Landscape Architecture Facility

The Landscape Architecture Facility features regenerative technologies which are designed to use less energy and produce better air quality. That's because the facility that opened in December 2002 was planned from the ground up—literally—with a very focused eye toward conservation.

Among the single-story facility’s many energy-savings features:

  • Wide overhangs to block summer sun and allow winter sun for heating;
  • Tall, clerestory and dormer windows to allow natural lighting; and
  • Highly reflective roofing material.
  • In cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority, a bank of photovoltaic solar panels that provide enough power to run the facility
Details of different elements in the building are provided below. Click on the topic to read more about the sustainable features in the Landscape Architecture facility.

The Facility

Human Life Support Systems

This facility was designed to meet the life support needs for its 250 student and staff users. Human life support systems require the provision of food, water, shelter, energy, waste processing, and landscape management in order to sustain life. Life support systems planned for this facility include an energy efficient shelter for a Deep South location, water harvesting for irrigation, and for drinking, provisions to treat sewage using biological systems, harvesting of wild energy and thrifty use of energy, food production, and management of the landscape consistent with a site's natural plant communities and cycles.

Shelter Design Envisioned

Design shelters that are responsive to the region's climate, and reflect the local culture and vernacular character of an area. When developing the program for the facility, it was determined a series of shelters connected by porches or covered walkways would provide the right character and scale that would fit the narrow, linear site, and that would suit the Deep South users. An arbor or pergola that would provide shade and protection from hot, summer sun was also envisioned. Shelters were expected to reflect the character of indigenous structures in the region which are often brick, have lots of tall windows for natural day lighting, and low pitched roofs with broad overhangs for sun control. Tree plantings for sun control was also anticipated. We envisioned a series of shelters that were interconnected and that stepped down the hillside. The size of multiple shelters also fit the scale of the site, and allowed for more natural day lighting. Our program asked for shelters that kept the sun off building sides in the summer.

Materials were Selected for Low Embedded Energy

Select materials that do not require excessive energy to produce and transport to get to the point of use. Because of this consideration, most materials used on the project were available close-by, or within the region. Brick and concrete block are available within 50-100 miles (80-160 km). Steel is available within a 150 mile (241 km) range, as is window glass. Concrete is produced within 60 miles (97 km) of the site. Polystyrene used for insulation in the walls and roof, and gypsum board are produced within 350 miles (563 km).

Materials Selected had no Volatile Organic Compounds

Select building materials and interior furnishings that do not outgas chemicals thereby contaminating indoor air. Whether or not materials emitted volatile organic compounds was considered, and almost exclusively, materials were selected that had no VOC's. Sheet flooring from Holland was selected to cover improperly cut concrete scoring in the reception area of the Office/Gallery facility. It was composed of all natural materials, and the glue for attaching it to the concrete was of natural materials as well. Unlike most sheet flooring, neither product emits VOC's. Outgasing of VOC's within indoor spaces can be very harmful to people causing upper respiratory and neurological disorders.

Natural Day Lighting and the Use of Innovative Whiteboards from Smart Technologies

The new Landscape Architecture and Landscape Contracting Facility at Mississippi State University has been designed to use at least 50% less power than traditional buildings on campus. This has been accomplished through siting the long side of the shelters to face south, inclusion of a thick layer of polystyrene in the roofs that does not allow heat to enter through the roof, construction of walls that do not allow heat to enter the building, and through the use of air lock systems to reduce the addition and loss of heat. Through reducing the use of fossil fuel, the production of CO2 from the burning of the fuel is also being reduced. Additionally, the facility has been designed to allow natural day lighting to flood all of the interior spaces to the point that electrical lighting during the day is unnecessary. Interior light levels in the center of the design studios is at 30 footcandles on a cloudy day during the winter! This is the amount of light needed in traditional office spaces where computers are in use. The natural light is also good for production and human attitudes. Interestingly though, when it comes to being able to show slides and projection of images from projectors, there is too much light and new technology is needed to convey graphic images in natural day lighted buildings of the future.

Interactive whiteboards from Smart Technologies, Inc. are being planned for use in the three design studios and one classroom demonstrating how energy conservation and the use of natural day lighting can work effectively together while still allowing the presentation of graphic images to class room participants.

This condition at the sustainable landscape architecture and landscape contracting facility at Mississippi State University is innovative and on the leading edge of energy consciousness combined with meeting the needs for effective classroom instruction.

