At Night All Cows are Black,
In the Land of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King
An introduction to the upcoming
architectural column, "A View from the Sky Trenches"
By Patrick Carey
Both of these titles allude to the current states of flux within the green roof world, competing theories, phony experts, lack of good public education, and cultural conflicts of various kinds that impede clear thought and progressive action. Every month we will try to tackle an issue we think is central to the spread of green roofs, and the first topic to be discussed next month will be residential/commercial. Commentary, adverse or complimentary, is welcomed.
Who am I? I promote the idea of green roofs as well as design and install them. My green roof philosophy is that they represent an ecological model that should be reflected in the methods and organization required to realize them. By that I mean that the roofers have to be comfortable with horticulture and the horticulturists must be comfortable with roofing. Green roofs should be the result of an interdisciplinary approach, not a result of a series of specialists who never talk to each other. The best green roofs are not the result of one specialist with a lot of expertise, back inventory of product to move, or business agreement with a few other element producers.
The best green roofs are a result of the breaking down of knowledge and skill barriers, of market share greed, and of outmoded thought and methodology. There are no green roof experts. Those who claim this mantle are either misguided or frauds. However, those who are humble and passionate enough can make wonderful things happen at the border between building and sky. By showing success in this approach, other barriers to enlightened design and construction can be called into question, and perhaps even remove barriers to leading lives in balance with all of our neighbors, human and non-human.
Six years ago I knew nothing about green roofs. Thanks to web sites like this I was able to start researching without the market driven perspectives of sales representatives of various products. I started where I could, doing Google searches, doing library journal searches, setting up email correspondence, and acquiring as much free technical and product information I could from any company that remotely related to the design and installation of green roofs.
With the help of research committees within the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild we compiled boxes and boxes of documents and samples. (Publisher's note: Please read more about Patrick and the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild here.) Not being certified roofing applicators or a vendor of a warranted product, we asked for Guild members to offer their roofs to us for experimentation while waving the warranty considerations. The Guild is composed of building contractors, architects, engineers, permaculturists, and others new or in the construction industry and trades. Drawing from their experience we started our first experiments. First we started to mimic commercial systems. Later we broke free and started mixing and matching green roof elements, exploring different growth media, plant types, etc. Twenty roofs later we have a body of research and field experience that gave us the confidence to feel semi-literate about green roofs as a subject of discussion. What sets this effort apart is that it did not originate with an industry like the waterproof membrane, geotextile, or horticultural industries, finding another market for its respective product in green roofs. We started with the ecological impulse from the beginning.
The advantage of this approach is that it liberated us from concerns about moving inventory of product that was not originally designed for green roofs. We came to the perspective that, like our habit of sending cars overseas with the steering wheels on the wrong side or - God forbid, going metric - our industrial sector is focused less on the specific needs of a new market than moving product and increasing market share. One of the best ways we had of gathering information was to get manufacturers to talk about the competition's product. If a green roof system vendor was originally a waterproof membrane manufacturer, we would skip questions about membranes and ask them questions about soil structure or soil biology or plant adaptability to test how into green roofs they really were or if they were just trying to "sell more steak knives."
We found that academics also can suffer from myopia and produce work that is divorced from the interdisciplinary culture of ecology. So, we proceeded with a skeptical perspective so we could stay closer to what we deemed the truth. Even after six years and 30 roofs later, I still find myself humbled by the knowledge base and expertise of vendors, academics, and trades-men in the field. The bargain I try to make with myself is that I should never try to take myself as seriously as the least serious "expert" on green roofs.
If you catch me screwing up, let me know. This column is intended to be an inquiry into the green roof industry and practices. My perspective is one of many. So let's put on our clown noses and inflatable shoes and dive right in. The worst thing that can happen is that I can be mistaken. In which case someone, I am sure, will enlighten me and we will all be better off.
has a degree in architecture and lives in Seattle, WA. His background is in Philosophy, Architecture, and Professional Theatre. Director of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild's Green Roof Project for over five years, Patrick is also principle of hadj design, a green roof design-build company. hadj has designed and installed over 30 green roofs that range in size from chicken coops to complete houses to commercial installations. hadj design has pioneered the cross-training of its crews in all aspects of green roof installation and has taken on the challenge of getting green roofs of all scales up and running.
Patrick is the new Architecture Editor here at Greenroofs.com and welcomes your comments. Contact him at ArchitectureEditor@greenroofs.com or phone: