Steep Grades

My term project for Site Engineering class required me to provide a grading plan for the sculpture garden adjacent to the Walker Art Center.  The problem asked us to design two 10,000 square foot sculpture platforms, a five unit handicapped parking area, a handicapped accessible path linking the sculpture viewing platforms from the parking area to the the Sky Pesher, 2005 and then on to the main entrance on Vineland Place, and two (non-accessible) paths to surrounding streets.  Some restrictions included grades no steeper than 3:1 unless retaining walls were utilized, the control of stormwater using swales and drains, and an economically feasible design.

This project made me question whether landscape architecture is really something I want to do with my life.  Unlike the purely creative aspects of design school, this represents all the tedium and monotony of landscape architecture.  Too harsh a judgement?  Perhaps I’m not adequately mathematically inclined to work in this field.  I logged well over twenty-five hours on this assignment.  I began by tracing a 24×36 inch print-out line by line and then labeling each of the thirty six contour lines.  Next I proposed a location for the handicapped parking area in the already paved circular lot and then sketched it’s design: 8 foot space, 8 foot access space, 8 foot space, 8 foot space, 5 foot access space, 8 foot space, 8 foot space, 5 foot access space. This also required re-grading the area because handicapped parking spaces can have no more than 2% grade.  Then I affixed a sidewalk to the parking lot. Handicapped accessible walks can have no more than 5% grade change.  If you look at the above plan of the existing site, you’ll see what a challenge this was: Many of those contours represent grades 30% or greater!  Obviously the contour lines cannot be changed where they connect to the building or the surrounding streets.  The entry to the Sky Pesher also cannot be altered.  I moved the contours as I laid-down the walk hoping that I wouldn’t run out of room at the bottom of the hill.  The most difficult part was the steepest aspect where I installed switchbacks to provide enough path length for the elevation changes. Once the path was in place, I added the sculpture viewing platforms making sure that they had cross slope for stormwater management and then worked out a design for a swale to concentrate the sheetflow into an area-drain and chose a location at the bottom of the hill for a rain garden.

When I was satisfied with the layout and had rechecked all of my grades, I placed a clean sheet of trace over my design and began to ink the projection.  I spent about two hours one evening tracing the surrounding streets and the WAC buildings using three different pen-tip thicknesses for various line-weights.  Yesterday morning, the day it was due, I started to ink the contours around the handicapped parking space.  About an hour and forty minutes into the process, I made a major mistake and connected the 139 proposed contour to the 141 existing contour.  In ink.  And didn’t realize it until I had connected the 140 to the 142, the 141 to the 143, and the 142 to the 144.  Upon realizing my blunder, the overwhelming sense of dread I experienced was one I haven’t felt since almost being arrested by a drunken police officer in Sierra Leone back in 2009.  When I started this process yesterday morning, I thought I’d be finished by 10– it wasn’t due until 5:30.  Once I discovered this error– chalk it up to staring at burry pencil lines through opaque paper, to lack of sleep over the past two weeks, to absent-minded tracing, or to a curse– I screamed at myself, kicked the table leg, and tore the sheet into shreds.  And started over. I worked all day on this project and turned it in an hour before it was due.

On to the next assignment.  It is probably also due today and I will also probably mess it up minutes before it is due and I will also continue to question whether or not I’ve chosen the correct path for myself.  Maybe the grade is too steep…


About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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