Express a wish
in as much detail as you can fathom, and the Universe has a
chance of getting it right. I don’t know if this is a
cosmic truth, but my wish expressed in
an article last year
about living walls in Paris seems to have catalysed something.
Cosmic? Coincidental? Whatever the cause, my
concluding observations about Paris as a hot city with elusive
living walls and lacking green spaces have been officially
Since writing that article I’ve moved to England and am working
in the UK and in Germany. As a result, I’ve become a
regular visitor to Paris because all inter-continental rail
travel transfers there. What’s more, a good Parisian
friend, Benoît, recently returned to the City and has taken
great joy in showing me its non-touristy gems.
This follow-up article concedes that some of my conclusions
about Paris were unfair and premature. If I became
frustrated that some of the living wall objects on my list did
not exist, new ones now magically appear when least expected.
And if the cramped green spaces and scummy fountains left a bad
impression, I’ve since been introduced to some fantastic parks
that qualify as best-kept-secrets, even to Parisians
Stumble-Upon Living Walls
I’ve noticed it time and time again: only after becoming
familiar with something can we truly SEE it. In field
botany, for example, after identifying a new species by its
characteristics, a meadow that offered nothing beyond
indiscernible green texture suddenly appears dotted with so many
individuals of this species that you can’t imagine having missed
them before. The true joy of amateur botany is the
experience of newly identified species jumping out as you walk
by, singing out (in plant talk), “Hey, it’s me, remember me?”
The same happens with green roofs (see my blog about
seeing green roofs in Austria) and also, it seems, living
walls. The objects listed below are ones that I simply
stumbled upon, discovered without seeking. To discover without
seeking – what a delicious treat! It undoubtedly helps to
have “living architecture lenses,” and yet it’s still hard to
imagine how anyone could fail to notice such grandiose, vertical
vegetation amidst a concrete jungle. The two objects
listed below are close to two of Paris’ busy rail stations and,
with the right eyes, are easy to spot.
Mur Végetalisé, Gare du
This living wall is located beside Gare du Nord, facing a
windowless wall of the rail station and a ramp that connects the
bus transfer station with the front of the Gare. Benoît
passes by it almost every day and was just as surprised as me
when we noticed it. En francais donc, “Wouaou!”
This “mur végétalisé” doesn’t
seem to have been designed to impress anyone. The ramp onto
which it faces could be described as an alley, which few people
use since it is meant for buses. As mentioned, the wall of
the building opposite has no windows from which neighbours could
appreciate the sight.
For those blessed with the “living architecture lens,” however,
this wall is indeed impressive. If only for its
unimpressiveness. Enough said.
Mur Végetalisé, near Gare de
Travelers journeying by rail from England to Germany arrive at
Gare du Nord and continue via transfer at Gare de l’Est.
These stations are quite close to each other, perhaps a
15-minute stroll. And just as the surreptitious wall at
Gare du Nord welcomed me, so I was sent on my merry way with a
leafy “au revoir” by another surprise treat.
Is that a living
View from the street.
It is indeed,
and a massive one at that!
This wall is freely accessible
from the street (Rue Faubourg St-Denis), and although it has a
courtyard feel to it the space is clearly one of thoroughfare.
I saw many people walking through but no one stopped to admire
the living wall. Given the nature of the neighbourhood,
and judging from the people passing through, I guess this might
be a pedestrian commuter path. If I walked from a point A
to B with the option to pass through this quiet, fresh-smelling
and ambient oasis, I know I would take it! Only after
having my photo taken with the wall (quelle touriste bizarre…)
did I notice the man with briefcase walking behind. Is his
head bent under the weight of pressing thoughts, or is he
absorbing the verdure and sounds of dripping water?
tourists stop to admire, it seems.
At the base of the wall (~8
stories), an exit ramp from an underground car-park emerges to
meet the street. For those who wish to find this wall,
note that the pedestrian entrance is via this exit, through the
buildings’ exterior wall. The courtyard itself is
sparingly landscaped otherwise, with small potted trees about 4
m tall. Indeed, by contrast with the living wall, the
trees are minuscule.
Of these walls, both bear Patrick
Blanc’s signature: organically flowing patterns, colours and
textures, floristic groups arranged according with elevation,
and the same planted geotextile system. Irrigation is
apparently generous, too, as confirmed by the trough running
along the base of the system. Without inspecting the
object too closely, one will nonetheless notice that the
planting is far from static: while the majority of the wall is
covered in lush and leafy verdure, there are also some large
patches of senescent vegetation, as well as some presumed
volunteers (e.g. Urtica). In this sense, the
English term, living wall, is a perfect translation for
Special green spaces in Paris:
connective yet subtle
My critique of Paris’ lacking green spaces and its algal-crusted
fountains was sharply challenged after a few visits in early
2010. I admit that the impression from my initial visit in
July 2009 likely suffered under clumsy tourist experience.
