July 30, 2022
The fanciful, theme-park landscaping and architectural design of Epic Systems‘ corporate campus made for a one-of-a-kind tour during the Madison Fling in June. While I’d read about Epic’s imaginative design, I had not heard about its ambitious efforts at sustainability. According to the company’s website:
“Epic’s buildings are all constructed sustainably and powered in part by alternative energy. Farmers crop nearly 350 acres of our land, and we’ve strived to use minimally impervious concretes for our parking structures and roads to prevent runoff. The majority of our parking spaces are also underground, reducing our footprint and preserving the idyllic countryside. Our buildings are heated and cooled by 1000s of miles of geothermal pipes reaching 500 feet underground. As a software company, we recognize that we use a lot of energy – we’ve installed six wind turbines and 18 acres of solar panels to help meet our energy needs. On a bright windy day we’re practically off the grid.”
Hiking across Epic’s expansive campus, we came to a sunny field awash with coneflowers. Beautiful and pollinator friendly? Yes and yes. But also, our guide informed us, this is part of an extensive green-roof system atop an underground parking garage.
In fact, nearly all of Epic’s 9,000 parking spaces (as of 2018) are underground, with planted gardens on top. “If this were all surface parking, we’d have between 120 and 150 acres of asphalt,” according to Steve Dickman, Epic’s chief administration officer, in The Country Today. Instead of asphalt and cars baking in the sun, Epic chose coneflowers and other plants, wildlife habitat, rainwater infiltration, heat reduction, and beautiful park-like spaces for their employees to enjoy.
I call that a win-win-win for employees, plants and wildlife, and Planet Earth.
Can you imagine walking outside your office to views like this instead of parking lots?
I can, and it would be a huge selling point.
Of course underground parking garages must be hugely expensive. But everything we can do to make our landscapes and cities more “green” and resilient in the face of climate change is probably our most important endeavor now.
I love this apricot and burgundy color combo.
Meadowy grasses edged with a bit of mown lawn are prettier than just lawn, providing habitat and movement and requiring much less weekly maintenance and water than a lawn.
And at Epic you never know what fantastic beast will be striding through the plants.
Wild West garden
This part of the campus is older than the Storybook Campus I showed in Part 1, but it’s themed as well. The most surprising area to my eyes was an Arizona, red-rock desert garden dubbed the Wild West. What’s this doing in verdant Wisconsin?
“Why not?” Epic would answer. Unsurprisingly there were no ocotillos or saguaros. Instead, smoke trees, conifers, coneflowers, grasses, and sedums sub in for desert species. An expanse of red gravel mulch plays up the desert theme, as do expressive mustangs crafted from rusty horseshoes.
A metal dragonfly has alit on one horse’s nose. I’m curious to know what the seedlings coming up in the gravel might be. Any guesses?
In a more densely planted area, a massive serpent seems to slither along the ground, forked tongue tasting the air. Its head doubles as a garden bench.
Its patterned body “disappears” under some rocks and a flowering yucca and pops up again to run nearly the length of a building.
Just beyond the desert garden, a tropical-esque garden of big leaves, bananas, and jungly grasses creates an entirely different feel. A few Flingers hopped on the free Epic bicycles parked all around the campus and took off, enjoying a faster tour with the wind in their hair.
Circling around you come to an Asian-inspired office building.
A contemplative Japanese-style garden tucked between two buildings would be a lovely spot for a quiet outdoor lunch.
Here be dragons
Dragon art appears throughout this part of the campus, including a sentimental dragon holding a songbird…
…and a ferocious, three-headed dragon snarling and snapping from a moat.
A few more scenes as we dashed through the campus, like this astronomy-themed building entrance.
A silver chameleon zapping his tongue at something in a metal tree
Shapely pottery totems in a meadow garden
Prairie milkweed offering larval habitat to passing monarch butterflies
Clock-like flowers “blooming” in a birch grove
An epic-sized vase of flowers outside the main entrance
The Tin Man from Oz directing traffic in the visitor and customer parking lot (one of the few surface lots)
And a non-epic — rather modest, in fact — Epic sign.
What a place to work — and visit! Epic Systems invites the public to visit and take a self-guided tour Monday through Friday from 2:30 pm to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm. The gardens alone are fascinating, and you could easily spend a couple of hours exploring them. Believe it or not, Epic also allows covid-vaxxed visitors to poke around indoors. I’d love to come back and see the staircase to heaven and elevator to hell; the Harry Potter library, staircase, and astronomy tower; the conference-room treehouse; the rabbit-hole slide between floors; the new castaway-island building; and the Dungeons & Dragons-themed building. My fellow geeks, this place is made for you. Check Epic’s website for updates on visiting times or rules.
Or take a 17-minute video tour of the Epic campus, including interior spaces, on YouTube.
Up next: The creatively mobile driveway garden of Jane and Duane Milller. For a look back at Part 1 of my visit to Epic Systems’ fantasy landscaping and interiors, click here.
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