Williams Creek Consulting
In psychology, there is a German term, “gestalt,” that has no direct translation. It refers to the idea that, often, objects or systems are perceived as greater than the sum of their parts—for instance, an image made from paint strokes isn’t just a blob of many colors, it’s a portrait.
Urban infrastructure has long been associated with elements like roadways, sidewalks, and sewers which have been viewed as separate from how people experience a space. For the past 14 years, Williams Creek Consulting has been working to show how urban infrastructure can be more than that and can produce both environmental and social benefits which are essential to city dwellers being not just comfortable, but happy.
More recently, that sentiment has caught on with leaders at local and national levels, and Williams Creek has emerged as a leader of green infrastructure and ecological engineering solutions.
Williams Creek works with clients to reduce their water footprints, foster environmental stewardship and adopt a holistic approach to design engineering that takes both environmental and social impacts into consideration. The scope of this work ranges from working with city governments to manage storm water runoff to working with developers looking to earn green building certifications.
Underlying all of Williams Creek’s work is the notion that its projects create a better sense of place, enhance community livability and provide opportunities for economic development, in addition to improving ecology.
“It’s more about the larger opportunities that come from a holistic process,” says Williams Creek Principal Neil Myers. “You’re not going to get the same social and environmental benefits by solely looking at what we as a society have already done—paving streets and burying pipe—and frankly that’s just not that interesting for me.”
Building better cities
Williams Creek helps to bridge the gap between the built and natural environments in a way that benefits both. Increasingly, this work is in urban landscapes, versus rural ones.
“Ten years ago, the kinds of things we were promoting to do in urban conditions were not overwhelmingly received, and now we’re being sought out for our type of solutions, so I think that the awareness is definitely much higher, and obviously I’d like to see that continue,” Myers says.
The company’s urban work includes engineered elements such as gardens that collect rainwater, permeable pavers that let water seep into the ground rather than burden the sewer system and water retention systems that filter and sanitize greywater.
The growing desire for those solutions stems partly from new environmental regulations and partly from the desire of city dwellers to have green spaces and improved quality of life in urban cores.
“More people are living in cities, but there is also a social awareness factor that creating urban spaces which have ecological value or green value drives quality of life and is important to maintain a human environment connection,” Myers says. “It creates better cities, basically.”
In addition to creating new urban designs, Williams Creek also specializes in retrofitting or restoring existing design. That means when older infrastructure, like sewer mains or roadways, needs to be replaced, Williams Creek offers modernized infrastructure that incorporates native plants and storm water management into the built environment.
“It’s taking into account public safety, connectivity, vehicular management, utility management, urban ecosystems, as well as the regulations that are driving the retrofit” Myers says. “It’s a more holistic view than we have traditionally used for infrastructure improvement in cities.”
Green building certifications
Williams Creek also provides site planning and design solutions for clients seeking Living Building, Living Community and LEED credentials.
It provided sustainable civil engineering services for the construction of the Tyson Research Center at Washington University, which received the first ever Living Building Challenge Certification from the International Living Futures Institute. This certification recognizes that the building actually helps to restore the natural environment.
At the Tyson Research Center, Williams Creek’s design uses green infrastructure to capture and treat on-site runoff through pervious parking, trails and rain gardens. Rain water is collected on the building’s roof, passed through biological filtration and UV disinfection so that it can be reused as sanitary greywater. The building produces its own solar electricity, and trees used in the siding, flooring and cabinets are from the site and an adjoining forest restoration project.
In Bloomington, Indiana, Williams Creek is working with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and Energy Systems Network on a similar project. There Williams Creek will install ecological solutions including permeable pavers and rain gardens to help reduce storm water runoff at an affordable housing development.
Like Myers, Williams Creek’s diverse staff of engineers, scientists, landscape architects, planners and contractors is committed to providing ecological solutions that allow the built environment to benefit the natural environment and, at the same time, produce social benefits.
“Once you learn about the multiple benefits green infrastructure can provide on a human scale and see what potential it can hold, you become a promoter and a protagonist for this type of solution,” Myers says.
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