And of course, these refreshed impressions would not even have
been possible without the genuine enthusiasm and friendship of a
local guide. Still, it is clear that the magic of a city
like Paris lies in the countless nooks and crannies that could
take a lifetime to discover. Below are
two that I quite like:
The Floral Promenade, or La Promenade Plantée
Designed by the architect Philippe Mathieux and landscaped by
Jacques Vergely, this raised urban promenade is a concept
recently adapted by other cities, most notably in New York’s
High Line. Formerly an elevated rail line that terminated
at the Bastille, the route was discontinued in 1970 and fell
into disrepair. In 1979, it became clear that
should be conserved rather than demolished, and so the idea of
converting it into a green corridor took root.
The planted promenade was
completed in 1988, and has created a continuous green corridor
through the 12th arrondissement. The Viaduc lies north of
the river Seine and the Gare de Lyon, and runs parallel to both.
The original infrastructure around the rail line remains intact,
including viaducts, tunnels, and ravines, and several parks
connect the promenade with the street. Joggers can run,
uninterrupted, 4.5 km from the Bastille to Bois de Vincennes,
through an otherwise heavily congested and built-up part of the
on the Planted Promenade is yellow!
Along with that of Saint-Denis, Canal Saint-Martin was designed
as part of a waterway network to by-pass the major bend in the
River Seine and facilitate the delivery of coal.
Construction of the canals began under Napoleon I in 1802 and
was completed by 1825. Having endured the cycle of
industrial growth and decay, not to mention the threat of
destruction by a proposed motorway, Canal Saint-Martin today is
a tranquil and picturesque spot that can be enjoyed by foot,
bicycle, inline skates or by boat.
Hand-powered lift locks permit boat and barge travel from
the Seine in the South to the Bassin de la Villete and Canal
de l'Ourq in the North.
This area remains a bit of an
unknown secret, I’ve learned, even to Parisians. Slowly
but surely, little shops and cool cafés have sprouted along the
canal – signs of the neighbourhood’s gentrification, as young
professionals move into the formerly working class area.
The newly redeveloped theatre district further upstream – Mk2
Quai de Seine and
Mk2 Quai de Loire – is attributed to the cultural revival of
the formerly seedy 19th arrondissement.
colourful facade of
Antoine & Lili’s faces the Canal on rue des Martyrs.
I’m truly thankful for the opportunity to revisit and cast off
my poor first impressions of Paris. Merci beaucoup à
Benoît de m'avoir montré ces endroits spéciaux. Now, my
opinion humbled, I’m optimistic that more examples of
site-specific and creative urban greenery will continue to
If you have the chance to follow in my
foot-steps and use my maps, please let me know how it goes. And of
course, if you happen to discover more magical green spaces in Paris,
I’d love to know about them! Please drop me a comment or email,
I’d love to hear from you.
has a MSc from the Penn State "Centre for Green Roof Research" (2005)
and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield.
As our Student Editor since 2004, Christine responds to queries and
enjoys connecting people and interests. Sign up
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Christine is best defined by
Chlorophyllocity, through which her many interests and activities
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Vertical Gardens in Paris,
By Christine Thüring
August 4, 2009
All Photos by Christine Thüring unless otherwise noted.
garden gazing in Paris.
early July 2009, the stars aligned to take me on a long-awaited
trip to Paris, France. This may seem a bit dramatic, since
booking a weekend to visit a major city on the same continent
shouldn’t require celestial cooperation. Well, for
whatever reasons, I had yearned to visit Paris for a long time
but had never found the time or impetus to do so.
The reason for my interest in
Paris is living walls, locally known as murs végétalisés or
vertical gardens, as designed by the famous botanist-cum-artist,
Patrick Blanc. I learned about these walls from a French intern
who came to
BCIT to learn about green roofs. At the time,
Nicolas was a student at the
French Institut National
d'Horticulture, and had also worked for a company specializing
in vertical garden installations. For us green roof folk, Nicolas’ perspective was unique and
exotic. His photos revealed a dimension of ecological art which
I’d never even dreamed could exist, neither conceptually nor
logistically. What a treat!
And so it came about that in early July 2009, the perfect
combination of invitations drew me, ﬁnally, to Paris.
Completely independent of each other, some good friends from
Canada were in Paris that same weekend. It’s always good
to re-connect with friends, especially in new cities.
Moreover, my home in the Tyrolean Alps had been trapped under
bottomless rain clouds for weeks, and the cold dreariness was
starting to get under my skin. Thus I prepared a detailed
map of projects, booked my train, and spent a glorious long
weekend in sunny Paris.
Further to Nicolas’
suggestions, I compiled a list of projects from Patrick Blanc’s
and from other websites. Of the eight projects on my list,
I visited five and photographed three. Time constraints
and/ or geographic inconvenience prevented me from even
attempting to ﬁnd the projects at Jardin d’Acclimatation, Bois
de Vincennes, and Montparnasse. For the ﬁrst two, I lacked
addressed locations, which implied a high probability of aimless
searching, and the third, Fondation Cartier in Montparnasse, is
closed on Mondays.
Map of visited vertical garden locations in Paris, via
The ﬁrst day in Paris began much like that of any tourist, at
the famous Charles de Gaule Étoile. From this remarkable
monument, which unites nine major streets and is the ﬁrst
intentional trafﬁc round-about in the world, we took a brief
stroll down the Champs Elysées, forked off south-west and found
the ﬁrst site of interest.
