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November 2004

Livingroofs.org ~

A New Independent Green Roof Organisation for the UK
 

Livingroofs.org Logo

By Dusty Gedge, Green Roof Consultant   All photos courtesy Dusty Gedge


Livingroofs.org is a new independent green roof organisation for the UK.  Livingroofs.org is a not for profit company and its mission is to Campaign, Advocate and Engender the use of Green Roofs in Urban and Rural Regeneration in the UK.  The organisation has grown out of the work in London on biodiversity issues, most notably stemming from the black redstart - see www.blackredstarts.org.uk.

Conservationists in London were confronted with the UK government’s policy of targeting previously developed land (referred to in the UK as brown field land) for large-scale development.  This land is predominantly the habitat of the black redstart, a protected bird species under UK law.  It soon became apparent that the only form of mitigation for this species in new developments would be the use of green roofs systems. (Publisher's Note:  See Dusty's december 2003 - The London Biodiversity Partnership, Wild Roofs: Current research into green roofs and biodiversity in London Guest Feature.)

International Momentum

Through this initial work a few committed individuals began talking and contacting other people and organisations interested in green roofs.  Livingroofs.org was influenced by ongoing work in Switzerland by Stephan Brenneisen.  Furthermore, invitations to speak at both of the recent North American Green Roof Conferences provided us with momentum and international recognition for our work.

Local Network and Support

The initial idea behind a UK based organisation and website was to provide a ‘one stop shop.'  Our experience was that there were a lot of people interested in ‘grass roofs’ and a great deal of enthusiasm.  However, there was also a great deal of ignorance and misunderstanding of what a green roof was... Turf roofs!  Grass roofs!  And a general impression prevailed that not only were they only to be found on ‘alternative’ sort of buildings, but that they also generally leaked.

A Partnership

Our work on the ground was focused on ensuring that the right kind of green roofs were implemented for black redstarts.  This work brought us into contact with a number of sectors we had previously interfaced with obliquely, including planners, developers, architects, landscape designers and roofing manufacturers - sectors we hadn’t had to deal with directly.  In general, there was a reasonable antipathy towards the idea of green roofs.  However, the manufacturers, although we were less interested in the current fashion for sedum mats, were reasonably positive.  One particular individual suggested drawing in the three major suppliers in the UK to advise, facilitate and promote green roofs.  This became the beginnings of a partnership that is current today in the form of Livingroofs.org.

In September 2003 a Green Roof Conference at Sheffield University drew a number of interested parties together to consider the idea of a UK organisation.  Unfortunately, many of those individuals had highly demanding jobs, and a sense of inertia built up over the coming months. The perspective of those of us in London was to provide some momentum.  We were fortunate that one of our research projects had to provide a green roof website – and so, www.livingroofs.org was born.

From Brown to Green to Living Roofs

The title of the organisation has to be attributed to Paul Kephart of Rana Creek Habitat Restoration in California.  After my talk in Chicago in 2003 Mr. Kephart pointed out that "…green roofs, eco roofs…damn, they are all living roofs…"  We believe that this is a more encompassing term, especially in the UK.  We had already come up with the term "brown roof" to describe the kind of roofs we wished to see installed for biodiversity.  However, this term has caused some problems for "the imagination impaired" as it does not conjure up a vision of verdant vegetation swaying in the wind. T his was highlighted to me whilst in San Francisco in May earlier this year.  A gentleman pointed out to me that there was apparently a green roof in the city.  Apparently?  His reply was that it was in fact brown.  When I pointed out that most of the grassland around the Bay area was brown at that time of the year and the roof in question had been designed to represent a certain type of Californian grassland, he still didn’t get the idea.  Surely green roofs MUST be green all the time?

Living roofs not only encompass the idea of living ecological systems but also systems on which people can live or be on, in terms of intensive green roof gardens for pleasure or therapy, parks and or as an educational resource.  Livingroofs is a more encompassing term than green roofs and does not limit the roof to a specific colour!

100,000 m² in London

Livingroofs.org is now an active company based initially around the website.  We have already undertaken an audit of green roofs in London, which at present stands at just under 100,000 m² of planned and constructed green roof systems (intensive, extensive and green roofs specifically designed for biodiversity).  Through our work we are now directly involved in a number of the major development projects in London.

Switzerland Tour

In June 2004 a tour of Green Roofs in Switzerland for leading architects, architectural journalists, policy makers, developers and academics was undertaken in partnership with the Swiss Embassy, Sarnafil UK and the University of Wadensvil.  UK + CH and Presence Switzerland organised and sponsored the tour.  The tour lasted three days, and the programme of visits to green roofs was organised by Stephan Brenneisen of the University of Wadensvil to cover a range of different green roofs and research facilities.  A visit to Sarna’s worldwide headquarters was included in the tour, as well as a number of green roofs in the Cantons of Zurich, Luzerne, Basel and Basel Stadt.

Studying an Extensive Swiss Greenroof

Stephan Brenneisen of the University of Wadensvil

Left: Swiss Tour participants; Right: Stephan Brenneisen

Livingroofs.org had recognised the lack of knowledge and understanding of green roofs per se in the UK.  The aspiration of the tour was to engage urban regeneration practitioners with real dynamic green roofs designed for biodiversity in Switzerland.  In doing so the understanding of the potential of green roofs for biodiversity in urban regeneration would be more widely recognised.  Our policy has always been to make sure professionals actually see a green roof in real life, and seeing a variety of different green roofs in Switzerland certainly opened the eyes of many of those on the trip to the possibilities and we are aware of a number of these architects currently pushing for green roofs in their projects.

