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Permeable pavers turn quagmire into rain garden on NC State campus

August 19, 2011

Sometimes, when something goes right, they ask you to do it again. And sometimes, when it goes really right, they ask you to keep doing it again and again for five years.


Case in point: The Artist’s Backyard, a joint project between NC State University’s departments of Landscape Architecture and University Housing. It’s a plaza and rain garden between two older dormitories, Owen and Turlington Halls. It uses a combination of StormPave®  permeable pavers by Pine Hall Brick, along with materials that were recycled from a building demolition. New benches anchor a gathering space where students visit with each other, read a book or text-message their friends. The area is central to campus, located near the Free Expression Tunnel and a historic courtyard.


Andrew Fox, an assistant professor at the NCSU College of Design, who is overseeing the project, said The Artists Backyard is an outgrowth of last year’s renovation at Syme Hall on East Campus. Fox pursued a $20,000 teaching grant through the NC State Provost’s Office to lead his students through a design/build exercise to improve the site from a muddy mess to a beautiful rain garden.

People noticed. Dr. Tim Luckadoo, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, who oversees housing on campus, immediately sought out Fox to talk about additional projects. And that turned into a five-year plan and $175,000 in funding to improve the landscape outside of several NC State residence halls.

Students get the real-world experience of designing and helping construct natural common areas, and the university gets cost-effective improvements to its surroundings.


Before the Artists Backyard was built, surging stormwater would carry leaves, mulch and other debris across the existing concrete sidewalk. The solution is to use Low Impact Development design techniques to slow, capture and clean stormwater on site. Cisterns and the permeable paver installation re-direct stormwater into the rain garden and the ground, effectively filtering it and preventing erosion. The soil itself was treated with compost and other materials to protect plants and help them grow. To carry out the permeable paver installation, Fox and the students turned to Fred Adams Paving of Morrisville, NC – and the students and the professionals worked side by side for weeks in the middle of a North Carolina summer.

Then, on a Saturday morning, nine days after the project was completed, thunderstorms rolled across central North Carolina and dropped 4.69 inches of rain on the new landscape. It was a 100-year flood.

“The surface water had drained into the rain garden, and it was dry, no puddling,” said Fox. “The rain garden had handled that huge pulse of rain water. After four hours, the test wells were slowly infiltrating and the water was not standing.”

From an engineering standpoint, then, the project works exactly as intended.  From an aesthetic standpoint, Fox said, the StormPave® pavers are right at home, because NC State is the “Brick Capitol” of college campuses, with brick pavers historically used in plazas and sidewalks. From an educational standpoint, it’s appropriate for students who are setting out to be landscape architects to do real hands-on projects, instead of listening to lectures about them.


And for those students who aren’t majoring in landscape architecture (those who walk through the Artists Backyard on their way to class), it’s important for them to not only enjoy their surroundings, but to use them to learn more about sustainable design and landscape management.

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