BlogLeft ArrowRight ArrowBackPreviousNextCloseLocationMenuSearchFacebookGoogle PlusLinkedInTwitterYoutube

Pashek + MTR Receives ASLA Merit Award for Healing Garden Terrace

The design for the Healing Garden Terrace at the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC Hillman won a Merit Award from the Pennsylvania/Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.  It was exhibited at the national ASLA conference in Philadelphia last month.  It’s the second award for this project.

The challenge was to design a green roof on an existing facility that: uses the proven therapeutic power of art and nature to help in the healing process; provides a positive distraction for patients before and during treatment as well as throughout the four seasons; accommodates the safety and unique needs of blood cancer patients; provides a variety of intimate, contemplative and social gathering spaces within a small terrace; and uses sustainable design principles.  For more information check out the project page.

Solving Typical Rain Garden Problems

Many of us embraced rain gardens in the past several years for their ability to mitigate storm water runoff and to help cleanse groundwater of pollutants.
We love rain gardens; we really do. It’s just that sometimes rain gardens don’t love us back. Here are some reasons that rain gardens don’t always work, and the most likely solutions:
1. Problem: Lack of an underdrain. Rain gardens are designed to infiltrate storm water into the soil. But sometimes they fill up faster than they can drain.
Solution: Install a 4’’ perforated pipe underdrain below the rain garden basin. This underdrain operates as a kind of relief valve if excess water accumulates in the rain garden. The underdrain is connected to an outlet structure, which is there to function during intense storm events when the basin fills up.
2. Problem: Clay and silt clog the perforations in the 4” underdrain pipe.
Solution: If the rain garden stops draining, the underdrain pipe may be clogged. Flush the underdrain pipe with a garden hose via the outlet structure.
3. Problem: Sediment washes into the rain garden from surrounding surfaces, filling in all the desirable and needed air pockets in the mulch, preventing infiltration.
Solution: Protect the rain garden from sedimentation with a silt fence or filter sock until the surrounding areas are stabilized with vegetation or paving.
4. Problem: Water won’t seep into the soil. Sometimes heavy construction vehicles compress subgrade soil to a degree that water cannot infiltrate.
Solution: Loosen the subgrade before constructing the rain garden.

N. Oakland Proposed Trails: Linking People, Nature, Neighborhoods

Neville-Trail-elevated-trail-renderingThroughout Pittsburgh are wild landscapes that could be terrific places for people to get out in nature. These are the hillsides that we often ignore as we pass by, or that we grumble about because they act as barriers between two nearby places.

What if we consider these wild urban landscapes as amenities instead of annoyances? What if we think about them as convenient places to walk the dog, watch birds or just be outside amidst nature?

Neville-Trail-trailhead-Centre&NevilleThis idea became the final project of Pashek Associates staff member Elaine Kramer in her master of landscape Neville-Trail-trailhead-Centre&Nevillearchitecture program at Chatham University. The  project proposes turning the wild urban hillsides of the North Oakland neighborhood into community assets. This builds on a long-term goal in the Oakland Planning and Development Corp.’s 2025 vision plan. Here are two parts of the plan:

  • The hillside between North Oakland and the Hill District could include a rugged trail that enables walkers to reach the fabulous views at Robert Williams Park, the highest spot in Pittsburgh.
  • The hillside between North Oakland and Lawrenceville could accommodate a multi-use trail leading from Centre Neville-Trail-Melwood-Ave-TrailheadAvenue and Neville Street to Herron Avenue Bridge, creating an important link between neighborhoods and existing trails. Part of this trail would be a tree-top elevated boardwalk.

Here are two links for additional information about the North Oakland wild urban trails proposal:

Post-Gazette news story

Oakland Planning and Development Corp newsletter

It May be Winter, but That Doesn’t Stop Stormwater Runoff

Pittsburgh WinterWe all know that winter in Pittsburgh means cold and snow, but this winter has been especially challenging.  The snowfall total is almost 23 inches above the average snowfall by this time of year, and is already 5 inches above the average yearly snowfall total!  With the temperature hovering at a frigid 10 degrees, it’s hard to believe that Spring and warmer temperatures are right around the corner.  There is the potential for flooding with the Spring rains and snowmelt, reminding us to take good look at innovative ways to manage stormwater.

On February 6, 2014, we attended the Western PA Storm/Waste Water Symposium sponsored by Advanced Drainage Systems.  Along with representatives from local engineering firms, local County Conservation Districts, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and many others, we were treated to a variety of discussions including integrated watershed planning, changes at the Allegheny County Conservation District, and the latest updates on ALCOSAN’s Wet Weather Plan required by EPA to reduce combined sewer overflows.  The morning culminated in the Keynote session in which Dr. Robert Traver from Villanova University spoke about data collected from the rain gardens constructed on the Villanova campus.

What are the big take-aways?  Evapotranspiration may be hard to measure but it plays a bigger role than most have thought.  To learn more check out this presentation on Villanova’s website.  In addition, Villanova researchers have proven that rain gardens can perform well over a long period of time and be low maintenance.  Find out more about their first rain garden, built in 2001, along with other green infrastructure at the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership.

Green Roof Tour at the Pittsburgh Zoo


Schizachryium scoparium
Carex pennsylvanica
Carex pennsylvanicaSchizachryium scoparium

On October 16, 2013, Jim Pashek joined old friends on a “Rooftop Rendezvous at the Zoo” sponsored by Green Building Alliance.  Jim was involved with the project management of the “New Zoo” beginning in the early 1980’s and had the pleasure to work over the years with our tour guides that night, Frank Pizzi and Marjorie Marks.

