James Patchett, pioneer in sustainable design, to receive Christian Petersen Design Award at ISU

Chicago City Hall

Green roof, Chicago City Hall. Photo by Diane Cook and Len Jensehl, National Geographic.

AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University alumnus James Patchett, founder and president of one of the nation’s first sustainable design firms, is the recipient of the 2013 Christian Petersen Design Award presented by the ISU College of Design.

Established in 1980, the award is given annually to alumni, staff and friends of the university for distinguished work that advances the design and art professions. It is named for the noted artist who was Iowa State’s sculptor-in-residence from 1934 to 1955.

Patchett, who grew up in Muscatine and now lives in suburban Chicago, will be honored at a ceremony Monday, Aug. 26, in the College of Design’s King Pavilion. A reception will be from 6 to 8 p.m., with the award presentation at 6:45 p.m.

Considered one of the innovators in melding art, science and engineering in design, Patchett founded Conservation Design Forum in 1994, with offices in Elmhurst, Ill., and Ann Arbor, Mich. Patchett and his team renovate landscapes with particular emphasis in the areas of sustainable site planning and development, the advancement of innovative water resource-management techniques, the integration of native landscape systems and the promotion of ecological restoration strategies.

Nature museum roof

Museum green roof wetland.

CDF’s projects include one of the most famous green roofs in the world, located atop Chicago’s City Hall. It won a Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and an Honor Award from the Illinois ASLA in 2002. The team also is responsible for designing projects such as:

  • site development and the green roof of the ISU College of Design’s King Pavilion, the first higher education building in Iowa to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification. The project won a 2009 Design Award and 2010 Honor Award of Excellence from the Iowa Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
  • West Union’s downtown restoration project, featuring geothermal heating, streets and sidewalks made of porous pavers and 36,000 square feet of rain gardens.
  • Ann Arbor’s new Municipal Center, which harnesses rainwater through green roofs, permeable pavements, rainwater planters and streetscapes. This LEED Gold facility won a 2012 Merit Award from the Michigan ASLA.
  • a new campus master plan for Chicago’s Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum that includes a butterfly
  • garden, an outdoor classroom, a children’s garden, a birch maple garden and a native prairie.

“Jim Patchett is one of the nation’s leading pioneers in the design and promotion of sustainable site-planning methodologies,” said Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the College of Design. “He was integrating native landscapes with what we now call green infrastructure in the 1980s and ’90s before this was considered a best practice.

“He is a role model for our students and an alumnus who exemplifies the commitment of this university and this college to improve the environment and living conditions for people all over the world.”

Last year, Patchett co-founded Whole Systems Integration, a collaborative of more than a dozen leading U.S. sustainable design firms to offer turn-key design, building and management services for high-performance projects. He also spearheaded formation of Solutions in the Land, a for-profit consortium to help farmers restore their lands’ vitality and surrounding watershed. The company works to re-establish fertility to Midwestern soils and better manage agricultural water consumption. Recently, Patchett and partners purchased more than 100 acres near South Haven, Mich., to pursue ecological and research initiatives and to create demonstration farms, a conference and education center, an environmental research center and a hotel. 

In the mid-1990s, Patchett helped establish the Conservation Land Stewardship to ensure trained, capable installation and subsequent management in restoring native ecosystems.

He also co-founded the Conservation Research Institute, which pursues scholarship and investigation of sustainable issues.

Patchett is a Fellow of the ASLA and a LEED Accredited Professional. He received the Natural Leader Award from the Chicago chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008. He lectures nationwide on sustainable design and has taught in Iowa State’s landscape architecture department.

A graduate of Muscatine High School, Patchett received a Bachelor of Science in landscape architecture (1975), a Master of Landscape Architecture (1981) and a Master of Science in civil engineering (1985), all from Iowa State. He has completed doctoral coursework at the University of Michigan.