtyard and green street, according to AHBE Landscape Architects Principal Evan Mather, ASLA, RLA. “We used plank pavers for the courtyard, rectangular pavers where we didn’t want to infiltrate, for example, next to buildings, and permeable pavers where we wanted to infiltrate,” said Mr. Mather. “The overall look of the campus doesn’t present scored concrete; it’s more about the individual pixilation of the paver materials.”

Regarding maintenance, Mr. Flores said, “It’s not as much as you might think. We don’t have to do much other than blowing [leaves and debris] and cleaning up the occasional spill.” Because the pavers are multicolored, a few spots here and there aren’t nearly as noticeable as they would be on a continuous white concrete surface, Mr. Flores said.

Congruent Values

The close collaboration among the project owners, landscape designers and the paver manufacturer resulted in a creative synergy where each drove the others toward greater excellence. “They were a fantastic partner,” Mr. Mather said of BWP. AHBE has been a leader in sustainable design for 30 years, Mr. Mather said, but an industrial power plant might be the last place one would think of when it comes to sustainability. With all its green merits, the BWP EcoCampus really is for the people. Human utilization of the campus and courtyard space drove the design from the outset according to Mr. Flores. “Using the space in this way creates a healthy work environment…because it’s congruent with the values of people who want to work here.”

To anyone mulling over a similar redevelopment project, Mr. Flores offers this advice: “Consider not just the physical elements but the human and cultural aspects that define the values of your organization. How can you express that through the use of your physical space?” Addressing these human aspects resurrected this site with support from carefully selected and placed concrete paving units.