how do we design for water as a critical urban resource?


Our hometown of Philadelphia, like many older cities, drains rainwater and wastewater into a single, overburdened, combined sewer system. Our work at Lubert Plaza foreshadowed the city’s groundbreaking Green City Clean Waters program, which emphasizes green infrastructure as a critical way to lighten the load on the municipal sewer system. Lubert Plaza proved that a dynamic public space could also demonstrate impressive stormwater management performance in Philadelphia. Lubert Plaza functions as the new “heart of campus” at Thomas Jefferson University, welcoming students, faculty, and the community to take a break from the urban grid. The plaza accommodates academic events and ceremonies, as well as provides respite for the broader community with its cafe, public art, and diverse, shady seating areas.

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To reduce the burden on the municipal sewer system, we increased the surface area to allow rainwater to infiltrate the site. Our team also designed methods to capture condensation from the neighboring building’s air conditioning system and rainwater from the building’s roof. We collected this water in an underground cistern beneath the plaza and reused the water to irrigate the site. This dramatically reduces the amount of run-off that enters the city’s sewer system from this site each year:

  • The system removes ½ of a city block from the city’s stormwater system during a one-inch rainfall event.
  • The system diverts and recycles the toxic “first flush” –– the first inch of stormwater runoff.
  • Runoff volume is reduced by both soil infiltration and by plant transpiration (organic materials augment the engineered soil to increase water-holding capacity).
  • The rainwater-fed irrigation system saves $1,600 per year in water costs.
  • The 1.8-acre project site, formerly 7% pervious, was designed to be 40% pervious.


  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Size: 1.5 acres
  • Role: Landscape Architect of Record
  • Services: Master Planning, Sustainable Site Design, Stormwater Management, Construction Documentation and Observation