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James Madison University Bioscience Building Landscape

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Estimated to remove 65% of total phosphorous with 2 rain gardens that treat 0.86 acres of impervious area.
  • Estimated to reduce annual roof runoff by 12% or 109,732 gallons with an extensive green roof that covers 16% of the roof area.
  • Sequesters approximately 1.5 tons of carbon annually in 75 new native trees. These trees also intercept over 5,000 gallons of rainwater annually.
  • Estimated to save 9,700 kWh or $654 in energy costs annually compared to a dark roof, and 1,330 kWh or $310 annually compared to a white roof through the installation of a green roof.


  • Provides outdoor learning opportunities and social space for the average 4,242 students who take classes in the Bioscience Building each year.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Rhodeside & Harwell

  • Project Type


  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    1000 Carrier Drive
    Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    3 acres

  • Budget

    $1.2 million

  • Completion Date


The Bioscience Building landscape serves as a laboratory for learning within the growing east campus of James Madison University. The designers collaborated with faculty to create a landscape that operates as a teaching tool for environmental science students. Educational gardens feature unique and thought-provoking displays of native plants grouped by family. Outdoor classrooms are surrounded by gardens with a variety of native trees and perennials. A green roof, rills, swales, and rain gardens expose the conveyance and treatment of stormwater flowing through the site. These features overlap with circulation paths and gathering spaces to encourage student interaction with the landscape systems.


A fundamental principle of the overall design was to showcase the building and site as teaching tools for environmental science and conservation. The most challenging aspect of the site design was demonstrating stormwater conveyance and treatment through the landscape; highlighting this through site design is a subtlety that can be easily missed. Additionally, the design had to incorporate strategic locations for outdoor spaces that were part of a cohesive plan, while meeting local stormwater regulations. The grading of the site was a challenge in order to achieve the stormwater management goals while also providing accessibility for all user groups and creating occupiable outdoor spaces on the steeply sloping site.


To create a holistic stormwater solution, the design conveys runoff from the building roof through a rill system to strategically placed rain gardens. Stormwater is also directed from hardscape surfaces around the site to infiltration areas that are heavily planted. To create a learning opportunity, steel grates were placed along the sidewalk between planting beds. The grates visually expose the path of the stormwater and create space for benches that allow users to observe the stormwater conveyance during and after a rain event. Terraces help to ease the steep slope and create outdoor classrooms, while a shallow swale helps to integrate the site with the surrounding campus landscape. The rain gardens were gently sloped and densely planted so as not to look sunken or out of place within the larger context. The shallow swales and gently sloped gardens further emphasized the curvilinear geometry used as a design theme throughout the project.

  • The systematic educational gardens feature plants grouped together by family. Faculty provided input on plant selection so that the gardens could be used for coursework.
  • Two rain gardens, totaling 12,600 sf, manage runoff from 37,636 sf of impervious area. The rain gardens are 5% larger than what was required by the Virginia state guidelines
  • A 4,792-sf extensive green roof is planted primarily with sedums.
  • Two 30-ft long rills on the east side of the building direct water from the roof downspouts to the center of the east rain garden. Each rill is equipped with a steel water weir and smooth cobble rip rap.
  • The landscape features 38 native tree species and 23 native shrub species. The rain gardens are not irrigated, and while drip irrigation was used in planting beds during the establishment period, they are no longer irrigated.
  • A relocated bus stop and two new bike racks accommodate and further encourage high pedestrian and bike circulation.
  • A concrete crescent path links the main road and bus stop to the entrance of the Bioscience Building. This path accommodates ADA access and runs adjacent to a shallow swale planted with native grasses and perennials where stormwater runoff flows down to a lower rain garden.
  • 3,700 sf of new outdoor gathering and sitting spaces include two outdoor classrooms, five benches placed on metal grates above the swale, and four study cubes within the rain garden.
  • Many of the academic buildings adjacent to the Bioscience Building are landscaped with turf and some trees. The Bioscience Building landscape is a unique site on the JMU campus, featuring native plants and a diversity of trees and shrubs. Many of the planting zones are concentrated around the building, and turf is used to integrate the site into the surrounding campus. This turf requires 2,077,514 gallons of water annually for irrigation, costing $4,650 in water utilities. If the planting zones were also turf, as is the case for many of the surrounding buildings, the landscape would require an additional 608,225 gallons and cost $1,361 more annually to irrigate.
  • As the project progressed and the dimensions of the building changed, the stormwater facilities’ size requirements increased, leading to design and aesthetic adjustments for the landscape architects. Working closely with the civil engineer at all stages of the design process allowed for a fluidity in developing and spatializing the rain gardens and rill systems.
  • Early in the project, designers should confirm with the client whether there are any campus material standards or expectations. During construction, the University suggested the use of a paving material they had on hand. Had the landscape architect known this earlier, the material could have been incorporated into the design. Instead, they had to improvise during the construction phase on how to use this paver as a replacement for the original design intent.
  • Designers need to be in communication with maintenance staff to understand nuances of how the site will be maintained. On this project, the steel grating proved to be unfamiliar to the maintenance staff. After discussing the campus maintenance regimen with the staff, the designer added bollards between the main sidewalk and the steel grate. This created a barrier so that the snowplows would know not to drive on top of the grates, which could cause damage to the machinery or the steel.

Bioretention Unit: Filterra
Metal Fabricator: Hendricks Screen 

Project Team

Client: James Madison University 
Landscape Architect: Rhodeside & Harwell 
Architect: EYP Architecture & Engineering 
Civil Engineer: Anderson & Associates

Role of the Landscape Architect

Rhodeside & Harwell acted as subcontractors to the architect. They worked closely with the University and the civil engineers to provide the design for the landscape surrounding the new Bioscience Building.


Stormwater management, Water quality, Energy use, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Recreational & social value, Educational value, Operations & maintenance savings, Bioretention, Green roof, Native plants, Trees, Learning landscapes

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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