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Back to Sky Gardens - Archives

Sky Gardens ~
Travels in Landscape Architecture

By Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA Associate, Publisher

January - April 2004  ~

English Flag

London, England.  January in London is crisp and bustling with activity as holiday travelers return home and festive decorations are put away until next season.  London is truly a modern jewel set in a historic and colorful setting of royalty, crusaders, writers, poets, architecture, and garden philosophies and styles spanning centuries.  London was founded by the Romans about 50 AD, derived from the Celtic word "Londinios," which means the place of the bold one.   Mathew Frith of the Peabody Trust adds, "another interpretation is 'the wild place,' which given the massive urban nature of the city is rather ironic."

After they invaded Britain in 43 AD the Romans first built a bridge across the Thames, a port, and then a town of 45,000 soon followed.  Close to 2,000 years later, the population of London is now over 7.5 million.  (Click here for a complete History of London.)

Kew Gardens; Source:

Museums, theatre, castles, palaces, cathedrals, gardens, heritage parks, attractions and historic sites such as the Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Kew Botanical Gardens, Sissinghurst, Harrods, and the London Eye reflect the pain and exuberances of the past and the joys of the present.

I've been to London many times and had the pleasure of exploring most of these places, and look forward to returning, in particular to visit more gardens - from neoclassical to subtropical - and the English countryside.

The "English Garden"

Although I usually think of English gardens as the more informal, overflowing, naturalistic "Cottage" variety with rambling roses and a profusion of blooming perennials reminiscent of Gertrude Jekyll and Rosemary Verey, English gardening and architectural styles have varied over the centuries with many contributors to add to the term of "The English Garden." The earliest English gardens were planted by the Roman conquerors of Britain in the 1st century AD, and influences include the small enclosed Medieval style with turf seats and mounds; Tudor knot gardens enclosed in hedges or walls; Stuart formal Italianate and French styles; Georgian informal, "landscape gardens" of Capability Brown and open parkland; Victorian bedding plants with colorful, public gardens; and the 20th century variety built on the tradition of the "Cottage garden" with mixed styles, herbaceous borders and the introduction of roof gardens.  Read a short history of English gardens here.  The Britain Express website states, "Throughout Britain there are gardens great and small, formal and informal, private and public, that illustrate the British passion for creating green, growing spaces of their own.  All are different, and all, like their owners and creators, have a distinct personality."

Yet despite the British love of gardens and gardening, how are they progressing with the modern notion of greenroofs?

A Long History of Intensive Roof Gardens

It is interesting to note that the "City of London" per se does not cover all of central London but only the 'Square Mile' - the financial heart of the City located east of Westminster.  The Corporation of London counts 14 mostly intensive greenroofs within the Square Mile.  No complete database exists for roof gardens or greenroofs in England, but one source estimates between 100 - 200  extensive and intensive forms, including car parks, and most are private roof gardens.

Kensington Roof Garden

Kensington Roof Gardens; Source:  Paul Collins

The earliest known, and still existing, intensive greenroof in the London area is the famous 1-acre Kensington Roof Gardens at the former department store Derry & Toms (as it is still affectionately known) in Kensington, built in 1938.

With changes of building ownership it has been run as an independent restaurant and nightclub, firstly as Regine's and since 1981, The Roof Gardens has been the glamorous playground owned by Sir Richard Branson, of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Music fame.

Situated in a glitzy neighborhood, the Kensington Roof Gardens is open to the public and offers a panoramic view of West London, in addition to the three spectacular garden themes:  the Spanish Garden, the Tudor Garden, and the English Woodland Garden.  A popular venue, The Roof Gardens is host to a number of private functions - from a recent tea party to launch Madonna's book "The English Roses," to star-studded charity functions, weddings, and show biz galas.

The Kensington Roof Gardens

The Roof Gardens; Source:

The gardens cover some one and a half acres and are situated 100 ft above street level. The website states, "The average depth of the soil is 18-inch drainage made of bricks and clinker over a waterproof membrane. Ralph Hancock brought in some 500 species of plants and shrubs and even imported rock from Pennsylvania for his alpine planting on the assumption that it would withstand London's polluted atmosphere."

