Biofiltration Street

Hardly a day passes without a headline about a drought, wildfire, or some other unsettling symptom of climate change.

The Urban Reserve offers a new twist on traditional suburban landscaping. Courtesy of Kevin Sloan Studio

With so many environmental issues in the news, it’s curious how landscape design and American culture stubbornly cling to the image of the English garden and its postcard views of Arcadian settings, clipped hedges, and watered lawns.

However, that’s not the case at the Dallas Urban Reserve.

Developed as a single-street subdivision of 50 modernist houses, the 10.5-acre project is an irregular fragment of real estate located in the highly manicured environs of north Dallas, Texas.

An extension to the DART light-rail system defines the long western edge of the property sliver, and the eastern edge is a typical 1950s subdivision of ranch homes. And like a typical subdivision, Vanguard Way ends in a cul-de-sac that also provides a fortunate link to the existing White Rock Creek linear trail system.

But that’s where convention ended and landscape architect Kevin Sloan Studio of Dallas accepted some extraordinary site conditions.

For all those years, the project site was heavily abused as an illegal landfill. Hidden behind an earlier subdivision, piles of construction litter became intermingled with mounds of discarded shingles, timber shards, and broken paving, forming a strewn field overgrown with volunteer trees and brush.

Seen purely as real estate, the site was far from the type of curb appeal one might want for an enclave of modernist homes and well-to-do patrons.

“I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea and cost of moving one landfill to another,” says developer Diane Cheatham of Urban Edge Developers Ltd. in Dallas.

Could the debris be left in place? Or perhaps rework the site and recover the disposal fees for something more productive?

In theory, the answer to those speculations was yes, but there’s a big difference between a collage and a pile of junk. Gambling a real-estate development on the idea of a site collage was the type of problem the “High Performance Landscapes” of Kevin Sloan Studio was known for solving.

Artistic Improvisation

For this project, the solution required working less as a “designer”–formulating a concept on a drawing table and then pushing it onto the problem–and more like a “bricoleur.” By making do with the oddments at hand, the debris becomes “bricolage,” a term used by the early 20th-century writer and historian Claude Levi-Strauss to explain the artistic productions of his time that used bailing wire, newsprint, and a host of dissimilar objects as raw material for artworks.

So at the Urban Reserve, the large concrete slabs became flagstones for paving and retaining walls along the roadway excavation. Rusting steel beams and twisted parts were welded together to become an entrance sign.

A modern housing development calls for modern landscaping ideas. Courtesy of Kevin Sloan Studio

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