Mt. Airy green engineering firm awarded for innovative storm water management plan

A Mt. Airy-based green engineering firm was selected as winner in a nationwide design competition run by the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD).

Roofmeadow, which specializes in the installation of green roofs, won a $10,000 prize earlier in March for their design submission, “Leveraging Water and Plants in Zero Lot Sites.”

As part of the “Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up” design contest, sponsored by the PWD, the Environmental Agency, and the Community Design Collaborative, Roofmeadow was one of three winning teams, having been selected for their concept for transforming an industrial site in North Philadelphia.

Soak It Up! was a five month-long competition conceived to revitalize urban neighborhoods through innovations in green storm water management, tying in with the PWD’s “Green City, Clean Waters” campaign, a $2-billion, 25-year green storm water management plan.

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According to the competition sponsors, the interdisciplinary design competition attracted 28 submissions, 101 firms, and 315 professionals from around the country. Three winning teams were selected from industrial, commercial, and neighborhood categories after the presentations of nine finalists on Mar. 7 at Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences.

“We were able to prove that a series of beautiful and thoughtfully engineered ‘thin’ landscapes on challenging urban industrial sites can work in concert to keep huge amounts of rainwater out of the public system and create spaces that educate and delight,” said Roofmeadow founder, Charlie Miller, in a statement.

“This is how communities are reborn,” Miller observed.

Going forward

In addition to the cash prize, Roofmeadow will receive a profile in Grid Magazine, exposure at Greenbuild 2013 – the national conference of the US Green Building Council, to be held in Philadelphia in November – and a presentation slot at the Philadelphia Urban Sustainability Forum, which occurred on Thursday night at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Roofmeadows’s plan would revitalize the building and grounds of Edward J. Darby and Son, also known as the Pennsylvania Wire Works, a manufacturer of wire mesh located on 8th Street in North Philadelphia that was originally established in 1854, according to the company’s website.

PWD spokesperson Joanne Dahme said on Thursday that the site was chosen for its urban characteristics, which are “found again and again across the city.”

Dahme added that any ideas implemented in the design have the potential to be replicated throughout the city.

At the core of Roofmeadow’s Wire Works design are several integrated strategies that store and slow the flow of rainwater from the warehouse’s blue-green living roof, down across the building facade into a water-storing installation, from which rainwater seeps into specially designed planters and tree trenches along the sidewalk, according to project leaders.

The design was engineered to remove reliance on an adjacent vacant lot for the absorption of any excess rainwater from the Wire Works site. Instead, this lot is envisioned as a neighborhood park featuring rain gardens and community social spaces. New courtyards would soak up additional rainfall and bring light into the building’s interior.

In addition to featuring Darby’s wire mesh products, Roofmeadow believes the design could help revitalize the community through public access to these outdoor spaces, where the potential of healthy urban ecology will be showcased.

“On this nineteenth-century site,” observed team member Muscoe Martin on Thursday, “a 21st-century approach to rain can help renew not only the urban hydrology, but the urban fabric itself.”

Martin noted that while storm water is perceived as waste, rainwater can be seen as a resource to be used and enjoyed.

“Storm water is a problem,” he said. “Rainwater is an opportunity.”

Tavis Dockwiller, a juror for the “Soak It Up!” contest, related in a statement that the Roofmeadow design “weaves art, social, environmental and industrial needs into a working solution.”

“The project is a big dream that together we can bring to fruition if we just let this team lead us,” said Dockwiller. “It is not only their vision and detail, but also their hope that inspires.”

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