Energy Management

Keeping Heat Out of Shelters

Energy moves from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. It was determined in the early planning stages that two-thirds of the yearly heating and cooling bills in the region were for cooling. Therefore, emphasis on shelter design would be on reducing the need for cooling. This has been accomplished through the following design techniques that are also called regenerative technologies. Regenerative technologies are carried out through the use of readily available resources and natural processes without having to depend heavily on resources that are nonrenewable, like fossil fuels. Design techniques used that are based on regenerative processes and cycles include the following:

  • Interior heat buildup from people, lighting, machines, and natural light will move into the cooler thermal mass or heat storage areas of concrete block walls and concrete floors. This will create cooler room temperatures.
  • All foundation slabs have a 4 in (10 cm) thick panel of polystyrene around their edges and extending 6 ft. (1.8 m) inward in order to eliminate the conduction of heat from seasonally warmed, adjacent soil environments.
  • Shelters are sited so the long sides face south and the narrow sides face east and west. This simple regenerative design technique will reduce heat gain during the cool-need season, and encourage heat gain during the heat-need season. Approximately 33% of energy bills can be reduced from this siting technique.

Keeping sun off building walls and out of windows through the use of overhangs until the heat-need season arrives will reduce interior temperatures significantly. There is an 8-10°F (4-6°C) temperature difference between shady and sunny areas. Painted steel roofing with a high albedo (reflective capacity) was selected to reflect light and heat, thereby reducing the conduction of heat through the roof membrane. The movement of heat from the sun through the roof will be stopped by a four inch (102 mm) thick layer of polystyrene and wafer board panel. The roof is composed of a galvanized steel deck, polystyrene panel, and finally the standing seam steel roof with reflective paint. The movement of heat from the out-of-doors into the walls of the shelters will be slowed because of the insulation techniques used. Walls are composed of a wythe of facing brick, a two inch (51 mm) panel of polystyrene, a three inch (76 mm) dead air space, and then concrete block with the cores filled with grout. Very little heat will get into the shelters by moving through the walls. East and west facing walls will be shaded with plants in order to prevent morning and afternoon sun heat gain during the cool-need season. Double insulated glass is used throughout the facility to decrease heat transfer through windows. Operable windows with screens will allow users to get fresh air and manually control air exchanges during the spring and fall, two month long transition seasons when neither heating nor cooling is necessary. Transition seasons for our area were determined to be October 1–November 30, and March 1–April 30.

Ceilings in the studios, with a few exceptions, are open 16-24 ft. (5-7 m) above the floor, thus allowing warm air to move up to the exposed ceiling. Creating interior spaces with high ceilings where warm air can rise leaves cooler and denser (heavier) air down at the floor and people-use level. The air temperature difference between the floor and ceiling will be from 10-15°F (6-10°C). Ceilings in the Office/Gallery facility are 12 ft. (3.7 m) high, allowing warm air to rise and collect at the top of the rooms.

Airlock entry systems on the east and west side of the Design Studio are for use during the cool-need and heat-need seasons to reduce adverse temperature fluctuations. The space will provide an outdoor temperature change, abatement zone. Light use throughout is low wattage (and low heat) fluorescent light which is reflected off ceilings to provide even illumination. All lights, except those in the rest rooms, are on motion sensors which will turn the light off after 10 minutes of no movement to save energy and reduce heat generation. Lighting in the design studio is on an electric photocell which will turn the lights off when natural day lighting is at 40 foot candles (FC) in the design and drawing studios. Natural day lighting occurs through the use of tall windows, and roof dormer windows that allow as much natural day lighting into interior spaces as possible. Natural daylight within the center of the design studio on a cloudy day measured 30 FC, which is sufficient lighting for office use where computers are being used. An LCD screen, just inside the main entry of the design studio, will display real time facility power use. This will enable students to comprehend the amount of power used in school/office-like facilities, and actual power use benefits of energy conservation. A dehumidification system will create low humidity levels within interior spaces which will make people feel cooler at higher air temperatures. This will reduce the need for mechanical space cooling. A sustainability education program will be imparted to each new group of facility users in order that they share in the regenerative nature of the facility including the many energy conservation techniques. The program will emphasize how people can work together to reduce impacts to natural systems. The Department made a commitment to university officials by instructing the mechanical systems designers to plan for cooling no lower than 78°F (26°C) during the cool-need season. The cool-need season is 5 months long and extends from May 1–September 30. Thermostats are located frequently throughout the facility to allow more temperature control within the limits of maximum and minimum settings. The highest SEER efficiency system available was provided for the Design Studio. The acronym SEER is Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, which is the cooling output divided by the power input.