Photo Curtesy Dusty Gedge

One of the many greenroofs on the 2004 Swiss Tour

The tour was a resounding success, not only from the perspective of green roofs but also the hospitality and programme beyond green roofs that was laid on by Presence Switzerland.

Challenges Still

However, there are still many barriers and problems to overcome.  Quantity surveyors, chartered and structural engineers are generally inclined to resist the use of green roofs in developments, and these are the professions that really count.  The UK government appears ‘relatively’ ignorant of the cross cutting benefits of green roofs in terms of its sustainability agenda.  Livingroofs hopes to engage both national and regional government through its work over the coming year.

We have been engaged by the UK’s second city Birmingham to advise and energise individuals, planners and developers to include green roofs of all types and sizes in their regeneration proposals.

In October the Mayor of London launched his Livingroofs statement.  Although this was independent of Livingroofs.org, our organisation provides some of the momentum to the document which lays out the London government’s vision of green roofs in the capital.

The Komodo Dragon House Launch

In August work was completed on the extensive 300 m² green roof at the London Zoo's Komodo Dragon House, designed to house their first pair of Komodo dragons.  The development is overlooked by Regents Park, and Dr. Stephan Brenneisen and I, on behalf of Livingroofs.org, designed the living roof to coordinate with the Zoo’s sustainability policy.  The design is based on design principals developed in Switzerland for biodiversity and was adapted to the London situation by Livingroofs.org and is a study roof in green roofs and a biodiversity research project.

The London Zoo site is a high profile venue where the issue of green roofs and green roofs for biodiversity can be promoted linking in with the Zoo's conservation programme and shows how green roofs should be designed for biodiversity in London.  For example, "the use of crushed brick and concrete as the basis for the growing medium is characteristic of soil types on brownfield land. Therefore the green roof on the Komodo Dragon House replicates the ecological circumstances of brownfield sites in urban areas of the UK." (Read the entire Komodo Dragon House Launch PDF entitled "Green Roofs for Biodiversity – Meeting UK Biodiversity Action Plan Targets.")

The Komodo Dragon House Roof at is part of a wider partnership between Livingroofs.org and Switzerland on the issue of green roofs and biodiversity.  This partnership has so far involved research collaboration and a recent tour of green roofs in Switzerland.  The launch will see a number of key local and national government representatives and developers/consultants gather to see the the design principles in action. It is hoped that the launch will provide a stimulus for a greater understanding of green roofs as part of the UK sustainability agenda and provide an impetus for research, delivery and real awareness of green roofs in the UK.

Read more about the professionals, system, materials and other particulars in our Case Study here.

A sustainable home for a pair of dragons

Thanks to many ecologically minded people and organizations, a pair of Komodo Dragons have a comfortable and environmentally sound home at the London Zoo.

The October 22 issue of Building Magazine

Read about the Komodo Dragon House and greenroof construction; www.building.co.uk

The official launch of the Komodo Dragon House will be held on November 2, 2004 with over 100 people attending including developers, architects, and government people.  Information for the Swiss tour is provided in CD form within the Komodo Dragon Launch folder.

Read the related articles:  Room at the top from the Independent.co.uk, by Peter Marren; Conservation takes root from www.uk-ch.org, by Julia Slater; and Green with Life (PDF) by Deputy Editor Building Magazine Andy Pearson - posted with permission of Building Magazine (subscription).

This particular article was part of a larger feature on roofing in the 22 October 22, 2004 issue of Building Magazine's Specifier.  Andy Pearson writes, "Our twice-monthly series continues with a look at roofing, including whole-life costs, suppliers, key points and all the latest products. We also have this green roof, which is sheltering a fascinating creature..."

Extensive greenroof at London Zoo

The Komodo Dragon House, Artist's Impression; Photo: Sarnafil UK;
Source: UK + CH

Switzerland 2005

In 2005 we are planning a further visit to Switzerland for interested parties.  If you are interested in the tour please contact info@livingroofs.org and you will be alerted to details in the near future.  We will also be continuing our monthly tours of green roofs in London beginning in March.  The dates of these tours will be posted in the New Year.  If a company or group of individuals are interested in a personal tour, do contact us.

An Engine for Change within the UK

Livingroofs.org is a relatively new organisation and has been powered by a few committed individuals in London.  Yet, it has managed to enlist the support of leading manufacturers and architects, and we hope over the coming year to engage with other individuals committed to green roofs in the UK to ensure that Livingroofs.org is a fully inclusive organisation and an engine for change within the UK.

Aerial View of Wood Wharf in London

Wood Wharf - A Vision for London


Dusty Gedge Dusty Gedge is co founder of livingroofs.org.  His interest in green roofs has grown out of his work on biodiversity mitigation in London.  Through this work he has become one of the leading campaigners in the UK on green roofs.  His interest is moving the UK to a more integrated and sustainable approach to building and building design where the achievement and recognition of local regional and national biodiversity targets are taken into account in the design and implementation stage of building construction in the UK.


Dusty Gedge may be contacted at: dustygedge@yahoo.co.uk; 7 Dartmouth Grove, London SE10 8AR; phone: +442086922109.



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