Without address in hand, I would not likely ever have set foot
inside this elegant hotel. Built in 1929 and since under
the sponsorship of certain élite groups, one has the sense of
entering a club of sorts . I think we were lucky with our
timing, as the sound of vacuum cleaning and lack of guests
suggested the hotel was in downtime and could accept silly
guests off the streets. Out of respect for the hotel, I
have not named it here.
of vertical garden in Hotel xyz, Paris.
The vertical garden in the
courtyard of this hotel is so big, and the courtyard so tight,
that anything other than a ﬁsh-eye lens fails to capture the
full scene. The garden covers one side of the courtyard,
from the ground-ﬂoor up to the the building’s parapet. The
other walls of the courtyard feature windows and small balconies
of cast iron ﬁligree. The courtyard itself is a chic
dining area with leather couches, a sweeping candle arrangement,
and elegant table dressings.
At the top, where the vertical garden meets with a small square
of blue sky, birds ﬂit around and send leaves ﬂoating lazily
down to land quietly on the exquisitely set tables. The
angle imparted by the shrubs creates a bizarre optical illusion
to the observer below. As you look to the upward-growing
shrubs, your sense of gravity begins to waver: suddenly you
don’t know whether the shrubs are horizontal, or if perhaps they
are actually vertical and the earth has shifted beneath you such
that you are the horizontal one. Certainly our tea was
expensive, but we didn’t expect it to render such an effect!
This vertical garden is clearly the work of
a botanist. The bottom third of the wall, which receives only
hosts a tropical composition of at least 25 species of orchids, ferns,
and ﬂowering plants. This part of the wall may be Patrick Blanc’s
signature, as he has been a researcher of subtropical jungles since
1982. The middle part of the wall is planted mostly with ferns,
small shrubs, and mat-forming herbs. Finally, the top section of
the wall is planted with sun-loving shrubs, including some very obvious
Musee du Quai Branly
One of Blanc’s most famous vertical gardens in Paris covers the entire
north-west facade of the Musée Quai Branly. Again the ecologist’s
touch is obvious here: the facade is oriented to the north-west, facing
the River Seine with just a park and small streets in between, such that
the climatic conditions permit the middle range of plants as seen in the
Hotel, with the top again featuring sun-lovers like Buddleia.
Musée du Quai Branly.
As with any interesting feature of landscape architecture, it’s
interesting to watch people’s reactions to such a dramatic wall of
vegetation. Faced with something so strange, so new, so
surprising, all observers are united as one. Whether security
guards, architects, grandmothers, living architecture fans or normal
tourists, each of us experiences at least a moment of awe.
Of course that’s when the questions set it, the curiosity that can
quickly transform the magic of creation into logical formulae.
How are the plants held in from falling out? What kind of
substrate do they grow in? How much maintenance is required?
How often are plants replaced? How much water does it need (or
rather, how wet does it need to stay)? Where does the water
come from and how is it supplied?
Musée du Quai Branly, something for everyone
(with the Eiffel Tower nearby).
Fortunately, the magic of these
vertical gardens is easily maintained as it’s difﬁcult to ﬁnd the
answers to such questions. Patrick Blanc himself is highly
inaccessible. At best, the local employees can say that the
murs végétalisés require a lot of water. The waiter at the
Hotel said their vertical garden is automatically watered ﬁve times/
day. I recall some of Nicolas’ photos showing Musée de Quai
Branly fronted by a sidewalk of puddles.
Musee du Quai Branly - a
My third and ﬁnal vertical garden in Paris was on a small medieval
street in downtown Paris, above a storefront window. BHV (from
Bazaar de l’Hôtel de Ville)
is a big department store in France with its ﬂagship store facing
Rue Rivoli and l’Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). One block behind the
grandness of the main building, BHV Homme sits humbly facing its
rear facade. Covering about 2/3 of this small, shadowed building, a
vertical garden radiates a green vibrancy that is totally contrary
to its built environment.
BHV Homme, 12 rue Temple en Paris.
I was struck by the local climatic
conditions facing this apparently successful project.
Considering Paris’ characteristically hot summers, the south-west
vantage of this facade and its concrete environment ought to be
deadly for any plant. However, being located in the medieval
district of Le Marais, which is typiﬁed by tight little streets, Rue
Temple feels more like a sunken moat than a street. Indeed,
the walls of the main BHV store rise steep and high for the whole
length of the block. Could it be that the vertical garden here
is protected by this shading, like an urban canyon? Does the
angle of the street, with relation to the sun’s path, further
protect the vertical garden from dessication?
BHV Homme, 12 rue Temple en Paris.
As at Musée Quai Branly, here we ﬁnd the
familiar middle- and top plant palettes, with impressive shrubs creating
shade at parapet heights. My visit to the site was at around
15:00, and the vertical garden was in full sun (although neighbouring
buildings were shaded). I wonder whether the vertical garden is
shaded for the majority of the day? It’s clear that the sun has
limited range on Rue Temple, but clearly there is enough to maintain a
vibrant vertical garden.
