Landscape architect digs deep in D.C. for design answers

July 17, 2014
By Chris Saunders

Visitors to Washington, D.C., will get their first look at the planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in 2017 when the memorial commemorating the 34th president of the United States opens across from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

While architect Frank Gehry was chosen to design the memorial, landscape architect and soil scientist Barrett Kays is concerned with a much deeper question — what in the world will go on underneath Eisenhower Square?

Barrett Kays

Barrett Kays

Kays, who graduated from NC State with a design degree in 1973 and with a Ph.D. in soil science in 1979, is one of the country’s leading experts in integrating soil science in the design of landscape architecture projects in urban areas. (NC State magazine profiled Kays in 1996 when he took on a project in New York City’s Central Park.)

He recently completed the construction documents for the manufactured custom soils and drainage system for the memorial’s site.

“At the Eisenhower Memorial, we have to control the moisture,” says Kays, president of  the consulting firm Landis Inc. in Raleigh. “So we have to remove about 35,000 cubic yards of material from the site.”

A planned view from Eisenhower Square. Photo courtesy of Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

A planned view from Eisenhower Square. (Photo courtesy of Eisenhower Memorial Commission.)

Kays will replace it with a custom blend of soils that, as he describes it, will drain well when it’s extremely wet and keep in enough moisture when it’s dry.

“Typically in the past, the way urban parks get destroyed is when you have these large events with a lot of people, when they occur after a large rainstorm event,” Kays says. “The National Mall was destroyed over and over in the 1960s. In Central Park, behind The Metropolitan Museum of Art, they would have a million people there at a time.”

But with technology and a focus on landscape architecture in urban planning, Kays says scientists have been able to have a large rain event with no runoff.

 

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