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Lorna Jordan

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When I joined the design team, Metro (now King County) was trying to figure out how to disguise a 95-acre wastewater treatment plant. Instead of an “out of sight, out of mind” approach, I proposed an environmental art/public works project that invites people to observe the natural processes of water purification while connecting them to the cycles and mysteries of water.

Waterworks Gardens is an environmental artwork that treats stormwater, enhances a wetland, provides garden rooms and creates eight acres of new open space for public use. Stormwater runoff is collected from the grounds of the wastewater reclamation plant and put through 11 ponds where contaminates and sediments are allowed to settle. The water is then released into the wetlands which sustain plants, microorganisms and wildlife. The stormwater treatment ponds and the wetlands form an earth/water sculpture that funnels, captures and releases water.

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With the garden as its conceptual framework, the project communicates a story about the purification of water. Landforms, plantings, bodies of water and garden rooms are expressed abstractly as flower plant, symbolic of the plant’s power to cleanse water through filtering. The progression of five garden rooms engages the visitor on an intimate scale and follows the stages of the water cycle: impure, working, mysterious, beautiful, and life-sustaining.

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Bayer’s Earthworks was an important influence during my research phase. By using art as a means to capture, hold, and convey stormwater, it provided inspiration and an important precedent. Both artworks focus upon visitors’ experiences as they move through the environments. However, whereas Bayer’s piece is tectonic and geometric, my work expresses the cycles and mysteries of the water itself. Waterworks Gardens also incorporates ecological principles— the abundant use of predominantly native plantings and the enhancement of the wetland’s functions and values.


Lorna Jordan graduated from the University of Virginia and lives in Seattle, Washington. She has lectured extensively both nationally and internationally at Harvard University’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Dumbarton Oaks, the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum, the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects, Bund Deutscher Architekten in Dusseldorf Germany, the University of Washington’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the Florida Atlantic Planning Society. She also moderated Art and Restoration sessions for the Society for Ecological Restoration conference and was awarded a three month fellowship in Italy where she studied Italian garden as theater.

Ms. Jordan has received numerous awards for her innovative environments including two EDRA/Places Awards for both Planning and Design, a national ASLA Honor Award for her work with Mithun on the Blue Ring, and two local ASCE awards for the Longfellow Creek Habitat Improvement Project and Waterworks Gardens. The diversity of the awards reflects the interdisciplinary character of Jordan’s work.


Waterworks Gardens, 1990 - 1996. Part of 8 acre, enhanced wetland at King County East Division Reclamation Plant in Renton, Washington, commissioned by Metro.

1. Overview of enhanced wetland in 5th garden room, The Release.
2. East entry to 3rd garden room, The Grotto.
3. Illustrative planting plan of Waterworks Gardens.