Summary: Vertical Gardens in Paris
In summary, I scouted a total of five sites and was rewarded with three
existent projects. Regarding water consumption by these systems,
I’m certain that approaches for sustainable water use could easily be
integrated, if not already so (e.g. greywater recycling). In
addition to those mentioned, I look forward to returning to Paris in in
2016 to visit the vertical garden in Musée de Radio France (currently
under construction). I also learned that the Ministere de Culture
does not actually have a vertical garden (hopefully this has been
updated on Patrick Blanc’s website by now), but features rather a 170 m2
experimental garden recreating an Australian dry forest in an
Left: Radio France,
Paris. Right: Ministere de Culture, Paris.
Green spaces in Paris
Beyond these luxurious vertical gardens I was surprised at how little
green space Paris has. Having has been settled for over 2,000 years and
spared destruction by WW2, most of the city’s green spaces are remnants
from the past. Extravagant gardens of the rich, for example, have since
become important lungs and recreation grounds for the city.
For instance, Marie de Médici’s Florentine-style garden at Palais de
Luxembourg is an essential green space for the Left Bank of the Seine,
while Catherine de Médici’s formal Tuileries Gardens now spreads before
the Louvre. Cemeteries also represent major green spaces, as do
institutional military ﬁelds (e.g. Champs Mars by the Eiffel Tower, or
Esplanade des Invalides). Unfortunately, sitting or walking on the
grass in these parks is not always permitted.
We wanted to lie on the
grass and this is what we got.
Relaxing with wine in
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris.
I was also surprised at the quality of water
in Paris’ fountains and ponds. In front of the Gothic church of
St. Eustache, for instance, the elaborately landscaped waterfalls and
pools were completely dried out, nothing but ﬁne green algae clinging to
life in the few remaining wet spots. It was surreal to observe
people engaged in the usual city park activities (reclining, sitting,
reading, sketching, nuzzling, etc.), seemingly oblivious to the fact
that their backdrop is a pool of scum rather than a bubbling waterfall.
This was not the only such green pond in Paris, either.
Left: St. Eustache,
Paris. Right: Eglise St-Merri, Paris.
As if Niki
St-Phalle’s sculptures lack colour.
Nevertheless, in spite of the intensely
urbanized places, Paris does behold some green features. Near the
modernized area of Les Halles, a series of trellised pathways grant
lovely shade and connect the network of landscaped public gardens.
These allées would have been built around late 1970s when, after 800
years as Paris’ original marketplace, the area was demolished and
Trellis walking paths in
Les Halles, Paris, France.
In addition to the few renovated areas of
the city, many of Paris’ modern buildings have rooftop gardens, some
which are visible from below.
Roof gardens near Champs
Mars, Paris. Eiffel Tower looms, right.
As with any place,
Paris has its share of urban problems, some of them unique to
the place. With so much history intact, fitting modernity into
this mould is a work of cultural art. The city is obviously open
to green measures, as demonstrated by much of the new
construction. And certain change is on its way, with President Sarkozy’s ambitious Grand Project that will transform Paris into
a model “Post-Kyoto Metropolis of the 21st Century” by 2030 (Cité
de l'architecture et du patrimoine and
One thing is for
sure: Patrick Blanc’s list of projects continues to grow,
internationally and locally, and his hometown of Paris is surely
the richer for this contribution of ecological art and vertical
Roof garden view from
Notice Bois de Vincennes on horizon.
Reporting on the 2nd International Green Roof Congress 2009 –
Bringing Nature Back to Town
June 20, 2009
All Photos Courtesy Christine Thüring unless otherwise noted.
the new part of town on the Zeppelin NT - greenroofs galore!
May 25 – 28th 2009, representatives from five continents came
together to celebrate and discuss green roof technology in the
Nürtingen (~30 km south of Stuttgart). The
2nd International Green Roof Congress 2009 was jointly
hosted by the
International Green Roof Association (IGRA) and the
Gardener Association (DDV), with patronage from the
Federal Ministry of
Transport, Building and Urban Affairs.
attended the 2nd International Green Roof Congress from 40
countries! Map Courtesy IGRA.
the first event in 2004, this
second congress featured speakers from 10 countries and drew 270
delegates from 40 countries. Simply walking the exhibition or
meandering through a coffee break was akin to moving through an
international airport. While English was the primary language,
countless accents were undeniably present and many original languages
rang out in communicative chorus. When recalling the diversity of
professions in attendance (architects, roofers, botanists, developers,
academics, planners, etc.), and combining this with the internationality
of the assembly, one gains a sense of how exciting and significant green
roof technology has become, if only in cross-linking boundaries and
cultures and overlapping disciplines.
European and Eurasian presence extended
across the full geographic range, from Ireland and Spain, through
Israel, Macedonia and Serbia, and everything in between. Asia/
Oceania sent representatives from China, Thailand, Singapore, India and
Australia, while the Americas sent professionals from Chile through
Brazil, up through Montserrat and Puerto Rico, the U.S. and Canada.
