Installations of Organic-Lock Blended Aggregate at the Guardians of the First Amendment Memorial

Written by: Cassandra Rice, PLA, AICP, ASLA, CLARB https://www.linkedin.com/in/cassandrarice/

Landscape Architect: Moody Graham Landscape Architecture (Washington, D.C.)

Installer: Oldetown Landscape Architects (Frederick, MD)

Supplier: Stancills (Perryville, MD)


Overview

Located in Annapolis, Maryland, the Guardians of the First Amendment Memorial honors the lives lost in one of the largest mass killings of journalists in American history. On June 28, 2018, five Capital Gazette journalists were slain in their newsroom, and this memorial opened on the third anniversary as a place to commemorate their lives and the First Amendment that lost their lives defending. 

The memorial was commissioned by the City of Annapolis and designed by Moody Graham Landscape Architecture. Moody Graham is a Washington DC-based landscape architecture firm that works to maximize the enjoyment and functionality of the environment in and around their designs. They do this effectively by collaborating with their clients to create environments that are modern, vital, and immersive. 

The central feature of the Guardians Memorial is a grove of five granite pillars symbolizing the journalists, interspersed among Bald Cypress trees. A tall red brick wall inscribed with the first amendment arches behind a backdrop of red highlighting the cool grey pillars that were surrounded and embedded in English Grey Organic-Lock Blended Aggregate (OLBA). The memorial is an elegant use of simple materials, with a large red brick wall, neutral-colored aggregate, and cool grey granite pillars. 

Unique Challenges

Annapolis, because of its location next to the Bay, experiences tidal surge flooding. If not designed and engineered properly, plazas and public spaces can experience unstable ground conditions due to flooding and the high water table. Samantha Brooks, project manager for Oldetown Landscape Architects (OLA) with more than six years of experience in the industry, spoke with us about the challenges the site faced during design and construction. While OLA is a full-service design-build firm, specializing in high-end, detailed design and craftsmanship, on this project, they were the primary installer, overseeing the construction of all memorial elements, including the Organic-Lock Blended Aggregate.

According to Brooks, any project within the downtown area requires archeological investigation and approvals prior to any construction. The backfill from test pits created a “swiss cheese”-like condition in the already sandy soils. These unique challenges required unique solutions, including the use of nearly 42” deep helical piers used to anchor the pillars and wall.

Innovative Solutions

In addition to engineered solutions, designers also had to explore and select the most appropriate materials to accommodate the site’s challenges. Landscape architects from Moody Graham Landscape Architecture worked with Chris Siciliano from Stancills, to identify the most appropriate material for the unique construction conditions and design intent.

Stancills (https://stancills.com/) is located in Perryville, Maryland, supplying blended aggregate and soils for projects from New York City to Washington D.C. It’s an industry leader in custom-blended soils, focusing on innovative and unique designs for on-grade and on-structure applications. Stancills is also known for its work on “historic match” projects, providing custom colors and mixes to match the original materials for sites such as the Bartram’s Garden, the first botanic garden in the country, and The National Mall, which has a custom mix unique to the National Park Service specifications. For this project, Chris Siciliano and his team at Stancills, recommended their English Grey Organic-Lock Blended Aggregate to achieve the grey aggregate look without compromising on the functionality of the surface.

Organic-lock licensed dealers blend the powdered Organic-lock with their locally sourced, approved aggregate to be installed on site. Organic-Lock is a plant-based, powdered binder that swells on contact with water.

When thoroughly blended with aggregate, the Organic-Lock binds the particles together to keep the aggregate stable providing time for it to naturally consolidate and compact on its own. Organic-Lock licensed dealers to purchase the Organic-Lock binder and blend it with their approved local aggregates to be installed on-site.

Stancills has worked with Organic-Lock for nearly five years and provided eight tons of English Grey granite aggregate, one of its six standard colors, to the Guardian’s Memorial project. The English Grey Aggregate was selected, according to Moody Graham Principal Jay Graham, because the grey color complimented the granite pavers and pillars, which were, like the aggregate, sourced from local quarries.

The Organic-Lock Blended Aggregate surface provides an accessible transition zone between the granite plaza and concrete sidewalk, accomplishing the designers’ aesthetic goals while also responding to the site’s unique conditions.

Mike Evans (Technical Sales Representative for Organic-Lock) provided additional support throughout the design and installation journey. The role of the Technical Sales rep, says Evans, is to review plans and specs and follow the journey of every OLBA project from inception to installation. This often comes with suggested design changes that will improve the long- term performance of the Organic-Lock Blended Aggregate surface. Suggesting culverts, cross slopes, or drains to better water flow, suggesting specialized materials to improve root growth for trees, and providing edging options are all examples of this.

During the design phase of the Guardians Memorial project, Evans had multiple calls, emails, and FaceTime meetings with the designers, dealer, and contractors on site.

A key feature of the design, Bald Cypress trees were to be installed by Oldetowne Landscape Architects in the Blended Aggregate field, a design specification application that prior to this project, had not been done. This application was the first use of the new specifications for installing Organic-Lock Blended Aggregate around trees. The designer, supplier, and installer worked closely with Organic-Lock’s technical team to develop these new optimized specifications, designed to utilize structural soil as the base and growing medium around the tree pit.

The structural soil specification and associated standard installation detail maximizes the strength and stability of the surface to withstand the inevitable traffic, while being held in place with an optimum amount of air gaps that allow for healthy tree root systems to form. This detail promotes healthier trees and creates a uniform surface across the site.

Making the Most out of Organic-Lock

The Guardians of the First Amendments Memorial’s team offered advice to other designers and installers looking for ways to incorporate Organic-Lock products into their own projects.

Design: All project team members agree that Organic-Lock is an ideal project for areas that require permeability without compromising accessibility or design intent.

Durability: Based on the project team’s experience at the memorial, even as pedestrian circulation increased across the site and flooding occurred, wear paths haven’t formed in the pavement.

Installation: Brooks advises that paying attention to compaction during installation is key to ensuring flush transitions between different materials.

Maintenance: With other aggregate products, maintenance can become an issue as the space is used, resulting in movement and distribution outside the site boundaries. With Organic-Lock, the design team noted that maintenance has been easier because the product “doesn’t travel,” according to Brooks.