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Sky Gardens ~
Travels in Landscape Architecture

By Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA Associate, Publisher

August 2003  Sky Gardens ~

Swedish Flag

MALMÖ, SWEDEN. God dag! (Good day!) Perched on a harbor on the tip of southern Sweden directly across the sea from Copenhagen is the lovely and ecologically forward city of Malmö. The new 16-kilometer Öresund bridge and tunnel link the 498,000 inhabitants of Malmö to Denmark within a half hour's journey.

Swedish/Danish Coastline,

My husband Aramis and I had the opportunity of visiting here in  October 2002 when I was asked to speak at the International Green Roof Institute (the name was changed to "The Scandinavian Green Roof Institute in 2005) by its then director, Violetta Lindhqvist (who presented her paper "Green Roof Development in Sweden" at the Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities 2003 in Chicago).

A Historical Metropolitan City

Malmo Plaza
Malmö Plaza,

Malmö is located in the southern-most province of Skåne and is the country's third largest city, having more parks, gardens and restaurants per capita than any other city in Sweden. Parks, canals, pedestrian shopping corridors, lively markets and cobbled streets all help to create the intimate feeling that Malmö projects. Historical and cutting edge, Malmö presents a unique blend of Viking, gothic, traditional and minimalist architecture and design, funky shops and great restaurants and bars. The 14th century medieval university town of Lund is nearby as are over 200 castles and manor homes, and many picturesque coastal villages, all easily accessible by Sweden's super efficient and affordable rail network.

Vikings here dated back to the 9th century, but the history of Malmö can be traced to about 1275, when it was called "Malmhauger." Written records can be found from the late Middle Ages and area's many museums display the rich Nordic cultural history.

According to the city's website,, "Malmö is also undergoing a transition from being an industrial city to a city of knowledge, with the strongest sectors focusing on logistics, retail and wholesale trade, construction, and property." Several high profile companies operate within the fields of biotechnology, medical technology, IT, digital media, and environmental technology.

Environmental Technology and Sustainable Stormwater Initiatives

Extensive Greenroofs by Veg Tech

Sweden is a country long admired for its natural beauty and eco friendly business sense, and respect towards nature and stewardship of its land and water is evident in municipal measures. Urban stormwater management has long been an issue here, and surface runoff contributes to local surface flooding, flooding of residential building basements, combined sewer overflow and to overload of the local waste water treatment plant. A number of sustainable techniques has been utilized by the City of Malmö, including swales, open water courses, wet ponds, dry ponds, constructed wetlands and reedbeds, roof drains diverted to lawns, and greenroofs.

In 1989, an multidisciplinary, integrated approach was initiated which produced attractive, recreational and functional onsite detention facilities, adapting to prevailing local conditions. Tilla Larsen, of Malmö Water and Wastewater Works states that " Most of our facilities are considered both as parkland and as part of the drainage system, and the investment costs are shared accordingly between the involved departments."

The Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden

Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden by Tobias Emilsson
Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden, © Tobias Emilsson

Initiated in 1998, the EKOstaden (eco city) located in Augustenborg is an example of ecological development in an existing neighborhood in Europe.  Developed through an initial partnership between MKB Housing Company and the City of Malmö, construction for the Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden started in 1999 and is also home of the International Green Roof Institute. The world's first botanical roof garden is situated within a residential neighborhood, atop 9,500 m2 of industrial buildings. "The EKOstaden Augustenborg project aims to align resident and user considerations with the municipality’s organizational structure and local government planning. The key goal for the total project is to apply a framework for ecological development to reverse negative trends and create sustainable improvements in social and ecological living conditions. The extensive roof greening project is an important component linking the technical, ecological and social aspects of the project," states the Technical Description of the Demonstration Project Proposal.  Click here for a PDF brochure of the Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden.

Augustenborg Stormwater Courtyard, Photo by LSV

Augustenborg Stormwater Courtyard;
Photo by Linda S. Velazquez

The project has many participants to thank, namely the Malmö Water and Sewage Works, Parks and Highways Department, Malmö City Service Administration, SLU - the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Malmö University College, The VTI Institute of Helsinki, the Technical University of Lund, Studio Dreiseitel of Germany, Veg Tech (then Nordiska Gröntak AB) and area residents.  According to the SLU (the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) website, "The Greenroof project was started in the fall of 2001 with the completion of the Augustenborg roof garden. The roof garden is designed as both a demonstration garden and a research garden. The total vegetated green roof area is approximately 9000 m2. Several different researchers are involved in the green roof project at Augustenborg. The project that the Swedish Agricultural University is working on is focusing on factors that can influence the performance and establishment of a green roof in Sweden.