In short, the congress lived up to its name, unlike any green roof
gathering to date!
break and a time to catch up with old friends! Photo
Source and Courtesy: IGRA.
IGRA 2009: Program (May 25-27,
In the classic tradition of European
conferences, the K3N Stadthalle in Nürtingen was an elegant and
perfect-sized venue for the congress. Comfortable conference rooms
and excellent catering set the atmosphere indoors, while the
neighbouring park and terrace café made fresh air a nice treat.
On May 25th, IGRA offered two excursions
for the experientially inclined. Both excursions were booked out,
with 70 people touring Stuttgart region (in a double-decker bus) and 50
people visiting projects along the Rhine to the German solar capital,
Freiburg. A perfectly sunny day (perhaps even a tad hot) blessed
the excursions, as the following two days of presentations would present
thunder storms and cooler temperatures.
One of many
green roof/ solar installations in Freiburg.
That evening, all congress participants
united for a catered reception hosted by the Mayor of Nürtingen. The
Kreuzkirche, a church renovated in the 1980s and since used for cultural
events, is associated with the K3N town hall across the park.
Welcoming speeches were made by the Mayor, IGRA president Roland Appl,
and by President of the German Roof Gardener Association (DDV), Reimer
The congress took full advantage of the
facilities at K3N (Kunst. Kultur. Kongresse. Nürtingen), with a big hall
hosting the sessions on green roof architecture, and two smaller
conference rooms for concurrent workshops: policy measures, and
planning/ installation. Simultaneous translation was available for
all sessions with special headsets (while adrenaline-pumped translators
steamed up their booths at the back of the hall).
Session: Green Roof Architecture
The Green Roof Architecture presentations introduced successful and
idealistic realizations of living architecture, whetting participants’
appetites and boosting the creative enthusiasm in the room to a nearly
perceptible buzz. Indeed, perhaps as a blinking bumblebee
perceives its first flowering meadow of spring, the diversity of
projects was so abundant and colourful that intellectual and creative
thirsts were quenched to euphoric bliss.
Ambasz, acknowledged pioneer in the field of green
architecture, inspired the audience with his concept “The
Green over the Grey.” Photo Source and Courtesy: IGRA.
masterpiece of green roof architecture: Fukuoka Prefectural
International Hall (ACROS) in Japan. Photo Source: IGRA,
Courtesy: Hiromi Watanabe.
The unique visions of architect
accompanied by his own fables, made not only for a poetic presentation
but also a dreamy keynote later that evening. From Copenhagen, the
Mountain Dwellings, which “combine the splendours of the suburban
backyard with the social intensity of urban density,” has won many
awards including “world’s
best residential building.” Other stunning projects included
FiftyTwo Degrees in Nijmegen, Fusionopolis in Singapore,
Zaragoza’s International Exhibition,
California Academy of Sciences, and many more. Experts on
passive house design
and solar building
design illuminated the abundance of solar energy that is
Workshop: An international comparison of funding and support for
Congress participants broke into two groups for the afternoon of day 1.
In the policy meeting, municipal representatives from various cities
presented their programs, experiences and lessons with regards to green
roof support and programming. German cities included Düsseldorf,
Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Munich, and Berlin, while international
representation from Linz (Austria), London (UK), Portland (USA), and
Copenhagen (Denmark) rounded the session off. Lively discussions
were enhanced by an unexpected power outage caused by a thunder storm.
Workshop: Planning, Installation and Maintenance
With input from experts each certified with lifetimes’ worth of
practical experience, this workshop covered the basics with regards to
green roof planning, installation and maintenance. From the
essential basics on waterproofing, to tips in plant selection, the
workshop also granted essential plant information from a nursery, as
well as installation and maintenance experiences from Germany and the
IGRA Awards 2009
For exemplary municipal engagement in promoting green roofs, the cities
of Düsseldorf and Copenhagen received the IGRA Municipality Award. As
the first large German city to conduct a comprehensive mapping program
for green roofs, Düsseldorf has identified more than 730,000 m² green
roofs. Read more about this in Katja Holzmüller’s article "Climate
protection, naturally – green roofs in Düsseldorf: financial support and
quantitative analysis of aerial photographs." Dorthe Rømø
received this same award for Copenhagen, for having introduced green
roofs as a new initiative with opportunistic basis in the momentum from
the upcoming UN Climate
Change Conference, which will be hosted in the Danish capital in
Weng, Managing Director of ZinCo Singapore Ltd and green
roof consultant of the project “Fusionopolis Phase 1”
received the IGRA Award on behalf of the JTC Corporation;
Photo Source and Courtesy: IGRA.
gardens of Fusionopolis serve as the green lungs and social
pockets for the office and lab staff; Photo Source: IGRA;
Courtesy: ZinCo Singapore Ltd.
For the IGRA Architecture/ Construction
Award, architecture firm Donnig + Unterstab of Rastatt was distinguished
for establishing a new model for school buildings: a passive house
design, this school in Neckargemünd features an extensive green roof and
three large-scale photovoltaic facilities. From Singapore, Jurong
Town Corporation (JTC) was also distinguished for its project
“Fusionopolis” which features intensive green roofs on the 5th, the
17th/ 18th and the 21st/ 22nd floors, with the highest roof garden at
approximately 80 m altitude.
