Waterfront Landscape Architecture

Water is the basis of all life. Without it life can not exist. It is primal and universal, evocative and spiritual, purifying and punishing. Water is an integral part of the landscape, shaping the character of the land, defining plant communities, and influencing macro and microclimates. An understanding of the dynamics of water is essential to the work that VIA does, particularly in our landscape architectural practice.

What better place to begin to consider water than in a desert?  It was in the Sonoran Desert that our Principal Landscape Architect began to truly understand water’s impact on the community and region.  Working within a public Flood Control District, in a region where dry stream beds turn to raging torrents during the course of a storm, provided a foundational understanding of hydrology, and basis to develop strategies for living with water and using it to enrich our outdoor experiences.  The Pima County river park and greenway system pioneered under his guidance has evolved into a community-wide network of trails and open spaces that inspire the work we’re doing in our coastal community.

In Tidewater Virginia, and along the entire coastline, water is a challenge and opportunity we can’t ignore. In Norfolk we’re challenged with the combination of rising sea levels, blue sky tidal flooding and land subsidence.  Water enters the landscape from the skies above, from the ground below, from the distant mountains, and the adjacent ocean, bays and sounds. It supports our economy through research, industry, defense, tourism and drawing new residents, yet is potentially destructive and is a major focus of every land development or preservation effort we undertake.

Where traditional stormwater management practices and regulations tend to treat water as a problem to send downstream or away from your project, VIA sees it as an opportunity. We strive for designs that incorporate water in beautiful ways that nurture the landscape and enhance the user experience. On a small scale we work with homeowners to create backyards oases with living shorelines or salt tolerant buffer plantings that can thrive with occasional inundation.  We’ve worked in public housing communities such as at the Grandy Village Learning Center to restore ecologically compromised plant communities, provide access to waterfront trails and viewing areas, and a place where its fun to learn about the Elizabeth River.

On a larger scale, we have just completed a landscape framework plan for Old Dominion University, a campus situated between two rivers, the Elizabeth and the Lafayette.  Old Dominion’s coastal location is one of its biggest challenges, and potentially one of its biggest assets. With robust research divisions studying and documenting coastal resilience efforts, the campus stands to serve as a living laboratory for adaptation to changing climatic conditions and land use practices. The plan introduces strategies to engage students, faculties and visitors in welcoming and supportive landscape settings. It sets the stage for a campus where sometimes nature wins, and the campus is all the richer and more distinctive because of it. The framework outlines some bold, longer-range initiatives such as daylighting streams and stormwater conveyance systems, to smaller immediate strategies to enhance the campus spaces in reinforce the connection to the water in direct and symbolic ways.

Regardless of the scale of your waterfront landscape project, and because each site is different culturally and hydrologically, VIA will tailor a solution and, if appropriate, a team of supporting specialists to meet and exceed your expectations. Regulatory compliance is part of the solution, but your landscape should transcend codes and checklists, and allow you to live with and celebrate a connection with the essence of the coastal environment.