By Kate Hammer, Harvard Gazette

Photo: Kate Hammer

Envisioning a green space as inviting and social as it would be operative and effective, students Ecaterina Dobrescu and Rebecca Bartlett of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) set out last semester to transform a concrete patio space at Gund Hall into a modular system of vegetation and planters that could absorb and purify stormwater.

Funded by an Office for Sustainability student grant, “Stormwater Modules” seeks to test flexible design and the capacity of a small-scale system to reduce the quantity of stormwater runoff from rooftops to help improve water quality.

Stormwater management has long been employed across the country to collect rainwater and melted snow that runs off from streets, lawns, and buildings. As the rainwater flows off these surfaces and into rivers and streams, it picks up chemicals and other harmful pollutants. Traditional stormwater management often neglects the natural world’s steps of slow and timely absorption, purification, and replenishment. Increasingly, municipalities and building owners are seeking new and innovative strategies to collect stormwater runoff and purify it before it re-enters rivers and streams.

Inspired both by an independent study on the performance of stormwater management systems at Harvard and by an effort to design a green roof for the GSD, Dobrescu and Bartlett chose one of Gund Hall’s south-facing patios as their test site. Removing some of the individual pavers on the patio’s surface, they replaced the concrete slabs with moveable and interchangeable planters filled with various types of succulent plants. By replacing the traditional pavers with these nature-inspired modules, the project aims to reduce the quantity and speed of stormwater running off the building’s roof.

Read the entire article on Harvard Gazette.