In his forward, the patron of the 2nd International Green Roof Congress,
Wolfgang Tiefensee (Federal Minister of Transport, Building and Urban
Affairs) stated that “The way in which we design our cities plays a key
role in making our society sustainable.” The vision of human
activities in harmony with nature may seem like a dream of the future to
many. On the very last day of the congress, however, IGRA
demonstrated the living truth of this vision. On May 28, 2009,
from the quiet levitation of a Zeppelin, the congress’ final green roof
excursion showed how urban districts with green roofs can blend into the
At a consistent altitude of 300 m, a
happy group of green roof professionals (max. 12/ flight) floated
quietly above the idyllic patchwork landscape of Lake Constance’s north
shore. Of the panorama windows inside the gondola, several are
operable to permit photography without Plexiglas scrapes or glare.
In fact, Zeppelins have been used for the special niche for aerial
photography since the early 1930s. Research missions of difficult
and/ or vast landscapes (like the Arctic or great deserts) benefit
tremendously from the excellent maneuverability and propulsion of
airships, not to mention minimal vibration, quiet propellers and a
gondola with great layout flexibility.
Zeppelin showed us a green world from above.
Back in 1895, Count Ferdinand von
Zeppelin received Patent No. 98580 for the first “dirigible airship with
several lifting bodies arranged in series bow-to-stern.” His
Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, established in 1908, still exists today;
one of its subsidiaries, Luftfahrzeug Motorenbau GmbH, was the precursor
of Maybach Motorenbau GmbH, today’s MTU. At the height of its
popularity, in 1929 the LZ 127 embarked on a round-the-world trip with
four stopovers (Tokyo, Los Angeles, Lakehurst NY, and Friedrichshafen,
Germany). During the 1930s, the LZ 127 offered very popular and
constantly booked out passages from Europe to South America.
Before the tragic Hindenburg accident in 1937 in Lakehurst NY, the LZ
127 had traveled 590 accident-free trips covering a total of 1,700,000
Unlike its technological forefather from the adventuresome turn of the
century, the Zeppelin NT (New Technology) is filled with non-flammable
helium, and has powerful engines with swiveling propellers,
state-of-the-art avionics and fly-by-wire flight controls which enable
maneuvers similar to those of helicopters. The rigid framework of
the Zeppelin NT, also different from the original design, comprises
triangular carbon-fibre frames and three aluminum longerons braced by
aramide cables. All the main components of the airship, including
gondola, empennage and engines, are mounted on this rigid structure.
above the North Shore of Lake Constance.
This excursion was peaceful yet exciting
at the same time. Passenger exchange is carried out as a dynamic
balancing act: while the Zeppelin sits lightly on the ground, its tail
moving in whichever direction the prevailing winds push it, two
passengers quickly disembark so that 2 new passengers can board.
Once in flight, the landscape below is close enough to physically sense
its different qualities (e.g. air quality of forest vs. town vs.
shopping centre) yet far enough for the “model” effect, where cars look
like toys and people like ants. Along the route from
Friedrichshafen to Ravensburg, we passed over orchards, forests,
farms, towns, shopping centres, etc. We saw residential
developments that have been entirely covered with green roofs, or which
were built in the 1970s or 1980s and are being renovated one green roof
at a time.
Overall, this 2nd International Green Roof Congress was a tremendous
success (see the International Green Roof Congress 2009 "Green Roof
Visions Perfectly Transferred" Press Release
here). The program and quality of participation aside, its
organization was excellent, from flawless excursions to secure coat
check. For participants staying near Stuttgart airport, an awkward
location for public transit, the congress kindly arranged a special
shuttle service. The food was also very good, even for the
vegetarian audience (which is remarkable in this land of meat and
potatoes): many Swabian specialties were complemented by nice salad
buffets (including asparagus cocktails!), beautiful dessert spreads, and
lots of fresh fruit and juices throughout the day. From the
ubiquitous logo, it was clear that the event’s biggest sponsor was
ZinCo GmbH, and the majority of presenters used ZinCo systems for
their projects. Nevertheless, any exclusivity or specific jargon
could be easily tuned out given so many other superlatives comprising
The proceedings from this congress are
stunning not only in the thoroughness of documentation (all papers
available in full length, English or German), but also in the quality of
the colour print and binding. Proceedings are available under
here, for €39.80 plus shipping and handling
For green roof professionals, such conferences strengthen our sense of
community, enhance our knowledge, connect people, refresh our visions,
and sometimes even present magical glimpses of those visions manifest.
The vision of a world which, from above, is covered with
photosynthesizing plants and solar energy harvesters may be inspiration
Now consider the proof from the IGRA
congress that so many and various interest groups and sectors agree with
this shared vision; moreover that the idea of rooftop greening is so
effectively spreading to other parts of the world! I would hazard
to guess that all 270 participants from the 2nd IGRA congress returned
home inspired, motivated, encouraged, and stoked to be part of this
Please drop us a line below with your comments!
aside, in Nürtingen you can stroll along the Neckar River or
visit narrow alleys with medieval backdrops
and picturesque corners.
