October 22, 2019. To Jason Aune of Aune Fernandez Landscape Architects, creating a strong landscape is all about livability for the people who will be using it. His core concern with the families who will be interacting and playing in the space around Hook & Ladder Apartments (2318 Jefferson St. NE) is evident in the design. But because Hook & Ladder is such an environmentally focused project, sustainability principles were also critical to decisions for the site.
Hook & Ladder features the first multi-family dwelling built to Passive House Certification standards in this climate zone. Passive House Certification applies to construction via rigorous design principles that optimize energy efficiency, resulting in as much as a 70% reduction in energy consumption.
An understanding that the space is for a community of families with kids was essential. To that end, the courtyard features a playground and a large, open green space. And raised garden plots provide opportunities to Hook & Ladder families for botanical or vegetable gardening. “From a life sustainability practice,” said Jason, “we wanted to make sure the environment was suitable for families and enjoyable for families.”
While creating spaces for enjoyment was the crux, design elements of the Hook & Ladder landscape reflect sustainability as fundamental. It is, in fact, inherently sustainable because it is an infill development project. The land was previously used by industry; before construction even began, $600,000 was invested in soil remediation throughout the site. “Simply reintroducing some greenery and landscape makes it sustainable,” explained Jason.
A major ecological concern was how to handle stormwater. Jason and his team installed two large rain gardens in different areas of the site. There is a large sand filter at the bottom of each rain garden. The gardens, or bioretention facilities, take all the stormwater from the buildings and filter it before sending it to the groundwater. “A lot of it has to do with groundwater recharge and not putting first-flush pollutants into the storm systems,” said Jason.
The rain gardens are also a way to interest urban wildlife in the space. Tamarack, cedar, wild forbs, and wild grasses are planted at the gardens so that the desired animal species will gravitate toward them. “What we try to do is really make them into spaces that will attract bees, butterflies, and birds – the three Bs,” said Jason.
Native plants were used throughout the site. Beyond those mentioned above, blue flag iris, liatris, black-eyed Susan, joe-pye weed, brown fox sedge, and various native prairie grasses were also selected. In addition to attracting wildlife, choosing native plants is important because they are designed to survive in this climate. For instance, the prairie grasses “have extremely deep root systems,” Jason noted, “so they don’t need as much water as a lot of other grasses once they get established.”
Serviceberry trees were planted to attract birds. Tamaracks and cedars were introduced to provide habitat for them. That element was key to Jason, who said, “Trees are one of the most important things we can add to an urban environment.”
Again, sustainability was not the only guiding principle when designing the landscape. Jason kept himself centered on the people who would be using the space – the 118 families who will live in the apartments. After all, enjoyment of the plants and wildlife by those who will inhabit the space is fundamental. “I think it really comes back to providing places where people feel good and enjoy themselves,” said Jason.
About the author
Kent Roberts is a freelance writer who lives in Minneapolis and who deeply values sustainability. Along with many business articles, he has also written headlines for The Onion and is at work on a humorous book on the cultural impact of neurodiversity, called And Stuff.