Provision of Heat in Shelters

A humidification system creates a 30% humidity level indoors during the heat-need season in order to reduce the temperature level needed for human comfort. People will feel warmer indoors in the winter when the relative humidity level is at 30-40%. The use of ground source heating in the Freehand Drawing Studio and the Office/Gallery facility will provide a more even source of heat and less temperature variability as compared to forced-air heating systems. Facility shelters have been designed to reduce the need for heating, and for mechanical heating systems. These systems will probably not come on very frequently, and they might not come on at all due to the design of the facility with significant thermal mass, insulation in walls and roof systems, heat generated by the presence of people and machines, and with the overhangs allowing sun to provide warmth during the heat-need season. A wind ramp will stretch along the northernmost edge of the site from the northwest to the northeast, to deflect cold winter wind and create dead air spaces around the facility. During the winter this will reduce the amount of heat lost from shelter roofs, windows, and walls. Through the use of the wind ramp, resulting calm air in outdoor spaces will be more comfortable, and the use of outdoor space during the winter will be extended.

Through allowing the winter sun to hit the south sides of shelters and come into windows, enough heat can be captured to provide adequate interior heat. Heating needs were thoroughly studied and dates were selected when the heat-need season would begin and end. Roof overhangs were sized based on sun path regimes for different dates. The sun path was plotted, and how the sun hit the building sides and came into the windows was analyzed before determining the heat-need season and the overhangs. The heat-need season is 3 months long and extends from December 1–February 28. A commitment by the Department was made to the university to set heating no higher than 65°F (18°C) in order to conserve fuel and costs for supplying heat. Thermal mass floors will absorb sun heat and slowly release the heat when interior spaces begin to cool. Overhangs were sized to allow the sun to hit the south facing building sides, and come into windows once the heat-need season arrives.

Power Production

Enough sunlight strikes most places of the earth to generate adequate power to sustain human developments. A state of the art photovoltaic (PV) solar power production facility is located just north of the two-story Design Studio. The PV array is 80 ft. (24 m) long and 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide. Silicon based PV cells will produce an average of 68 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily, and 25,000 kWh per year. The $300,000 PV 15 KW system is owned and maintained by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Green power from sunlight will go directly into the grid system. An interpretive interactive kiosk is located on the second floor of the Design Studio overlooking the PV array. It provides real time power generation readings as well as the current level of solar radiance or insolation striking the earth.

Water Management

Filtration of Runoff

Runoff from built landscapes is much greater than what would have run off when it was natural and undisturbed. Design to harvest and detain water to protect downstream conditions from scouring, sedimentation, and degraded water quality. About 52 in (132 cm) of water falls on the site per year. Water runoff has been computed and it has been decided that most of the water that falls on the site, will be reused on the site. When the 9.82 acre (4 hectare) watershed was a grass pasture, a 1 in (25 mm) rain that fell over a 24 hour period would generate 22,000 gallons (83,278 liters) of runoff (figure1). Before the watershed was a pasture, it was a naturally wooded area with a 6-8 in (15-20 cm) humus layer composed of leaves and twigs. With the same storm event, there was no runoff from this landscape. Water soaked into the thick detritus area and was stored for future use. When the storm event was figured to fall within one hour instead of 24 hours, there was still, no water runoff! Therefore the untouched, natural woodland is considered the original, natural site condition, and the zero runoff amount for the given storm is the model being sought as plans are being developed for the site landscape (figure 2). The difference in the amount of runoff, due primarily to impermeable surfaces such as roofs and paved areas, will be stored for reuse and small amounts will be slowly released back into the Catalpa Creek headwaters.

The natural model for filtering and soaking up runoff water is the natural leaf litter layer on the forest and prairie floor. This sponge-like medium cleans the runoff water and stores it for future use. For areas of the site not covered by shelters, paving, or water, filtration of rainfall will be carried out by a combination of a thick layer of leaves (detritus layer). Rainfall impact will be cushioned by plant leaves and stem structures, and by the detritus layer covering the soil. The detritus layer will also serve as a sponge, absorbing and slowing runoff, and preventing scouring of the soil surface and dislodging sediment. Drainage from the watershed north of the site will flow through three pools of water before draining eastward to Catalpa Creek off the site. Weirs at each pool will have a slot drain, allowing detention and slow release of water volume during heavy rain events. Water detention will slow water velocity allowing sediment to drop out. Pool edges will be planted with aquatic plants whose leaves and stems will serve as habitat for microbes that will consume suspended nutrients.

Parking Lot Runoff Treatment

Vehicular toxic substances deposited onto parking lots and roadways include zinc, lead, cadmium, cyanide, and petroleum. These materials need to be filtered and removed before moving into the natural stream system. A bioswale will filter runoff from the asphaltic concrete, 19 space parking lot. Lot runoff will flow to the bioswale where water will be detained for two days for settling and treatment. During heavy rains, only the first flush from the parking lot will be detained, and water beyond the first flush will drain around the bioswale (see reverse side).

