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Christine Thuring is our Research Editor (formerly Student Editor,  2004) and, in addition to her biannual newsletter "Green Roofs on the Curve" and "Christine's Ramblings," she also writes occasional Exclusive Features and Blog posts.  With a background in plant ecology, Christine Thuring has been focused on green roofs since 2001.  She 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 a Contributing Editor for, she responds to queries and enjoys connecting people and interests.  Sign up here to receive her occasional Ramblings and Newsletter.

In addition to research, Christine has represented green roofs in terms of education and communication, ecological design and consulting, and German-to-English translations (learn more).  She is best defined by Chlorophyllocity, through which her many interests and activities are represented.  From collaborative design projects to applied research, translation, and study tours (Green Roof Safari), her mission is to facilitate and support humanity's transition from the carbon to the ecological age.  A multi-lingual citizen of the world, Christine enjoys rail travel, loves bogs and spring wildflowers, and rides her bike everywhere.

email: christine (at)
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Christine's Ramblings

Greener Impressions of Paris, 2010

By Christine Thüring
September 6, 2010

All Photos by Christine Thüring unless otherwise noted.


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 challenged.

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 Nord

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 L’Est

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 wall…?
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?

Only 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 mur végétalisé.

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 the Viaduc should be conserved rather than demolished, and so the idea of converting it into a green corridor took root.

Image courtesy Viaduc des Arts.


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 City.

Springtime on the Planted Promenade is yellow!

Canal St-Martin
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.

The colourful facade of Antoine & Lili’s faces the Canal on rue des Martyrs.

Concluding thoughts

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 reveal themselves.

Paris Green Wall locations, via Google.

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.

~ Christine Thüring

Christine Thuring 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 here to receive her occasional Ramblings and Newsletter.  Christine is best defined by Chlorophyllocity, through which her many interests and activities are represented.

Christine can be contacted at: or

Vertical Gardens in Paris, July 2009

By Christine Thüring
August 4, 2009

All Photos by Christine Thüring unless otherwise noted.

Christine, vertical garden gazing in Paris.


In 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.

The Projects

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 Google.

Hotel xyz

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.

Top third 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!

Hotel xyz, Paris.

This vertical garden is clearly the work of a botanist.  The bottom third of the wall, which receives only incidental light, 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 Buddleia.

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 view upwards.

BHV Homme
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 (off-limit) courtyard.

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 renovated.

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  WorldChanging, 2009).

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 green spaces.


Roof garden view from Sacre Coeur.
Notice Bois de Vincennes on horizon.

~ Christine Thüring

Reporting on the 2nd International Green Roof Congress 2009 – Bringing Nature Back to Town Exclusive
By Christine Thüring
June 20, 2009

All Photos Courtesy Christine Thüring unless otherwise noted.

Flying over the new part of town on the Zeppelin NT - greenroofs galore!

From May 25 – 28th 2009, representatives from five continents came together to celebrate and discuss green roof technology in the municipality of 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 German Roof Gardener Association (DDV), with patronage from the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs.

Delegates attended the 2nd International Green Roof Congress from 40 countries!  Map Courtesy IGRA.

Compared to 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.

The Municipality of Stuttgart; Photo:

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!

Coffee break and a time to catch up with old friends!  Photo Source and Courtesy: IGRA.

IGRA 2009: Program (May 25-27, 2009)

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 Meier.

The Congress Venue, the K3N: Kunst. Kultur. Kongresse. Nürtingen;

The Kreuzkirche; Photo:

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).

Congress participants.

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.

Emilio 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.

A masterpiece of green roof architecture: Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall (ACROS) in Japan. Photo Source: IGRA,
Courtesy: Hiromi Watanabe.

The unique visions of architect Emilio Ambasz, 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 freely available.

Workshop: An international comparison of funding and support for green roofs

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 Netherlands.

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 December 2009.

Ho Wan 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.

The roof 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.

Zeppelin Excursion

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 surrounding landscape.

Our Zeppelin Route from Friedrichshafen to Ravensburg; Image Source: Google.

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.

Our 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 km.

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.

Flying high 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.

In Summary

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 event.

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, specifically here, for €39.80 plus shipping and handling (ISBN 978-3-9812978-1-2).

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 enough.

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 exciting movement.

Please drop us a line below with your comments!

Greenroofs aside, in Nürtingen you can stroll along the Neckar River or visit narrow alleys with medieval backdrops and picturesque corners.
Photo Source: Wikipedia.

Christine Thüring

Green Buildings in India
By Christine Thüring
March 2009

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 credits and became certified “LEED Platinum” in 2003; Photo Source Left: Christine Thüring;
Right: CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre.

In 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 four 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.

One of the key aspects of the CII is its zero discharge of water. Photo Source: ED+C Magazine, via Green Air Through Green Roofs

The 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 (October, 2003).  As 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 KW.;
Right: The wind towers are traditional architectural elements that catch air and cool it as it descends.

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 USAID.

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, the Future).

Hyderabad 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 West.

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 level up.

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 innovation.

In Closing

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 possible!

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 facades
• Zero water discharge building
• 90% of building daylit
• 75% of occupants have outside view

~ Christine Thüring

Publisher's Notes:  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 website's Photo Gallery, and click on "Green Building Tour" on the right for more photos.

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 database list here.

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