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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.

Becoming a Climate Reality Leader

Pashek+MTR Principal Kara Roggenkamp attended the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Pittsburgh this October.  Nearly 1,400 people (including 500 from southwestern Pennsylvania) participated in this three day workshop led by former Vice President Al Gore, with sessions led by world class scientists, business leaders, policymakers and innovators.  Pashek+MTR Principal Sara Thompson sat down with Kara to talk about her experience at the training.

Pittsburgh Climate Reality Training group photo.  Image credit: Climate Reality Project.

Sara:      What was the most important thing you learned at the Climate Reality Training?

Kara:      After three days of intensive sessions full of facts and data, it’s hard to boil it down to one thing! It was incredibly inspiring to learn from accomplished climate experts and innovators and to connect with other people who share this interest.  But probably the most important thing that I learned was that the urgent threat of climate change demands that we make a dedicated effort to talk about it with everyone, especially with people who might be skeptical, however intimidating that might be. It’s time to shift the conversation to focus on solutions and positive change.

Sara:      That makes sense.  How has your attitude toward climate change altered?

Kara:      As a landscape architect and a mom, I was already concerned about climate change, but going to the conference was a unique opportunity to be immersed in every aspect of it.  One of the things I’ve been wondering about is at this point, what can we realistically expect the world to be like, best and worst case scenarios, in my lifetime and my kids’ lifetimes? What would “1.5 degrees C temperature increase” (the best case) actually mean for my kids when they are my age?  It was amazing to get an answer to that question from Dr. Michael Mann and Dr. Henry Pollack, two world-class climate scientists.  I learned that at this point some fairly scary (and expensive) impacts are unavoidable.  But, we still have the opportunity to craft a better future for our children—we can reduce emissions, and we can adapt to the changes that are coming—but we have to act now.  The good news is, for much of human history, we have been looking for an inexhaustible energy source – and now that technology actually exists and is being rapidly adopted throughout the world.  The clean energy transition is a turning point similar to the industrial revolution or the development of the internet, and I find that inspiring and energizing even in the face of this challenge.

Sara:      I’m sure you had some expectations going into the training.  But, what surprised you the most?

Kara:      Going into it, I didn’t realize that it was actually an international conference.  Although there was strong representation from Pennsylvania, there were also people from Africa, the U.K., India, and all over the U.S.  There were a lot of familiar faces from Pittsburgh also. I was glad to see an effort to cast a wide net. One of the opening sessions was a focus group discussion with Veronica Coptis from the Center for Coalfield Justice, Fred Brown from the Homewood Children’s Village, and Khari Mosley from the BlueGreen Alliance.  They spoke powerfully about listening and finding common ground with people who might not have been part of the environmental movement in the past.

Sara:     I heard that parts of the training focused on local issues.  What are local people saying?

Kara:      There is so much happening here in western PA, both in the public and private sector. We have 14,000 people in the Pittsburgh area currently employed in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries.  At the conference, I attended an eye-opening presentation by Sharon Pillar (from Solarize Allegheny) and Zaheen Hussein (Sustainability Coordinator for Millvale).  Millvale has lowered utility bills and saved money by installing solar panels and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency. I learned about the potential solar array that could be developed at the former Shenango Coke Plant site, right across the river from where I live. Pittsburgh has more building square footage committed to the 2030 Districts Network ( than any other city. And of course Mayor Peduto spoke about the City’s commitment to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2035.  There is still a lot to be done, but these are all really positive developments in our area. Making the switch to clean energy has so many co-benefits as well – in terms of creating jobs, spurring economic growth, and reducing harmful air pollution that is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels.

Sara:      It sounds like you learned a lot of valuable information about climate change.  What do you plan to do because of the training?

Kara:      In addition to spreading the word about climate change and solutions in general, I’ve been thinking more about how address climate change through landscape architecture. We plant a lot of trees, which is good (as Dr. Mann said, trees are the best carbon capture-and-storage technology), and we’re big on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. I’d like to look into reducing carbon intensive materials such as concrete and fossil fuel use on construction sites.  Adaptation to climate change (such as more intense storms) is a design challenge that is ongoing.  We’re planning on having an internal brainstorming session on this topic at Pashek + MTR later this month. In addition, three of us are pursuing Sustainable SITES accreditation so that we can bring that particular skill set and expertise to the projects we work on.

It’s official! Got my certificate and green circle pin.

Sara:      So, you know what you can do as a Landscape Architect, do you have advice on what the average person can do?

Kara:      There is so much that people can do to reduce their own carbon footprint, such as driving and flying less, getting an electric car, eating less meat, reducing food waste, installing LED lights, and those kinds of things.  You’ve spearheaded a bunch of these strategies at Pashek + MTR’s office as part of the Green Workplace Challenge – for example, you switched our office electricity supplier to a company offering 100% renewable energy.

Sara:     Taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint can seem like a daunting task.  Where can someone start?  Are there any good resources out there?

Kara:      I recommend the “Don’t Just Sit There – Do Something” series of funny, short web videos on climate change by Pittsburgh’s Dr. Joylette Portlock, available at or on YouTube. There are also some great TED talks on climate change policy, such as Ted Halstead’s presentation on carbon pricing (available on YouTube or  The Climate Reality Project website, also has a lot of great info.  I should also mention that as part of the Climate Reality Training I have a presentation on climate change science and solutions that I can give to any groups that might be interested.  There are so many ways to address the issue of climate change, but we do need to develop the political will to tackle them at a large scale, and quickly.