Augustenborg Water Retention Pond, Photo by LSV

Augustenborg Water Retention Pond;
Photo by Linda S. Velazquez

We are currently testing the impact of different substrates, establishment methods, species mixtures, drainage materials and slopes on extensive roof vegetation. Other researchers from Lund University are working on the impact of green roofs on biodiversity and storm-water management." Catwalks are incorporated along the roof to accommodate researchers and visitors. For more research information, click here.

Activities are overseen by the International Green Roof Institute, a non-governmental organization, and The Green Roof Society.  Their mission is to facilitate and promote development, scientific research, and education through seminars, tours, the yearly Scandinavian Award for Green Roofs, and the International Green Roof Journal.  Contact Violetta below for related articles in The International Green Roof Journal, No. 1 of April 2002.

The Bo01 Housing Exposition
In 200 the first European Housing Expo: Bo01 "The Green City of Tomorrow" was created in an urban district in Malmö's Western Harbor. When Malmö hosted Bo01, it took the first step in transforming the seafront area into an ecologically sustainable residential housing district with biodiversity found in the rich vegetation of its parks, courtyards, streets, squares, walls and roofs. A "green area factor" came into play when permeable natural areas were lost to construction - code prescribed that these displaced areas needed to be compensated for with new green spaces.  Greenroofs, birdhouses, bat boxes, native Swedish wildflowers and areas left for natural succession are some of the ecological design features found. A large scale open rainwater system tames stormwater runoff so as not to infiltrate the city's spillwater or rainwater drains, but is diverted to open canals with small dams, to vegetated swales, and  constructed wetland ponds.

Veg Tech SKANSKA Entre Webanpassad
Multi-family residential extensive greenroof by
Veg Tech AB

Greenroofs are fast becoming part of the environmental solution for impermeable developed areas and lost green space. Traditional Viking sod homes have been present in Scandinavia for over 1000 years as an example of sustainable, vernacular architecture using indigenous materials and resources, and sod roofs were one of the most common roof types in Sweden up until the beginning of the 1900's.

Over 70,000 m2 of Greenroofs in 2002

Veg Tech NCC Webanpassad
Greenroofs galore by Veg Tech

The modern version of greenroofs were introduced more recently, within the last 15 years or so using German technology, and a vigorous industry has since been evolving. Area universities are responsible for their promotion as much as greenroof providers.  Veg Tech AB, TerraTec and Jungs Trädgårdsplanering  (Gardening) AB are largest companies providing greenroof products, design and installation, although there are many smaller companies, too. Veg Tech is by far the leader in greenroof construction, and it is believed that Veg Tech was the first company providing green roofs to the Swedish market. Veg Tech (Svenska Grontak was the previous name) started in 1988, but the first project was in Malmö in 1989. They grow their own vegetative mats and are the only company in Sweden using the Xeroflor system; Veg Tech also uses plugs and hand seeding for planting methods.

According to Tommy Porselius, Managing Director of Veg Tech, they estimate approximately 250,000 m2  of greenroofs have been delivered to clients in Sweden since 1989.  In 2002 alone, Veg Tech delivered more than 60,000 m2 of greenroofs with more than half of that amount slated for their own projects. Those 60,000 m2 accounted for approximately 600 greenroof projects in Sweden.  The majority of Veg Tech projects occupy areas of 100 m2 and larger (up to 5,000 m2), but they deliver products from 5 m2 and up. Terratec, the number 2 or 3 greenroof provider in Sweden, estimates sales of approximately 6 to 10,000 m2 last year.

GreenZone: Ford Motor Co., McDonald's & Statoil

GreenZone, the world's first purposely "green" designed car dealership opened in June, 2000 in northern Sweden by Ford Motor Company dealer Per Carstedt, in conjunction with Ford, Mc Donald's and Statoil. The environmentally friendly building contains a car dealership, a restaurant and a fuel station.

GreenZone Greenroof by Veg Tech AB,

In conjunction with Ford Motor Company, Mc Donald's and Statoil, GreenZone -  the world's first purposely "green" designed car dealership - opened in 2000 in northern Sweden by Ford dealer Per Carstedt. The environmentally friendly building contains a car dealership, a restaurant and a fuel station - read the project profile in The Greenroof Projects Database.

Our Visit
Our first impression of southern Sweden was of a warm, hospitable and inviting place even though it was mid October and quite cold outside - but our host, Peter Lindquist, greeted with a friendly smile at Kastrup International Airport in Copenhagen, and put us quickly at ease.

The Pig's House

Pig's House at Tullnäs Gård Photo by LSV
Pig's House at Tullnäs Gård by LSV

We were invited to stay at the Pig's House and were told to overlook the colorful name. Certainly nothing like its previous history, the Pig's House is now a graciously remodeled area of the 19th century farmhouse complex, and consists of a portion of Tullnäs Gård, the bed and breakfast operated and owned by our hosts; we truly enjoyed the warm atmosphere and cozy surroundings here.

