Category Archives: Sustainable Green Roofs

Green vegetated roofs in the theory of landscape and architecture

Ecological space + a little social space: Green roof on California Academy of Sciences

Ecological space + (a little) Social Space (Green roof on California Academy of Sciences)

In Germany, vegetated green roofs are often classified as:

  • intensive (ie treated as a garden, typically with exotic plants, irrigation, turf and social use)
  • extensive (ie treated as habitat, without irrigation or maintenance)

I prefer to look at green roofs from a more Vitruvian standpoint and consider their roles as:

  • visual space [Delight]
  • ecological space [Firmness]
  • social space [Commodity]

Image courtesy clickykbd.  The California Academy of Sciences designed by Renzo Piano and ‘The Living Roof´s 1.7 million native plants were specially chosen to flourish in Golden Gate Park´s climate.’  There is a small terrace for viewers but the predominant role of the green roof is Ecological Space.

Visual space+ social space: Singapore School of Art Media and Design

Visual space+ Social Space (Singapore School of Art Media and Design)

” This 5 story facility sweeps a wooded corner of the campus with an organic, vegetated form that blends landscape and structure, nature and high-tech and symbolizes the creativity it houses.”  The  green roof is open to the public and, like the roof of Australia’s Parliament Building in Canberra, is surfaced with mown grass. Image courtesy teddy-rised It is  not ecological space:  the grass is irrigated and  mown. The building was designed by CPG Consultants.

Ecological space only: University of Illinois at Springfield

Ecological Space only (University of Illinois at Springfield)

The Springfield Illinois green roof is ecological space, only. It is not visual space or social space. Image courtesy jeremywillburn,

Visual space + Social space: Roof on the HQ of the American Society of Landscape Architects

Visual space + Social space:Roof ( HQ of the American Society of Landscape Architects in Washington DC)

The green roof on the American Society of Landscape Architects is visual space and social space but not ecological space – at leasst not as shown in this photograph (the roof has other eco-friendly characteristics).  Image courtesy drewbsaunders.

Zen: garden as house


Apart from what looks what looks unfortuneately like artifical turf on the roof – the Garden House by Takeshi Hosaka Architects with its tight triangular plan is a surprise and delight! Definitely a garden for my soul! The living spaces are designed around the edges of an enclosed garden courtyard, cleverly stacked and arranged to take advantage of every square mm of space, create privacy and capture views. In the photographs the garden is very young…it would be fantastic to revisit the house as the tree grows and the potted garden matures.

If you can’t resist viewing more  maybe a trip to Japan is in order…

London 2012 Olympic Village: Landscape & Garden

olympic_village_london_2012Here is a CGI image of London’s 2012 Olympic ‘Village’ flanked by photos of the Student ‘Village’ it is replacing. One regrets that the Trade Descriptions Act does not apply to the word ‘Village’. The Online Etymological Dictionary entry for Village has: “late 14c., “inhabited place larger than a hamlet but smaller than a town,” from O.Fr. village “houses and other buildings in a group” (usually smaller than a town), from L. villaticum “farmstead” (with outbuildings), noun use of neut. sing. of villaticus “having to do with a farmstead or villa,” from villa “country house” (see villa)” with Villa coming from from PIE *weik- “clan” (cf. Skt. vesah “house,” vit “dwelling, house, settlement;” Avestan vis “house, village, clan;”

So “village” is one of our most ancient words and it should mean a group of dwellings occupied by people who are related to each other and who relate to the surrounding land. The design for the London 2012 Olympic Village looks as though it might be in the valley of the Yellow River, providing modern blocks for groups of workers who no longer have any cultural or horticultural connection to the land on which they live.  Where are the sustainable green roofs on the Olympic ‘Village’? Or do they plan to build a new Pruitt-Igoe in London?

Sustainable energy, landscape architecture and the carbon cycle

The landscape architecture should consider the implications for the landscape of supplying the UK's energy demand when the oil runs out

The landscape architecture should consider the implications for the landscape of supplying the UK's energy demand when the oil runs out (image from the 10-page Synopsis, reproduced courtesy David Mackay)

So far as I know, there is only one excellent book on Sustainable Energy. It is available free and the author, David MacKay, has become a government advisor. Everyone should read the 10-page synopsis. My question is this: how will solar power affect the landscape and what can landscape architects do to help the shift to sustainable energy? Solar, Clean Coal, Nuclear, Tide, Wave, Hydro, Waste, Pumped Heat, Wood, Biofuel, Wind.

The European average for energy use is 125 kWh/day.  Covering the windiest 10% of Britain with onshore windfarms would yield 20 kWh/ day per person; covering every south-facing roof with solar water-heating panels would capture 13 kWh/day per person; wave machines intercepting Atlantic waves over 500 km of coastline would provide 4 kWh per day per person.

Do landscape architects have anything to say about the layout of giant solar farms? David MacKay believes they are the most promising solution in the longer term. And what about giant wind farms?

