Green Roofs In Action by Zane Pace

Green Roofs In Action

If you’ve never seen a green roof, the concept can seem bizarre at first. When I explain green roofs to people, it can take them a while to understand that I am talking about actual vegetation on a rooftop, and not just using green as a stand-in for sustainable. So, for my first blog entry, I thought I would share some photos from my sustainable communities Germany study abroad. Germany is the home of modern green roof technology, and it is there that we can gain an idea of what green roofs look like in practice, rather than theory.

For comparison’s sake, here is our experimental green roof on top of the Langford architecture building:


One institution that was important in the development of green roofs in Germany is the ufaFabrik culture center in Berlin. Today’s ufaFabrik developed when young squatters took over the former UFA-Film copy center in 1979 and turned it into a center for developing alternative forms of work and living. UfaFabrik was then the site for various cultural, social, and ecological experiments, “based on the vision of a meaningful integration of the areas of living and working with culture, creativity, and community.” One of these ecological experiments was with green roofs, which now top most of the buildings on the site. These roofs are older than most green roofs you can see today, and provide a glimpse of how they look and age.


This is a picture of the café at the ufaFabrik, to show you what a green roofed building looks like from the ground. It’s sort of like a normal building, but with hair. Hair that cleans the local atmosphere, moderates local temperatures, reduces stormwater runoff, and lowers energy bills, among other things.


Standing on a green roof, you can begin to see how their widespread adoption could increase the amount of functional space on a city. On a sunny day, this roof looks like as nice a place as any to lay in the sun and read a book.

Not all green roofs need to be accessible to people, nor flat. The next two photographs show other roofs from ufaFabrik that highlight variations in the technology. As you can see, the roof on the left combines a green roof with a system of solar panels. While the panels would seem to conflict with the goal of growing plants, they in fact provide habitat for shade-tolerant species on the roof, increasing the biodiversity of the system. The energy produced from the panels combined with the savings from the green roof make this building extremely energy efficient.


The roof in the right picture is more like what you might imagine installing on your typical American residential home. As you can see, sloped green roofs are possible as well, and not unattractive.

Outside of ufaFabrik, we can see green roof technology applied to a number of different buildings, and consider how the nature of the green roof changes with the use of the building.

From the bell tower of the cathedral in Cologne, one can see a number of different buildings with green roofs.


This is a Maritim hotel building on the Rhine. The roof is a simple extensive system, but it does incorporate some ornamentals for hotel guests to look at. This, and the institutional building pictured below, provide an idea of how purely extensive green roofs often used on large facilities look. These are used primarily for their thermal insulation, ecological benefits, and long lifespan.


The third roof is in the courtyard of an office building, and, while inaccessible, we can see trees growing on it. Obviously, whoever commissioned this roof is aware that views of green space increase worker productivity and well-being.


Outside of Germany, I’ve seen other examples of green roofs in action as well.

When we visited Amsterdam, we used AirBnB to stay in an apartment located in a central Amsterdam development known as the Funenpark. The Funenpark is composed of multi-story apartment buildings surrounding a central, pedestrian-only park. Here is the view from the middle of the Funenpark.


The buildings create a noise barrier around the park, such that as soon as you cross into the funenpark the sirens and horns of Amsterdam traffic die away completely, replaced by birdsong and rustling leaves. There’s a school in the middle of the park, and Sundays see residents line picnic tables twenty on end for a community dinner. It is unlike anywhere I have ever been. It gives us an idea of how we can structure livable, green, high-density developments, and of how to incorporate green roofs into apartment buildings. Several of the buildings in the Funenpark feature greenroofs, and like the one pictured here. As you can see, patios from the upper story apartments are cut into the greenroof, allowing those residents access from their apartments.


My last example of a green roof in action is a somewhat different application from the others that we have seen. I found it last spring while wandering around Porto, Portugal. From one angle of approach, you can walk on top of it and not even realize you’re standing on a structure.


From a different angle, however, it becomes apparent that this seeming park in a square is in fact a small shopping center with a green roof on top.


This is one of the things that inspired me to look into green roofs, as it demonstrates how much they can do to improve our cities. Just by greening the roof, Porto was able to develop this square into both a beautiful greenspace and a functional commercial center. Ultimately, that’s what green roofs are about- not having to choose between enjoying the benefits of development and enjoying the benefits of nature.

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