Water Harvesting

Runoff generated by impervious materials should be harvested on site for drinking and irrigation. Roof water will be channeled to the pools for detention. Stored runoff will be slowly released at the same rate that water ran off the site when it was in a wooded and untouched, natural state. Water for irrigation will be pumped from the pools using solar powered, low pressure pumps. Irrigation will be delivered by water-conserving drip emitters to trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables. Some water will be collected in 200-1000 gal (757-3785 L) cisterns and accessed by old-time hand pumps. Water drawn from the second pool will be treated for drinking by a series of filters and ultraviolet light treatment, and then stored in an 80 gal (303 L) pressurized tank that will supply drinking fountains and rest room facilities in the Design Studio, and the Gallery/Office facility.

Waste Management

Sanitary Sewage Treatment

Traditional means of sewage treatment is chemical and energy intensive. Biological treatment methods can save large amounts of energy and chemicals. Sewage from the Design Studio and the Gallery/Offices facility will first flow to a septic tank. Solids will settle to the bottom of the tank to be decomposed (consumed) by anaerobic bacteria. Liquids will flow from the tank to the rock reed treatment beds for a 14 day retention time for thorough treatment. Nutrients and pathogens within the liquid effluent will be consumed by microbes colonized on the rocks. Outflow from the rock reed will be treated with ultraviolet light for final disinfection of all living organisms. Treated effluent will flow through a subsurface, perforated pipe beneath a shrub bed. Excess water, if there is any, will flow to a sump. The rock reed will be divided into two lined cells. The first cell will be planted with canna lilies and the second cell with warm season experimental plantings. Emphasis will be placed on cultivation of plants for the cut-flower market.

Living Filter for Treatment of Sewage and Air

Plants used indoors will remove airborne pathogens, produce oxygen, and contribute humidity to interior spaces. As a demonstration, liquid sewage effluent from the men's room in the Office/Gallery facility will flow to plant filters in two nearby offices. The combination of urine and water from the men's rest room will flow to the office planters for treatment by microbes. The microbes on the expanded clay gravel media will consume nutrients and pathogens suspended in the waste water. Waste water will be detained for 14 days for maximum treatment before flowing into the outdoor rock reed treatment beds. Plants in the filter planter will supply oxygen to aerobic bacteria in the gravel filter. They will also effectively remove airborne microbes through their normal transpiration process, and add humidity to the air in the office spaces.


In the natural ecological system, there is no such thing as waste. All byproducts of life are resources for some other form of life. White paper, newsprint, chipboard, cardboard, steel, aluminum, and plastics (PETE and HDPE) will be recycled in the facility. A portion of the model shop room is set aside for collection and sorting of recyclables. Collection containers will be located on each floor of the design and drawing studios, and in the office and gallery facility. The Campus Recycling Center picks up recyclables on a weekly basis.


Microbes in the presence of oxygen will decompose organic matter, and transform it into plant nutrients thus closing the loop on waste matter and making it reusable again. Organic materials such as food scraps and yard waste will be composted in an ongoing compost pile located on the site. The compost pile will be closely managed and will be turned every two to three days. The carbon to nitrogen content will be evaluated regularly in order to produce useful compost within a short turn-around time. The pile will be covered with plastic except when being accessed and turned. Cured compost will be used in on-site gardens.

Landscape Management

Plant Selection

Native plants will flourish in the landscape without major infusions of energy and fertilizers. The three acre (1.2 hectare) site will be composed of pools of water with native aquatic plantings, native prairie and meadow plantings, native trees and shrubs, and turf grass for active and intensely used areas of the site. Within the experimental and demonstration gardens, plantings will include foliage, flower, and vegetable plants. There will be fruit producing trees, shrubs, and vines as well.

Pool Management

Water management plans will be based on natural water management processes and cycles. Water in the three pools falls 10 ft. (3 m) in elevation as water moves from the upper portion of the site to where it leaves the site. The watershed for the pools extends beyond the pools to the north and west. Runoff from outside the site, but within the watershed, is silt laden due to landscape management practices and requires a sedimentation basin that will be built above the upper pool. The pools will have the capacity to hold one inch (2.5 cm) of water from a rainfall in the watershed.

Site Management

Landscape management plans should be based on natural processes and cycles. Grass that requires frequent mowing will be limited to intensely used areas. The remainder of the site will be thoroughly mulched, replicating the natural condition of the forest floor. The thick, natural covering on the ground will shade and keep photosensitive seeds from germinating. The mulch layer will hold moisture for best plant growth, and will protect the ground from scouring due to raindrop impact and water runoff creating runnels and channels. Plantings will be native in most areas of the site, except around the shelters and in the gardens where nonnative plants will be selected due to their outstanding seasonal and fruit producing characteristics. Soils will be enhanced through landscape management techniques, and monitored for pH levels, soil friability, and soil fertility.


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Telephone 662-325-3012
Fax 662-325-7893

Department of Landscape Architecture
Box 9725
Mississippi State University, MS 39762