The training was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Pashek+MTR designed the green roof, which helps absorb rainwater and insulate the building.

The New Wild: Can Invasives Actually be Good?

the new wild Most of us have bought into an ecological ideology where invasive species do not exist and native plants thrive in a balanced system. In the design world you get points for sustainability if you remove invasives and use native plants. But a new paradigm is evolving as scientists study how natural systems adapt to human impacts.

In “The New Wild – Why Invasive Species will be Nature’s Salvation” Fred Pearce argues that there is no such thing as pristine nature. In addition, nature is neither “stable nor perfectible.” However, current conservation efforts seek to return ecosystems to a static, pre-human state by protecting endangered and weakened species, thereby breaking evolution, holding back adaptation. Pearce writes, “If we want to assist nature to regenerate, we need to promote change, rather than hold it back.”

Pearce argues that invasives, and aliens in general, may be our best bet to heal “the damage done by chain saws, plows, pollution and climate change.” For example, the spreading of Japanese Knotweed may be an indication that nature is bouncing back, reinventing itself for the twenty-first century. In many cases, those invading species accused of crowding out natives have simply taken up space where natives can no longer survive and are declining. In other instances, such as with the water hyacinth, alien invaders may take over due to pollution, and in fact provide an important pollution filtration role. And when pollution decreases, so does the alien species.

While Pearce does acknowledge that there are horror stories about alien species disrupting ecosystems, most of the time introduced species die out or settle down. He and a growing number of scientists claim that aliens have greatly increased biodiversity and can provide important roles in “novel ecosystems” – composed of natives and those introduced by humans. As environmentalists, Pearce believes we should embrace this new ecology and celebrate nature’s capacity for change within the New Wild.

This is a provocative new line of thinking. What’s your opinion? Several of us in the office are also reading “Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Doug Tallamy. Two very different schools of thought. More to come later…

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.

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.

In Pittsburgh, Green is in the Air

It’s summer and that means the City is green with trees.  Not only are plants in the midst of their growing season, but people are in the midst of launching green initiatives.  Last week we attended a poster  session during the Who’s Who in Green Infrastructure Implementation event hosted by the Green Building Alliance and organized by 3 Rivers Wet Weather.  The event was packed with people interested in sharing their projects and learning more about green infrastructure.

We brought along information on several of our green roof, green school, and green park projects.  At an elementary school in New Castle we were able to reduce the amount of stormwater piping and decrease the size of underground storage tanks through a combination of planted meadow areas, rain gardens, pervious overflow parking and fire lane, and a series of vegetated swales.
Y:New Castle Lockley Elementary School - 10029Rendering Bases
For Whitehall Road Regional Park in Centre County, we are pulling out all the green stops by including rain gardens, steep slopes with meadows, vegetated buffer strips, infiltration trenches, and cisterns.  In addition, 44% of the total parking spaces are stabilized turf, which further reduces the amount of stormwater runoff.
Whitehall Road MP NO Buildings rev TJ
Our last poster featured our designs for the David Lawrence Convention Center green roof, the Allegheny County Office Building green roof, and the rain gardens at Seven Springs.

This morning over 80 people packed a Pittsburgh Zoo conference room to kick-off this year’s Green Workplace Challenge (GWC), a program of Sustainable Pittsburgh.  We took part last year in the challenge and are excited to enter again this year with the revamped program.

This year’s GWC promises to be bigger, better, and have an even larger environmental impact than last year.  There are more points to acquire, more actions to take, and more resources available to help guide your business, non-profit, university, or municipality towards becoming more sustainable as well as saving money.
Last year we saved 19.9% on our energy usage without spending a lot of money.  This year we want to reduce our energy usage even further by tightening up our building envelope.  We will also start to phase out our older lighting with new highly efficient lighting.  We highly recommend any organization in Southwestern Pennsylvania sign up for this friendly competition before the deadline on July 31st, 2013.  Good luck to all participants.  Together, we can make a huge impact!

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.

Trail Planning in at Slippery Rock University

Slippery Rock University graduate students conducted a highly successful public meeting on campus trails October 16 with the help of Jim Pashek, President of Pashek Associates. Over 80 people attended the workshop that SRU-300x199included presentations of existing conditions, facilitation of small group discussions at 16 tables and, after everyone had an opportunity to express their top issues, voting was conducted to prioritize those issues.

Jim coached the Sustainable Landscapes class on ways of making public meetings more engaging and emphasized strategies that encourage the building of trust between meeting facilitators and attendees.  After the meeting, the class acknowledged their enthusiasm about their roles in the public meeting and were amazed at how participants became excited to share their concerns and expectations.

The public meeting was part of a larger trail planning process that John Buerkle, principal at Pashek Associates, was assisting the graduate students with.  He has worked with the students on how soils, topography, and vegetation impact both the design and ability to maintain trails. They also looked at logical connections through the campus.

The public meeting was held in the new Robert M. Smith Student Center, a beautiful space for the meeting.  Kudos to our friends at DRS for their work on that building.