Green Buildings in India
By Christine Thüring
All Photos by Christine Thüring unless otherwise noted.
The CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green
Business Centre (also known as CII or CIIGBC) earned a LEED® rating of 56
and became certified “LEED Platinum” in
Photo Source Left: Christine Thüring;
CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre.
early January 2009, I was fortunate to visit the first green
roof in India. Further to
hosting these unique “roof gardens,” the
Confederation of Indian Industries
(CII) building in Hyderabad was also the first LEED®
Platinum rated Green Building outside the USA at
the time of its
opening in 2004. In fact, at the time of its construction, it was
one of only a handful of LEED Platinum buildings in the world!
Before getting into the details of the building, I cannot overlook my
luck or the goodwill that permitted this spontaneous visit. Truly, my
chances of finding this green roof were so close to nil I may as well
have been looking for a needle in a haystack. Despite months of
attempted networking, I remained without any responsive contacts. I was
uncertain of the name of the building since, I would discover, I’d been
using the wrong keywords. Even after I’d found my way to the city
district where the building is located, my inquiries about anything
“green” were met either with disappointment (as Indians really wish to
be helpful) or offers to sell green things (e.g. t-shirt).
It may have been Luck, but I’d like to think that any of Hinduism's 30
million gods have a soft spot for determined green roof enthusiasts.
Whatever the reason, somehow I championed all these obstacles and found my way to
the CII building. How exciting to see the green roofs from the street
entrance! After four weeks traveling around South India, I felt like I’d
found my way home, to something familiar yet exotic and new. Stoked with
luck and radiating blessedness, now imagine being told by Security that
admission was impossible due to the 4-day festival of Sankranthi: the
entire nation was on holiday, could I return next week?
Beyond simple amenity, the
courtyard serves as a light well granting 90% of the
interior spaces with daylighting and natural views.
A few times in my life I’ve experienced moments of such desperation that
the world seems to slip into a different dimension, if only for a split
second. In this case, the chemistry of stoke combined with sudden and
profound disbelief must have transmitted a charge to the depths of the
Universe. After some time spent between negotiations and alternating
team huddles, one of many security guards informed me that I would be
met by someone who happened to be in for the day. I could enter.
LEED® Platinum in
India – CII, Hyderabad
While the rest of the country was flying kites and eating sweets to
celebrate the 4-day harvest festival of Sankranthi, I was extremely
fortunate to meet with Mr. K. Sivaram, an energy specialist and
Counsellor at CII, who was just in to catch up on some work. After
weeks of absolute foreignness, what a strangely comforting touch of
familiarity this presented! Mr. Sivaram generously toured me around the
site and, over a cup of sweet chai, explained to me the status,
experience and vision for green architecture in India.
Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) opened its first chapter in
Hyderabad in early 2000. With support from the
U.S. Green Building Council
(USGBC), IGBC created its own LEED® Green Building Standard by
fine-tuning the ratings to reflect Indian conditions and priorities
(e.g. more points for water conservation). As of January 1, 2007, the
LEED® India Green Building rating system has certified a number of
LEED®-New Construction and LEED®-Core and Shell buildings in India. The IGBC has
six chapters, with the steering committee seated in Hyderabad.
The CII is the first building in India to achieve LEED® certification
Mr. Sivaram explained, this building serves for demonstration, but is
also considered an experiment “to see what can be achieved.” It
comprises a balance between imported and locally-available technologies,
with some imports currently being indigenized. From performance windows
to waterless urinals, wind towers and biological water treatment ponds,
this building is as modern as it gets. Not likely by coincidence, the
best toilets in India are also found here.
Left: Green roof, photovoltaics and 2
wind towers interface with the sky. The rooftop photovoltaics
provide for about 16% of the buildings energy needs, or 24
Right: The wind towers are traditional
architectural elements that catch air and cool it as it
The CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre was inaugurated by the
president of India in July, 2004. Seat of the Indian Green Building
Council (IGBC), around 18 staff occupy the daylit office spaces of the
complex, which also includes a large conference room and sheltered
walkways. As an entity, the CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre is
a unique and successful model of public-private partnership between the
Government of AP,
Godrej & Boyce Mfg Co and
Confederation of Indian Industries, with technical support from
Pausing for a moment to consider the bigger picture, recall that South
India represents a living remnant of one of humanity’s earliest human
civilizations. Together with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, Ancient
India was one of the world’s three earliest urban civilizations with
remarkable planning and infrastructure flourishing between 2600–1900
BCE. Visiting one of the greenest buildings in the world after a month
exploring this heritage (ancient temples, exotic palaces, medieval
European colonies) was a quick fast-forward to the present (or, perhaps,
is the "City of Pearls"; Charminar Photo Source: Wikipedia
As it is,
Hyderabad is one of India’s fastest developing cities. Located
in south-central India in the state of Andrha Pradesh (AP), Hyderabad is
not only famous for pearls, gems and spicy pickles, but also for its role as the
IT hub of India. The CII building sits in the northern district of “Cyberbad,”
near HITEC City. A construction site across the street advertises an
up-market residence named “Legend Platinum.” Were it not for the Indian
style of land use that persists everywhere (i.e. ubiquitous vendors,
free-roaming cows, burning garbage), the buildings here are so modern
that a weary traveler could easily believe they’d been transported to
The up-scale residence
being erected across the street seems to borrow its name,
"Legend Platinum," from its LEED-certified neighbour.
