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Water and Resilience at the Clark

The reflecting pool at the Clark. Photo © Gensler, Chris Leonard Photographer

When visitors arrive at The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (the Clark) in Williamstown, Mass., they are greeted by a wonderful sense of calm. Tadao Ando, design architect for the project, recently stated “This is a great place to contemplate what it means to be alive.” Whenever I’m immersed in this environment, I feel a deep connection to art, architecture and nature. Being at the Clark creates a heightened awareness of each; the beauty is in the overwhelming feeling itself. It is pure joy.

As Mr. Ando's executive architect and collaborator, I'd like to share another aspect of the unseen beauty at The Clark, one that includes a universal significance that goes far beyond Western Massachusetts.

The Clark is a terrific example of the kind of thinking about water that architects must adopt in the face of ever-more-frequent flooding across the globe. Flooding incidents aren’t isolated to coastal cities—they are everywhere. Both central Europe, and the Midwestern United States have recently experienced devastating floods. Considering our changing relationship with water, both its benefits and dangers, architects must think about how water interacts with buildings and sites. Design shapes how water impacts our surroundings.

The reflecting pool and Clark Center at the Clark. Photo © Gensler, Chris Leonard Photographer

This is why the resilient, interconnected water system at the Clark is so exceptional; it features innovation that sets an example for design teams. It’s incredibly beautiful, but it’s also smart.

Water and its impact on design is a constant, but the design community doesn't always take the conversation any further. We need to ask some fundamental questions about water. How will water get to the building, and where does it go after it leaves the site? Can the project systems leverage landscape and architecture to create a holistic system? Integrating these kinds of questions about our natural resources into our design thinking will have a positive impact on our communities, both urban and rural. It’s our social and professional responsibility as designers to consider water—and all natural resources—in everything we do. We need to be thinking beyond a singular footprint in order to create meaningful change.

At the Clark, we set out to address these questions and create a more sustainable type of water system. Here’s how the water system at the Clark came to be, and how it works.

First, the full design team had to share a single vision, and work together to think of the campus not as a series of buildings and landscape features, but as an integrated system. For the Clark, the design team was complex. Gensler served as executive architect and sustainability consultant for the project, collaborating closely with Tadao Ando Architects, design architect of the Clark Center and Stone Hill Center; Selldorf Architects, design architect for the renovated Museum and Manton Buildings; landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand; consulting architect wHY Architecture; master planner Cooper, Robertson & Partners plus a stellar team of sub-consultants, including Altieri Sebor Weber, Buro-Happold, and Arup among others.

The reflecting pool at the Clark. Photo © Gensler, Chris Leonard Photographer

The sustainable design objective was to expand on the institute’s mission of “art in nature,” a fundamental aspect of what it means to be an art museum and research center sited in the Berkshires.

As conceived by Tadao Ando, in collaboration with Reed Hilderbrand, a central, unifying element of the campus is the new reflecting pool. While traditionally designed water features are inherently environmentally unfriendly due to the consumption of large quantities of treated water, this project took a unique turn to change such a deficit. Working in collaboration with the design and engineering teams, Gensler, as the project’s sustainable design consultant, proposed an integrated campus water system. The key was in the careful orchestration of the way that water moves through every portion of the project, from the buildings to the landscape.

Diagram of the integrated hydrological system at the Clark. Image © Gensler

Through intense collaboration (in particular with Reed Hilderbrand), the design team created an integrated hydrological system that links all of the campus buildings to the reflecting pool and landscape. Using various harvesting techniques (drains, pipes) and storage techniques (reservoirs, tanks), the system collects foundation water, as well as rainwater, and funnels it into the reflecting pool. Collected water is also used for irrigation, plumbing (gray water for the toilets), and for makeup water for the cooling tower.

For example, when it rains, water hits many surfaces on the site: roofs of buildings, the parking lot, etc. That water is captured, saved and funneled to other parts of the site for re-use. There are many different ways that water is re-used: to irrigate landscaping, refill the water feature, or supply water to flush toilets. The basic concept is that if water hits the site, it’s also put to use on-site!

Detail of the reflecting pool at the Clark. Photo © Gensler, Chris Leonard Photographer

Our results will ultimately be measured by the amount of water that the campus uses. The campus is designed to use 1 million fewer gallons of water annually than it did before the expansion took place. Rather than doubling the pre-development water needs as was projected for a project of this size and scope, the predicted target is to achieve a 25 percent reduction from this pre-development usage.

This level of resilient design is only possible when designers think beyond individual disciplines. The full team looked at each element of the project, and only then could we achieve a high level of sustainable integration. As a result, the whole is far more resilient than the sum of its individual parts.

Maddy Burke-Vigeland is an Architect and Principal who leads Gensler’s global network of Community Sector practice areas, which include our Education & Culture, Health & Wellness, Aviation & Transportation, Planning & Urban Design and Mission Critical Facilities practices. Contact her at maddy_burke@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (2)

Thank you for this thoughtful post on water and resilience. What I take away is a lesson in collaboration. The client, design, construction team members, and everyone involved in this project have much to be proud of. This is a tremendous example of seeing design as a flow of materials and resources over time. One gets a sense of deep beauty- a beauty of performance and resilience that come together through design. I look forward to experiencing this place in person!
08.11.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKen Hall
thank you Maddy -
slowly but surely, resilient design thinking is taking hold...

08.14.2014 | Unregistered CommenterGail Napell

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