The De La Warr Pavilion outside London was built in 1935, but the turf on one of its lower refurbished roofs is a more recent installation. The oldest intensive greenroof within the City of London is the complex of roof gardens in the Barbican housing estate, completed in 1973 and owned by the Corporation of London.

The Pulse Building in London

The Pulse; Source:

With new planning emphasis on higher-density housing, London developers are discovering that their the potential for private outdoor spaces is becoming even more prized, and are cashing in on the concept.

For example, low maintenance roof gardens and terraces were recently built atop the Pulse in Finchley, where the developer claims to have built the largest roof terraces in London.  See the related article in News Links.


Extensive Beginnings

A few camouflaged aircraft hangers can be found outside of London on military airfields covered in turf (and therefore as earth sheltered structures can be considered extensive greenroofs of sorts), built after Nazi Germany started flexing its muscles in 1934.  Most agree, though, that extensive green roofs were generally introduced in London in the 1990s, although it is possible that some existed here earlier.

Within London, it is difficult to say what the earliest extensive greenroof to be installed was; the English Nature report - see below - indicates a small number of small roofs being installed during the late-1980s. Some private individuals may have erected such roofs in the '70s, at a time when the first post-hippy interest in green buildings started to take root.  Scandinavian sod-type roofs are not common in England, but possibly some may be present on crofters cottages in northwest Scotland.

Potential for the Greenroof Movement

Currently, the 33 Greater London boroughs cover nearly 158,000 hectares (over 600 square miles).  Incredibly, more than 40% of the total land area is green open space and nearly half of that is considered valuable as wildlife habitat. Rooftops cover 24,000 hectares or 16% of Greater London, and according to English Nature, and an estimated 20,000 hectares (200 million m2) of existing urban roofs in the UK could be vegetated with little or no structural modification.

Other than industry material and information from other European countries, greenroof related publications generated in the UK have, up until now, been few. The London Ecology Unit's "Building Green: A Guide to Using Plants on Roofs, Walls and Pavements," 1993, has been the leading edge book in this field, and is widely referenced.  My own first background in English was provided by this excellent book, and I highly recommend it.  Mathew Frith of the Peabody Trust says of the book, "In retrospect it certainly established the first milestone in terms of capturing ideas and pointing a way forward."  Building Green also includes a quote that I have referenced before from H. R. H. The Prince of Wales, “We can make choices about the surroundings in which we live and work.  Prosperity and beauty need not exclude one another.”  (NOTE:  I have been trying to arrange to offer Building Green for sale on, but it is not readily available - more later.)

In 2003 two extremely well written publications have built on this experience: The British Council for Offices and the Corporation of London's "Green Roofs Advice Note,"; and English Nature's Green Roofs: brown is the new green - "Green roofs: their existing status and potential for conserving biodiversity in urban areas - Report Number 498".   The English Nature report followed on from a shorter document entitled, "Roof gardens: a review from Urban Wildlife Now.  Written by S. Brownlie, this report was published in 1990 by English Nature's predecessor, the Nature Conservancy Council, but it was not widely disseminated.

The Green Roofs Advice Note is "designed to offer general guidance and information on Green Roofs, highlighting some of benefits of this form of roof use and design. Aimed at the widest possible audience of all those concerned with the built environment, this publication focuses on the concepts and ideas of green roofs. This research advice note is not a specification document, providing instead sources for technical information in its final pages."

English Nature's report concludes " reiterating that green roofs can provide many general environmental and associated aesthetic and health benefits. Although individual green roofs offer local environmental benefits, any significant contribution to wider environmental quality is only likely to become apparent once a more substantial area of town and city roof space has been greened. Such a programme will require political commitment and concerted action underpinned by science, technical expertise and good design."  Read these two PDF's for an in depth review.

