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University of Georgia Science Learning Center

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Reduces peak runoff rates by 10%, or 2 cfs, for a 100-year, 24-hour storm event.
  • Improves water quality by up to 80%, with water samples from bioretention cells having 2.5 Jackson Turbidity Units (JTU) as compared to samples from a nearby area without biorentention cells having 12.5 JTU.
  • Sequesters 366 lbs of atmospheric carbon annually in 69 newly planted trees and 212 lbs of atmospheric carbon annually in 10 preserved existing trees. These trees intercept an estimated 4,854 gallons of stormwater annually.


  • Creates a safe environment according to 96% of 89 survey respondents.
  • Creates an environment for learning according to 84% of 89 survey respondents who agree that it is a good place to read or study.

At a Glance

  • Designer


  • Project Type


  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    130 Carlton Street
    Athens, Georgia 30605
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    2.79 acres

  • Budget

    $37,174,000 (total); $978,591 (landscape)

  • Completion Date


The Science Learning Center on the University of Georgia’s Athens campus is a 122,500-sf facility for undergraduates in the STEM disciplines. It is a place for students to collaborate, study in laboratories, attend classes, and relax. The landscape serves as a demonstration of stormwater management strategies with bioretention cells, bioswales, and native plants which stand out in a university landscape that otherwise uses turf extensively. The landscape’s primary goals were managing on-site stormwater and increasing infiltration while providing space for students to gather and study. A welcoming courtyard establishes an entry sequence that allows access to the Green Mile, a pedestrian greensward that connects many buildings on south campus.


Project Goals

  • Create a facility that encourages use beyond lab and lecture and develop a pleasing environment for work and study.
  • Meet the growing demands of the University of Georgia’s science fields due to increased enrollment.
  • Infill the final missing major building element at the southwest end of the University of Georgia D.W. Brooks Mall, visually anchor the corner, and frame the views of the major south campus green space.
  • Resolve the significant grade changes from the parking lot down to D.W. Brooks Mall.
  • Set a stormwater management standard for the rest of the campus.
  • Obtain a LEED Silver rating.
  • The H20 plaza, located on the western side of the building, resembles a water molecule with two 6-ft and one 8-ft-diameter tree grate circles connected by lines of granite pavers. 2 trident maples (Acer buergerianum) and a willow oak (Quercus phellos) are planted in the circles.
  • The grand staircase entry to the building is flanked on both sides by terraces planted with switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’)
  • University-standard, local building materials of granite and brick reinforce a sense of place and coordinate with nearby more traditional campus landscapes.
  • The bosque plaza, located off the main staircase consists of six trident maples. Both the bosque plaza and the H20 plaza feature tables and seating.
  • 4 stone-lined bioretention cells with a combined filter bed area of 4,308 sf slow, treat and cool stormwater runoff around the building. A few examples of plantings in the cells include: southern blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) and false aster (Boltonia asteroides var latisquama ‘Nana’). 
  • A bioswale approximately 160 ft in length captures rainwater from several downspouts along the south-facing facade of the building and is visible from inside the building. Plantings in the bioswale include Rachel’s aster (Aster oblongifolius ‘Rachel Jackson’), inkberry  holly (Ilex glabra ‘Nigra’), and Moonglow sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana ‘Jim Wilson’).
  • Other native plants like beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata ‘Nana’) were selected with attention to the different microclimates on-site.

The Science Learning Center’s installed plant material, mulch, and first year of maintenance cost $124,282. These costs for hypothetical typical UGA landscape on the same site are estimated at $95,866, a difference of $28,416. The higher-performance landscape that was installed cost more, but it yields additional benefits like plant biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and runoff reduction.

  • During the design development process, the building was prioritized as the primary element of the project. The burden of cost savings achieved via value engineering thus fell on site development, which meant that significant changes were made in the design and extent of the proposed high-performance landscape to ensure that the project remained within budget. The design team had little input in the value engineering process. Their increased involvement in decision-making for value engineering might have helped better prioritize costs and maintain the integrity of the innovative original site plan. A considerable amount of design time was spent on a site development plan that was mostly unrealized as a result of value engineering.
  • The western building entrance adjacent to parking areas and campus bus stops seems to receive equal or possibly more usage than the primary eastern pedestrian mall entrance. Greater design accommodations should have been made there to match the welcoming aesthetic of the main entrance.
  • It would have been better not to use campus materials standards for railings and the granite veneer on the terraced walls on the mall side. Since much of the landscape was value engineered out, a few unique details could have had a significant visual impact on the site in providing contrast with the typical campus standards.
  • Informal trails are forming through the plant beds because there isn’t a direct central stair or path connecting the pedestrian mall and the building. More access points could have been provided to create a more practical connection to the mall.
  • During construction, the contractor encountered granite bedrock, incurring additional expense and requiring substantial site plan revisions. Additional blasting, hauling of rock and unsuitable soil, and bringing in better soil that could be compacted added approximately $1 million to the construction budget. This also resulted in the building’s finished floor elevation being raised an additional 2 ft above the original design elevation.

Bicycle Racks: AAA Ribbon Rack Company, division of Bandir International, Inc.
Trash, Litter, and Recycling Receptacles: Big Belly Solar
Benches:  Columbia Cascade – TimberForm 
Metal Bollards: Visco, Inc.
Tree Grates and Frames: Urban Accessories
Lighting: Philips Lumec L80 Series
Railing: Julius Blum & Co. Inc.
Tables: Landscape Forms – Carousel Seating
Pavers: Hanover Architectural Products

Project Team

Owner: Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia
User: University of Georgia
Landscape Architect and Architect of Record: HDR
Design Architect and Consultant Architect: tvsdesign; Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates, Inc.
MEP/IT Engineer: Newcomb & Boyd
Structural Engineer: Sykes Consulting, Inc.
Civil Engineer: Travis Pruitt & Associates
Audio-Visual Consultant: Waveguide Consulting, Inc.
Security Consultant: J & A Engineering Consultants
Cost Estimator: Palacio Collaborative, Inc.
Commission Agent: AEI Affiliated Engineers, Inc.

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect was responsible for site design services and coordination of civil engineering and stormwater management site design, including layout, grading, exterior wall placement, planting design, detailing, and material selection for the project area.


Stormwater management, Water quality, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Safety, Educational value, Trees, Bioretention, Native plants

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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