June 3, 2008 — University of Virginia alumni John A. and Amy Mitchell Griffin have made a $100,000 gift to the School of Architecture to name a portion of the school's planned landscape design in honor of landscape architect, part-time lecturer and fellow alumnus Thomas Woltz. The Woltz Bioretention Garden is part of an elaborate renovation project that includes two additions to the building and three themed landscape areas. The Griffins' gift recognizes both Woltz's contribution to landscape design that incorporates sustainable design and his dedication to teaching.
"I am so pleased that the Griffins are honoring Thomas Woltz in such a significant way," Architecture School Dean Karen Van Lengen said. "To name the bioretention garden to honor Thomas is to recognize one of our beloved and special alums whose contributions are exemplary — to the field of landscape architecture, to the School of Architecture and to his clients and friends. We are proud of him and proud to name this important pedagogical landscape after him."
The bioretention garden was designed by Architecture School alumnus Warren Byrd, who is Woltz's partner in Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. The garden is part of the landscape design for the slope adjacent to the Architecture School's new south addition, which is under construction. The design addresses erosion issues and stormwater drainage through rills and drains that culminate in a series of collection basins behind weir walls. The basins allow the water to drain slowly and infiltrate the soil and groundwater rather than being channeled through pipes where it would rush to Meadow Creek. These basins allow the water to flow over in heavy storms at a lesser rate than if the catch basin were not there. The design also incorporates a new walkway and gabion soil retention wall, a caged stone wall that allows for water flow without erosion, as well as indigenous or native plants that will withstand both wet and dry conditions.
The design also includes a walkway from Carr's Hill Drive to the second floor of the new building addition.
"The students are immensely interested in learning about more sustainable strategies," said Byrd, who taught landscape architecture at the school for more than 25 years and served as the department chairman for six years. "The bioretention garden provides a chance for them to come out and witness a sustainable solution that is not only environmentally sensitive, but also aesthetically interesting."
"The idea of Thomas using the bioretention garden as an educational tool and teaching U.Va. students in the outdoor classroom gives Amy and me great satisfaction. He has taught us so much … Thomas has opened our eyes to the importance of landscape design in everything," said John Griffin, an alumnus of the McIntire School of Commerce and founder of the New York investment partnership Blue Ridge Capital. Amy Griffin is a 1998 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences, former co-captain of the volleyball team and member of the Virginia Athletic Foundation.
This garden reflects both Thomas' teaching and professional work, Byrd said. "Thomas has taught this kind of sustainable design philosophy in his course 'Sites and Systems,'" he said. The course explores ecological system analysis as a generator for design strategies in architecture and landscape architecture.
Woltz was influential in the decision to put a green roof on the new McIntire School of Commerce building, Robertson Hall.
Griffin, the major donor for McIntire's new home, praised Woltz's contribution to the project. "He not only designed the spectacular terrace and courtyard, but it was his idea to use planted green roofs wherever we could," Griffin said.
Woltz and his Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects team of designers, scientists, builders and botanists have collaborated on numerous projects with the Griffins. An ongoing, large-scale commercial farming project in New Zealand has become a demonstration site for best environmental conservation and agricultural practices. In addition to wetland preservation and the creation of a wildlife preserve for almost extinct species, the farm design incorporates sustainable methods to control erosion and invasive pests. "We have planted over 250,000 trees on our farm and the productivity of the farm has gone up, not down," Griffin said. "We are showing that commercial farming can exist side-by-side with ecological conservation."
Although Griffin and Woltz were not contemporaries as U.Va. students, Woltz attributes their successful working relationship to their shared interest in preservation and in the Lawn: both were members of the University Guides.
Woltz earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture with majors in architectural history and studio art, as well as master's degrees in architecture and landscape architecture from U.Va. He has been a part-time faculty member for 14 years.