S. Bry Sarté
John Wiley & Sons Inc.
111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030;
2010. 364 pages. $80 hardcover.

For the reader attempting to stay abreast of the rapidly evolving field of sustainable design, Sustainable Infrastructure is a gold mine of information. This self-described manual of solutions brings together the technical requirements of site design and civil engineering; the sustainability priorities of ecologists, biologists, urban planners, landscape architects, and regulators; and the aesthetic and humanistic values of architects, designers, and artists.

Author S. Bry Sarté is an engineer, environmental scientist, and artist whose firm creates infra­­structure that is both technologically sustainable and visually beautiful. Founder of the Sherwood Institute and Sherwood Design Engineers, he designs projects that unite civil engineering with the latest advances in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning. Interdisciplinary integration and innovation are his big ideas—breaking engineering out of its silo while working on the frontiers of green design.

This book is not your daddy’s civil engineering text. Instead of typical engineer’s equations and formulas, it offers an illustrated catalog of sustainable approaches to water supply, wastewater management, energy and greenhouse gases, and site planning. Sarté tells why sustainable infrastructure is needed and what it entails, but does not go into technical engineering detail on how to design it. He puts each infrastructure element into the context of supply and demand, and its relationship to other systems.

Why does graywater—the used wash water from sinks, showers, and laundries—offer a solution to droughts and water shortage problems? Because it is produced daily in consistent amounts year-round, unlike seasonal rainwater, and it can be more easily recycled and used as a reliable source of reclaimed water for irrigation and toilet flushing than can blackwater from toilets and kitchens.

The most basic system for graywater reuse is simply a pipe that routes used water to subsurface garden irrigation and groundwater recharge. More complex systems add pumps and disinfection, which allow graywater to be used in surface areas and back inside the building through a double-plumbed system. If soil conditions are favorable, constructed wetlands can treat large flows with minimal maintenance and low operating costs.

Like an encyclopedia, the book describes myriad types of sustainable infrastructure, such as residential rainwater harvesting, low-impact development, solar power, photo­voltaics, wind power, geothermal heating and cooling, green streets, solid waste management, blackwater treatment, and urban stormwater treatment facilities. But it is the chapters on design applications that show how to put these individual components together in coordinated plans.

For example, a sustainable infrastructure assembly enabled conversion of a derelict alleyway in downtown San Francisco into the Old Mint Plaza, one of the city’s new hot spots, with a nightclub, café, and restaurants. Green street strategies promote stormwater management within the public right-of-way. Surface runoff infiltrates through porous pavers, flows into a slot drain, and is collected in rain gardens for on-site retention and bioremediation. The resulting plaza is a vibrant public gathering place that also reduces stormwater runoff and recharges groundwater.

Sarté’s planning process generates sustainability metrics and goals through workshops and charrettes. Project requirements are compared with baseline conditions and sustainable solutions are designed. These include zero energy use, carbon-negative strategies, balanced low water use and renewable water sources, and life cycle material analyses. Although not mentioned, it would also seem that distributed infrastructure elements could be valuable in an urban resiliency strategy because they would be less vulnerable to disaster shocks than large centralized systems.

The sustainable planning process is seen at work in the Baietan area master plan along the Pearl River in Guangzhou, China. This city-scale project aims to transform 14 square miles (36 square km) of heavily industrialized land, including one of the world’s largest steel mills, into a city of the future focusing on service industries and ecological regeneration. Half the site will be converted to open space with a network of greenways (ecological corridors) and blueways (streams and waterways) surrounding a dense, mixed-use core. Metrics are critical for implementing the plan, whose measurable standards are drawn from the One Planet Living (OPL) program, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Neighborhood Development and New Construction programs, and China’s Green Star program.

Fittingly, this unique book has a unique ending. The conclusion section, which is just over one page long, notes that the field is rapidly changing, with more to cover than a single book can handle, and directs the reader to an evolving, online resource at www.sherwoodinstitute.org where access to new technologies and practice breakthroughs will be posted.