Sustainability in Themed Construction

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Sustainable design and construction, also known as green building, has transitioned from being a point of marketing differentiation for iconic, high-profile projects into a mainstream design parameter built into the specifications of commercial projects of all sizes and budgets. True sustainable processes also extend far past the construction phase, incorporating the entire lifecycle of the built environment.

Sustainable design (also called environmental design, environmentally sustainable design, environmentally conscious design, etc.) is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with theprinciples of social, economic, and ecological sustainability.

[1] McLennan, J. F. (2004), The Philosophy of Sustainable Design

Sustainability in themed construction projects, including rockwork, water features and other specialized construction, can be challenging. But sustainability can be achieved with proper planning and by utilizing the green building expertise of companies experienced with the intricacies of these project types.

Similar to traditional construction, the main goal of a sustainable themed construction project is to reduce negative impacts on the environment while improving building performance. Specialty construction professionals like OTL are exploring a variety of ways to make projects more ecologically friendly.

The sustainable process for themed construction starts early in the design phase. First and foremost, the specialty feature, whether a water feature or rockscape, should have a sense of belonging to its natural environment. It should be capable of easily coexisting within its climate, wind conditions and topography without requiring extraordinary engineering and manmade resources. Except in highly themed, fantasy-driven entertainment environments, the feature should also promote use of indigenous materials that connect the project to the natural environment. At OTL, our artisans have coined the term “geo-believability” to describe the way we design and create rockwork and water features to be as geologically accurate as possible. Not only does this have high aesthetic value, but it also helps the project’s sustainability if properly implemented.

The mechanical design of specialty water features is particularly important to achieving a sustainable project. Proper sizing and placement of pumps and pipes, variable speed pump drives, quality recirculation systems, and the design and placement of reservoirs can significantly impact water usage and/or water loss to evaporation. Projects like the revitalization of Des Moines’ Cowles Commons are incorporating fountains designed to allow complete and easy drainage (with retention) of water so the fountain bed can have alternative uses for events or gatherings. Other designs explore the capture and recycling of filter wastewater (backwash) as well as the redistribution of that effluent to the most appropriate end use. Similarly, designers are studying systems that harvest and utilize rainwater and air conditioning condensate for use in specialized water features. For streams and ponds, thoughtful selection of plant and aquatic life help the feature function similar to a natural ecosystem, promoting a long-term sustainable environment.

Specialty design and construction professionals also incorporate green building strategies utilized in traditional building. OTL promotes use of low-VOC, non-toxic materials, materials with high percentages of recycled content, and materials made using sustainable manufacturing processes. Locally produced materials are also encouraged. Energy efficient products, such as LED lights, are used to minimize energy use and reduce long-term energy costs.

Building a sustainable, resource-efficient themed construction project requires careful attention to detail in each phase of the project from design through post construction. This is best achieved through close cooperation among the project owner, concept designer, engineer, general contractor and specialty contractor.

Companies like OTL are committed to providing and preserving the world’s finest habitats, aquascapes, landscapes and natural environments. If you would like to work with a team of highly skilled artisans and technicians, please contact us at: (714) 637-4747 or email us at