The sky's the limit


Vauxhall Sky gardens:

As garden-in-architecture skygardens are new to the urban design agenda. I suppose what we are talking about here when considering the introduction of skygardens into the garden and architecture typology is a form of greenhouse or biodome in the sky. Vauxhaull it would appear is a semi-private garden akin to the penthouse suite or the executive boardroom. While Fenchurch Street seems to promote public thoroughfare and viewing…even though it is not a podium space but rather akin to  garden- as- observation- deck.

Other projects are shown on  and but it will be even more interesting as the type gains popularity and skygardens become a more developed typology….

20 Fenchurch street:


Richard Rogers 'Sustainable' design for Chelsea Barracks

Left: my drawing of a sustainable city. Right: Rogers' drawing for Chelsea Barracks

Left: my drawing of a sustainable city. Right: Rogers' drawing for Chelsea Barracks

The above image shows my drawing of a sustainable city, left, and Richard Rogers design for the Chelsea Barracks, right. The upper part of Rogers’ drawing shows Ranelagh Gardens and the site of the Chelsea Flower Show.  I am of course mildly flattered that Richard Rogers has copied my idea but would like to point out that (1) the decent thing in cases like this is to acknowledge one’s sources, or offer a copyright fee (2) my drawing was a caricature, intended to show what should not be done in the name of sustainability (3) Rogers omitted the two redeeming features of my scheme: the green roofs were devoted to urban food production and the cyclist-friendly nature of the design proposal.

I was therefore very relieved to hear that,  after some caustic remarks by Prince Charles, the Qatari Royal family have decided not to go ahead with Rogers’ context-insensitive design. It makes ‘Plan Voisin’ mistakes without Corbusier’s flowing, if ill-conceived, parkland.  Rogers’ blocks are far too close together and  would have created some horribly narrow passageways.

Roger’s response to Prince Charles’ intervention has been to accuse him of constitutional impropriety. On this occasion, it is Rogers and his buddies from the architectural mafia, who have gone bonkers. It would be a sad day for democracy if the future King of England were banned from speaking his mind on the urban landscape of his capital city. What’s more, Prince Charles is very probably ‘speaking for England’ in the sense that more people hate than love Rogers’ paltry plagiarism of my idea. See Hugh Pearman’s blog for more details of this sorry affair. I am wondering if I should ask the University of Greenwich to withdraw the honorary doctorate it awarded to Richard Rogers, though he gave a good speech and was a very pleasant lunch guest.

Green Roof Typologies

Jorn Utzon called green roofs  ‘the fifth façade’ and there are many ways in which the public can interact with the new  landscapes evolving on roofs in our cities. Green roofs can be public space, private space or ecological space.


Fly-over roof (photo courtesy Eyesplash Photography)

The Vancouver Convention Centre is a great example of a green roof that is best viewed from on high, to appreciate the relationship between the man made and the natural landscape. The promotional images for this fantastic new building suggest that Vancouver has understood much of what has been achieved with this building But the full potential of the roofs as integral parts of cites  has yet to be  fully realised.


Walk-on roof (photo courtesy cityofsound)

Synthe Roof garden in Los Angeles is a laser cut roof surface that has been sculpted for landscape opportunities and for foot traffic on the surface. The garden is in the care of a popular restaurant in the building below. From this vantage point a different perspective on the city of Los Angeles is possible, as is the potential for more interesting forms of roofscape use and greening. This roof design suggests that new forms of roof + garden will be discovered through the green roof concept.

Parliament House Canberra green roof

canberra_parliament_green_roof1Seeing Green over new ground cover proposal for Parliament House

One way of promoting green roofs and investigating the question of their  accessibility is to look at some of the excellent examples which now exist.

Parliament House, Canberra is probably one of the world’s earliest and most successful green roofs. The Parliament House building was constructed in 1988 for $1.1 billion. The reason for the design of the green roof at the time was not due to sustainability as an imperative, rather it was conceived of “in order to preserve the shape of the hill on which it was built.” The Parliament building was constructed into the top of the hill and the roof was grassed over.

The issue of the grassed roof’s sustainability has been raised by the prolonged drought conditions of recent years. The architect of the original building, Romaldo Giurgola, is against all proposals to replant the roof with more sustainable hardy, native or drought tolerant plants. He believes that grass turf is an intimate part of the conception of the building and that any change “would completely destroy the form of the building.”

I suggest an online design competition to produce and debate alternative forms of cover which would satisfy the perceived need for a more sustainable ground cover and satisfy the demanding eye of the architect who rightly has regard to the heritage value of his work and to its design integrity. 

London with a green roof

London as it should be - greened

Thank you to Allen & Overy for opening their offices under the Open House scheme – and congratulations to them for having an office with genuinely green credentials. Roof space is used for solar panels, roof gardens or wildlife habitats (brown roofs). As the office brochure remarks ‘One of the best features of Bishops Square is the ability to hold barbecues in the summer or evening drinks on the terrace’. For me, it was a pleasure to see the City taking a small step towards the London equivalent of New York As it Should Be.

The City should designate its Square Mile as a Green Roof Zone.