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Pete V. Domenici Courthouse
Albuquerque, NM


Mark Rios
Samantha Harris
Mike Tramutola
Brent Jacobsen
Ananda Kantner
Nick Glase


This landscape renovation project transformed a forlorn public plaza into a showpiece of sustainable urban design. Our creative re-use of materials, comprehensive water management program, and use of solar power earned two stars in 2013 from the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), the landscape equivalent of LEED certification.

To put this plaza on the cutting edge of sustainability, we went back to ancient traditions. We removed water-intensive lawns and replaced them with plants that have survived for millennia in the Rio Grande Basin's unique climate and hydrology. We harvested rainwater for irrigation using a system based on Pueblo drainage canals called acequias. We borrowed another indigenous tradition, the chevron pattern of Pueblo blankets, to arrange native plants according to how much water they need.
Best of all, we returned this public space to the people, not to mention the birds and the butterflies. We dug up 21,000 sq. ft. of charmless sidewalks, many of which prevented stormwater from replenishing the water table, and cut it into 8"x 16" blocks. We stacked the blocks to make seatwalls, which divide program areas of the plaza, and welcome visitors to sit where lawns used to forbid them. ADA-accessible pathways shaded by honey locusts encourage the public to stroll the site.

A single square of lawn remains amid the desert xeriscaping, serving as a reminder of a more recent history. Before the Courthouse was built, this was McClellan Park, the only public green space in downtown Albuquerque. The lawn is also home to another historical artifact: the 1928 Madonna of the Trail, one of 12 statues erected along the old Santa Fe Trail in celebration of the hardiness of pioneer women.