An example of everything done right, the CII building emanates a
distinct taste of the Future, both for India and for the rest of the
world. To India, the facility challenges the realities of poorly managed
infrastructure which can so rapidly blur the vision of a healthy and
sustainable future. However, embedded as it is within one of humanity’s
earliest civilizations, the über-modern CII facility in Hyderabad
authenticates the motto we’d frequently encountered in our travels: in
India, anything is possible.
The Green Roof
Of the 20,000 ft2 footprint, 55% of the CII-building is covered by
extensive green roof. An information brochure summarizing the Green
Features for the CII building value the “roof garden” for its insulating
qualities. Measurements attest that the green roofs provide valuable
insulation for the conference centre and offices, but this benefit is
not likely perceptible under the concrete walkways. Given the minimal
highlights or information about the green roofs at the CII building, it
is clear that they are only part of a much greater package.
Extensive green roofs, or roof
gardens, cover 55% total roof surface area.
The green roofs on the curvey building are divided into parcels that are
separated by parapets. On top of a concrete roof, the green roof system
begins its build-up with three layers of waterproofing. According to Sivaram,
leaky waterproofing is the paramount concern with regards to green roofs
in India. Yet another point of familiarity!
Left: All wastewater and runoff
generated by the building is recycled by "root zone
treatment" where specially selected plants purify and filter
the water that irrigates them. Right: Water leaving
the “root zone treatment” is directed to one of three ponds,
thereafter to be used for domestic purposes. The building
achieves a 35 percent reduction of municipally supplied
potable water, in part through the use of
low-flush toilets and waterless urinals.
The green roof system
comprises 2” of sandy soil topped with the same pervious paver blocks used
at grade, and overlain with a uniform grass sod. In their appearance and
composition, the green roofs are identical to the grassy pedestrian
and parking areas at grade.
This section of the CII green
roof reveals a section of structural pavers where the sod is
thinned, likely a seam. Note also the puddling in the next
On the 30°C day of my
visit, the grassy rooftops were being irrigated to the point of puddling.
The pervious paver blocks prevented any compaction. Water is
definitely a key design consideration for green buildings in India,
where a hot and dry season is sandwiched by two monsoons (SW Summer
Monsoon and NE Retreating monsoon). Of the 810 mm annual precipitation
in Hyderabad, for example, most of it occurs during the monsoon months
of June – October. As part of the zero discharge design, recycled
water from the building is used for irrigation and any runoff is
directed to percolate at grade. During the dry season, the green
roofs are irrigated daily.
Being the first of its kind on
the subcontinent, the green roof’s drainage system is
exemplary of pioneering resolve …
... and locally-inspired
India is in a fascinating position with regards to issues of global
sustainability and the environment. With the world’s 12th largest
economy at market exchange rates and the 4th largest in purchasing
power, it is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Still a
developing nation, however, India is not bound by the Kyoto Protocol and
suffers from high levels of corruption, not to mention poverty,
illiteracy and malnutrition. Its emissions are growing as steadily as
its economy, its middle class, the use of motorized vehicles, and the
trendiness of shopping malls.
In Hyderabad, the construction sites and the visibly burgeoning middle
class presented the concepts of global ecological footprint on perfect
display. What will our world be like when the new transportation
infrastructure is in place, and the up-scale residences occupied?
Will green buildings in India assume their true potential? Will
green technology assume the dominant status quo that so many states
would like but few will commit to?
What better place to model my
colourful Indian digs than on a green roof?
Rather than playing
catch-up with the West, India has begun to tap into cutting edge
technology and enforce visionary policies, all the while maintaining
clear sight on its traditions, which may hold immense meaning for the
global economy and the global environment. In India, anything is
|Green Building FACTS (compared with normal buildings)
• 35% reduction in potable water use
• 50% savings in overall energy consumption
• 88% reduction in lighting consumption
• 80% of materials used are either recycled or recyclable
• 20% of the building’s energy requirement is provided by photovoltaics
• 15-20% less load on AC thanks to aerated concrete blocks used in
• Zero water discharge building
• 90% of building daylit
• 75% of occupants have outside view
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) works to create and sustain
an environment conducive to the growth of industry in India, partnering
industry and government alike through advisory and consultative
processes. Visit the Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre
Photo Gallery, and click on "Green Building Tour" on the right for
See the CII - Sohrabji
Godrej Green Business Centre profile in
The Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database. See the Platinum CII - Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre LEED
Project sheet showing the 56 points achieved
here, and access the U.S. Green Building Council's Certified Project
Student Editor Newsletters
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