The International Green Roof Institute Lecture
Asked to speak about the status of the greenroof movement in general in North America and the urban heat island phenomenon in particular, I presented several case studies from Toronto, Atlanta and also the Penn State Green Roof Research Center and Earth Pledge Foundation. The audience included government officials, business leaders, greenroof designers and providers, members of the International Green Roof Institute and professors and students from various universities, including the University of Malmö and SLU. As the urban heat island effect really does not affect the Scandinavian countries much, they were very eager to learn about this particular problem troubling the rest of the world's large high density concrete jungle cities. Dominic Giesel of the German company Optima also spoke regarding the reorganization and progress of his company and the cost effectiveness of greenroofs.

Augustenborg Greenroof Pond & Birdhouse by LSV Augustenborg Test Greenroof Plots by LSV Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden by LSV

Augustenborg Roofgarden pond & birdhouse; greenroof plots; and long shot by LSV

Questions and answers were followed by a tour of the Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden and a lovely luncheon of shrimp and smoked eel fish, among other Swedish delicacies. An intimate dinner reception was held later that evening where the main course consisted of moose - our culinary horizons were certainly broadened on this trip!

Veg Tech Headquarters

Veg Tech Headquarters from

All of Veg Tech's roofs are covered in colorful evergreen sedums

The journey north to Vislanda, headquarters for Veg Tech AB, took about four hours along a very forested and winding scenic route. Approximately 40 minutes from our destination we encountered a pair of beautiful, if very organic looking, farm building greenroofs. Of course Violetta and I decided we had to stop and take photos!

Vislanda area greenroofs, photo by Linda S. Velazquez

Farmhouse Greenroofs near Vislanda, Sweden by LSV

The tour of the Veg Tech facility was great, and we were shown around the design studios, nurseries and the many greenroofs on the property by Tommy Porselius and engineer Lennart Pålsson.

SLU - Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

SLU Ivy Covered Walls, photo by Aramis Velazquez

Ivy Covered SLU, photo by Aramis Velazquez

We also had the opportunity to visit SLU - the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and had the pleasure of having Tobias Emilsson as our guide. He is pursuing a PhD in greenroof studies, and has been involved in the Augustenborg Botanical Roofgarden since the beginning. Tobias also recently presented his thesis study, "The influence of Substrate and Establishment Method on Plant Cover" at the Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities 2003 in Chicago. He showed Violetta, Aramis and I around the sprawling, beautifully landscaped campus and along the way through the landscape architecture department, parks, and gardens we came upon two greenroofs, one very small and one quite large.

Started in November 2001 and finished in September 2002, The “Navet” (The Hub) structure seen left below is the starting point for a large building that was consolidated from four different crop production departments, joined together in one new department. There was a need for a building that could connect the different departments, with also a need for a new larger lecture hall.

The Navet Greenroof at SLU; photo by LSV SLU Parking Lot Guard Hut, photo by LSV

SLU Left:  The Navet Greenroof; Right:  a Parking Lot Guard Hut Greenroof
Photos by Linda S. Velazquez

The small greenroof guard hut above right stands sentinel over a campus parking lot, and keeps the inside cool in the summer.

Our five day visit to Malmö and southern Sweden was somewhat exhausting but very enlightening and enjoyable. Greenroofs are still a relatively new technology here but along with university research and continued development they are being accepted and embraced in business, residential and government sectors alike. Perhaps we can learn from this spirit of cooperation and community among the Malmö property principals.

For more information regarding greenroofs and Malmö please visit: and

Augustenborg`s Botanical Roofgarden, Scandinavian Green Roof Institute (SGRI AB)
Green Roof Society, Green Roof Center
Ystadvägen 56, S-214 45 MALMÖ, Sweden
phone: +46 (0)
fax: +46 (0)410 25.297
email: and
Publisher's Note:  new SGRI superintendent, Louise Lundberg, and website at:

Veg Tech AB
Fageras, S-340 30 Vislanda, Sweden
Switchboard: +46.472.303.16
Direct: +46.472.300.71
fax: +46.472.300.23

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Tobias Emilsson, Department of Agricultural Engineering
Box 66, S-23053 Alnarp, Sweden
phone: +46 (0)40.415154
fax: +46 (0)40.464085

To learn more about Sweden, click on the following books:

Loney Planet Sweden

Frommer's Sweden

På återseende for now (Good-bye!) and join me next month as I explore New York City and some prime examples of sustainable architecture and a burgeoning commitment to greening Gotham's rooftops.

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