What a specacular demonstrtion rooftop garden. About half of the planted roof area is an “extensive” roof garden with 3-4 inches of special soil mix. The other half was this lush “intensive” rooftop garden of plants placed in a special soil mix ranging from 3-36 inches.  You can tell from the photos that they have been successful to identify species that can thrive in a very hot micro climate and in very shallow soils.The garden got me thinking

that the rooftop garden at Pashek Associates is ready for an overhaul.  This “extensive” garden is planted in trays on 4 inches of special soil mix. We decided to try four varieties of sedums to see which would survive in very difficult site conditions. They all survived and have never been watered since after the first growing season.Some plants that we may plant include Carex pennsylvanica (the small grass clump like plants), which is one of the few sedges that tolerates very dry conditions.  I find it interesting that I would normally use Carex p. in part to full shade but at the Zoo, it is doing great in full sun.  I also think we will try in our rooftop garden Schizachryium scoparium, a plant that is home on the prairie and thrives in hot, dry, well drained conditions (the typical rooftop garden).

Zoo Rooftop Garden - Extensive Plantings
Zoo Rooftop Garden – Extensive Plantings

Frank, thank you for a very informative presentation and tour of the Zoo’s rooftop garden gem. Thanks also to the GBA for arranging the tour.  We look forward to another rooftop garden tour sponsored by GBA in November at the Convention Center, a green roof designed by Pashek Associates and installed by Eilser Nurseries. Maybe next summer we will have more pictures of our newly renovated rooftop garden at Pashek Associates.  Please stop in and ask for a tour of our garden here on the Northside.

County Building Green Roof Measures its Own Effectiveness

photo-224x300You may think of the Allegheny County Office Building, 452 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, as the place to go if you have a question about your property assessment.

But this historic building is also the site of a beautiful, functional and productive green roof, designed with the help of Pashek Associates.Green roofs benefit the local environment by reducing storm water runoff; keeping buildings warmer in winter and cooler in summer; evening out daily temperature swings; and helping to mitigate the heat island effect.

The County Office Building green roof, completed in 2010, is now growing into its role as a powerful tool for protecting the environment

A network of sensors embedded in the soils monitor performance of this roof compared with a conventional “control” roof. The sensors measure roof temperature, soil moisture, water flow and water retention, with data collected every 15 minutes. Over time, this information will demonstrate the valuable role that green roofs can play in easing some of the damaging effects that development has on our environment.

Here is an example of the data that can be seen by visiting the monitoring website. This example compares temperatures in a one-month period on the control roof (top line) with temperatures recorded by two sensors on the green roof (bottom two lines).


The green roof includes four different types of growing conditions, and over time it will also be possible to learn through the monitoring system how each type performs compared with the others. They are:

  1. Intensive – 8 to 12 inches of soil and growing shrubs and plants needing the soil depth.
  2. Semi-intensive – 6 inches of soil and able to grow plants and shrubs.
  3. Roll out Mat – set on 4 inches of soil, this pre-grown sedum mat provides instant cover.
  4. Tray system – easy to install, pre-grown sedum and lightweight.

A Green Roof for a Green Convention Center

The Gold LEED Certified convention center in Pittsburgh is becoming even greener. This fall, a green roof is being constructed above the loading dock and is fully accessible to event goers.


In the summer of 2010, as planning and design was being completed for fixing a roof leak, the Sports and Exhibition Authority realized they had a golden opportunity to install and showcase a green roof that is readily accessible from meeting rooms on the third floor.


Pashek Associates was hired to design the new roof to include outdoor gathering and event space along with planting areas. The final design includes a meandering blue pathway resembling a stream, keeping with the theme of the existing architecture and meant to remind visitors of the green roof’s stormwater benefits. The path separates two contrasting types of planting areas. The first is a typical sedum planting done on most extensive green roofs. The second consists of native perennials, providing wildlife habitat. The simplicity of the design allows the building’s sculptural cable bundles to remain a focal point.

Stay tuned for photos of the ongoing construction to be completed this fall!

Permaculture, Community Revitalization, and Sustainable Design

A small, but growing, group of neighbors in East Liberty, called the Borland Garden Cooperative, have come together in order to develop a sustainable, multi-purpose urban garden that eliminates vacancy, adds vibrancy and biodiversity, and serves as an educational tool and community gathering space.


Funded by the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, Sprout Fund, and the Sarah Heinz Foundation, the Borland Garden Cooperative partnered with East Liberty Development Incorporated, Pittsburgh Permaculture, and GTECH Strategies to develop a unique urban garden model. Pashek Associates was hired to develop a master plan for the garden in which energy and water will be captured, materials will be recycled and reused, and everyone who works in the garden shares tools and the harvest.


The group envisions the garden as a place in which the surrounding community can come together to learn, share resources, work together, grow together, and share in the bounty. Some of the unique features of the garden include an urban food forest, traditional vegetable garden, water cistern, bio-shelter, rain gardens, chicken coop, outdoor kitchen and gathering space, and a labyrinth.


Chimney swift habitat helps offer pest management as well as doubling as educational signage. A windspire serves as a sculptural focal point as well as powering lighting. Bee and butterfly habitat promotes pollination within the garden. A sensory garden entices the public to walk up to, smell, touch, taste, see and interact with the garden. Compost bins help recycle chicken manure, garden waste, as well as compostable materials from adjacent neighbors.

The master planning process is almost finished but that does not mean the work is done. The Cooperative will be out in full force to prepare for the installation of the rain gardens, cistern, street trees, and urban food forest in the fall.