The landscape architects also designed a series of elevated courtyards and terraces within Constitution Square for the office workers, hotel guests and residents. Some of the spaces are more expansive and passive than others, but they bear witness to the need of city dwellers to connect to nature and the environment. Within these interior yards, you can walk your dog, have a barbecue or sit and take in the Washington skyline. Some spaces are more intimate than others. A central courtyard features a large water feature of blocks, basins and water channels that looks like a cubist’s take on a European town square fountain. “This is like a plaza,” said Rodriguez, a native of Spain.
Running through the courtyards is a geometric treatment of the various surfaces — grass, decking, pavement, plant beds — as well as the recurring motif of black granite seat walls that lend a visual rhythm. “One of the signatures of all these courtyards is that close up you see rich detail, and yet it’s a very simple design pattern, so if you are 10 floors up looking down, it has a strong graphic quality,” Carmichael said.
Adrian Higgins has been writing about the intersection of gardening and life for more than 25 years, and joined the Post in 1994. He is the author of several books, including the Washington Post Garden Book and Chanticleer, a Pleasure Garden.
Our last stop is the top of the building, where the designers installed a green roof and a swimming pool terrace. Green roofs, like the street wells, are designed to trap a measure of rainwater in the granular soil mix that extends four inches or a bit more. It’s a harsh environment for plants, and the palette is limited to hardy, heat-loving things such as sedums. In addition to retaining rainwater, the roofs cool the building below and, yes, they can look beautiful, especially when the ground covers of little fleshy perennials turn red and purple in the fall and winter.
As we look out to surrounding buildings, we see a city in transition. The rail yards of Union Station resemble a child’s train set. A parking lot is covered in black, heat-grabbing asphalt, but the roofs of the new buildings have gardens or light surfaces, which reflect sunlight. The idea is that as city roofs become greener and lighter, as the canopy of trees is expanded, the heat island effect is reduced.
This ecological sensibility is now uppermost in the work of landscape architects. “When we were at school,” Carmichael said, gesturing to his colleague, “It was called stewardship. What’s interesting is that the broader public is now putting a high value on it. We are seeing that climate change is real, and we are going to have to start designing our environment to mitigate that.”
Later, Carmichael told me that “one of the other messages is that landscape isn’t just on the ground anymore. When real estate becomes premium, every surface has a role.”
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Read past columns by Higgins.