Piedmont Center sits nestled amidst 52 landscaped acres in the Buckhead community – a dynamic part of Atlanta’s urban business district.
The office complex is described as “elegant.” Surrounded by trees, outdoor plazas, well-known fountains and sculptures, as well as gardens that change seasonally to provide constant interest, Piedmont Center is proud of its well-groomed 1.2 mile walking trail and grounds that promote an extension from indoor art-filled lobbies to beautifully maintained outdoor environments.
But, while Piedmont Center was always known for its unique fountain and sculpture, it didn’t always have such a lush, pristine landscape. In fact, in 2008, the class A office complex was stuck with a dated and overgrown landscape and courtyard.
Property management was pursuing a much-needed makeover to rejuvenate the space and improve its pedestrian experience.
Enter HighGrove Partners. In the midst of an extreme drought, the company was able to propose a unique water managment solution to keep the Piedmont Center project alive and maximize sustainability with a new and distinctive approach to hydrating an exterior space when water is extremely, if not completely, limited.
A “Cool” Solution
When California-based American Realty Advisors, Piedmont Center’s project management company, first sent out their request for proposal on the renovation of the landscapes and courtyard surrounding buildings 9-12, officials were unaware of the extent of Georgia’s historic 2007-2008 drought.
HighGrove’s design team had numerous water management ideas, but nothing could stop Mother Nature from accelerating the area’s drought. Outdoor watering was completely banned in Raleigh and six surrounding towns. In the Atlanta metropolitan area, with a population of more than 4 million people, worst-case analyses showed the city’s main water source, Lake Lanier, was approximately 100 days from running dry.
Needless to say, The Piedmont Center project was nearly derailed.
American Realty Advisors was concerned with how they could possibly update and keep 52 landscaped acres hydrated in the most extensive drought the area has ever known. Historically, the property used 1.7 million gallons of potable drinking water annually to water its grounds.
HighGrove’s design team had a new goal: Devise a water management plan to cover the landscape irrigation of not only Piedmont Center’s new plant materials, but also the numerous courtyard fountains, all without the help of rain, explains Sam Sampson, HighGrove’s land services manager.
Without rain and without the use of supplemental irrigation, the team was on the lookout for another water source.
The solution: commercial air conditioners.
Georgia’s warm climate requires the use of many large, commercial air conditioners for a good portion of the year. Air conditioners on average emit a lot of waste water, Sampson explains. “So the question became, ‘How could we use the water from those air conditioners to water the landscape?’” he says. “And since the one original fountain and sculpture was a big part of the Piedmont Center’s history and look, eliminating the fountain was not an option.”
HighGrove’s solution was the installation of a cistern to cover the irrigation of new plant materials and fountains that are being filled by the water from those air conditioners, completely unplugging the four-building complex from the City of Atlanta water systems, saving thousands of dollars annually.
“During the hottest part of the year when the air conditioners are running, they are producing a lot of water. So we found a way to capture that water and pump it into the cistern,” he says. “The cistern also captures rain water to help supplement the air conditioning water when the area does receive rain, so the cistern is designed to work with or without rain.”
Plant materials were also chosen with water conservation in mind. HighGrove eliminated turf and used adaptive and seasonal accent plants like Japanese maples, Trident maples, ‘Limelight’ hydrangea and Encore azaleas.
To boost the sensory experience on the sight, HighGrove installed fragrant tea olives and aromatic winter Daphne. To create an inviting courtyard café environment, large, contemporary furnishings and planters full of seasonal color and perennials were placed throughout the garden.
A Complete Transformation
After overcoming initial design challenges as a result of drought, Mother Nature threw another curveball at HighGrove Partners during the Piedmont Center installation: a monsoon rain season that brought the amount of rain in three months to fill up Lake Lanier that would normally take three years. This brought some construction delays and required coordination between all of the teams involved to maximize time.
HighGrove teams designed the project and installed the landscape materials. As the landscape architect, they also partnered with the general contractor for the hardscape installation.
Piedmont Center’s improvements involved constructing an entirely new hardscape environment, including pre-cast and architectural pavers, colored concrete, stone and three granite fountain features.
Co-designed with Water Works, the new fountains not only embody sustainable principles because they operate on reused waste water, but they also visually emulate the Appalachian mountains and streams.
Large custom-designed granite monolith benches, ranging from 4 to 6 tons, in the north and center portions of the courtyard encourage seating.
In order to coordinate large plant material and major hardscape installation, HighGrove had to work closely with the general contractor, Sampson says. Six-inch caliper, 25-foot trees had to be installed before the hardscape crews came in to renovate the courtyard and install fountains in order to ensure adequate space for equipment during installation.
The final result tied elements of Piedmont Center’s old courtyard and signature fountain and sculpture to the new courtyard – a supreme sensory encounter. The additional plant material encouraged the daily pedestrian experience Piedmont Center wanted for its tenants.
In addition to boosting the walkability and outdoor nature of one of Buckhead’s and Atlanta’s class A office parks, HighGrove Partners also won landscape design awards from the Professional Landcare Network and the Metro Atlantic Landscape & Turf Association for its creative, innovative water management solutions that transformed Piedmont Center into a sustainable site as well as an outdoor oasis for everyone who visits the landscape and courtyard.