The First and Second Wave of Leaders

The City of London and many people within the surrounding area have been highly interested in pursuing ecological measures - to not only protect, but to strengthen natural environments found within urban communities through sustainable design.  Some people believe there were no true pioneers, with no real direction from any one particular person (the issue was probably considered too left-field). But, the first wave of early leaders in promoting greenroofs in the UK started slowly in the early 1990's and consisted of a number of individual architects, companies and other organizations, namely the people behind the London Ecology Unit, and several greenroof companies were established, namely Erisco-Bauder and Alumasc, a ZinCo International partner.

The key drivers pushing the second wave forward in the late 1990's were primarily researchers, writers, architects, and biodiversity champions.  Nigel Dunnett of the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield and writer Noel Kingsbury are co-authoring the first major English language book on greenroofs to be published by Timber Press (Portland, Oregon) in May 2004 titled 'Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls'.  Local biodiversity campaigners from southeast London include Dusty Gedge, Jill Goddard, Mathew Frith, the Creekside Ecology Team, and a rare bird, the black redstart.  Mathew Frith, previously with English Nature (and who commissioned the English Nature Report), now with the Peabody Trust says, " Although this work has focused around a particular conservation issue, I am keen that it remains part of a wider message about greening the rooftops of Britain for the whole spectrum of environmental benefits they can bring. In Britain the increase in flooding is starting people to think more about reducing surface water run-off, ...just another of our challenges.."

Over 100,000 sm Greened for a Bird Alone

The Male Black Redstart
Photo: Helen Bantock

The black redstart is a highly rare and protected bird in Britain, as endangered as the bald eagle.  The Thames corridor in London is one of its breeding grounds and strongholds, and this as well as many other species depend on the neglected area's brownfield habitats. Highly disturbed sites such as those found here consist of a mixture of concrete and other construction rubble, and they are actually biologically rich wildlife habitats.  Slated for regeneration, these properties must now take conservation efforts to ensure that their unusual habitat preferences are built into developments.

So the notion of the "rubble roof," "brownfield roof" or "brownroof" was conceived to recreate this very habitat loved by certain native birds, invertebrates and plants.  These open, sunny roofs are covered with material found on site - crushed brick and concrete with little organic matter, and slowly become colonized by wildflowers and grasses - a natural succession to a greenroof which will provide food and shelter to various insects, and valuable food for black redstarts.

Dusty Gedge, the principal driver of the Black Redstart Organization and a key member of the London Biodiversity Partnership, estimates over 100,000 square meters of greenroofs are planned for black redstarts in probably over 30 different schemes.  Read about these organizations below and see Dusty's December 2003 Guest Feature Article for more UK studies and projects at Deptford Creek, Canary Wharf and more.

A Few Flagship Projects

Deptford Creek - late 2002 - Located in the Thames corridor within inner London, the Deptford Creek area currently has two extensive brownfield greenroofs, first of which was put on the award-winning Laban Dance Centre, designed by Herzog & De Meuron; the building won the RIBA 'building of the year' award.  The second project is found at the Creekside Education Centre - see My Visit with Dusty below.

Laban Dance Centre Rubble Greenroof Laban Dance Centre's artificial brownfield habitat

Left: Laban Dance Centre "Ruble" Roof; Right: View of Laban Dance Centre with the artificial brownfield habitat in foreground Photos Courtesy Dusty Gedge.  Both habitats are currently being studied in a PhD program by Gyongyver Kadas.

Deptford Creek Greenroof Development Plan

Eight brownfield greenroofs are planned for the Deptford Creek area.
Map Courtesy Dusty Gedge.

Urban recovery was the task for Deptford Creek which had declined over the years from neglect and misuse.  Among other factors, improvements to the area demanded redevelopment of derelict sites and the protection and enhancement of the local environment.  Brownfields became common here providing habitat and breeding areas for native birds, plants and insects.   Work has since gathered pace, partly due to their linking up to Stephan Brenneisan's research in Basel, Switzerland, and also bringing the UK's  own ideas into action through circumstances, and rigorous promotion and advocacy.

So as it turned out, biodiversity was the driving factor for redevelopment, and in particular one highly endangered bird - the black redstart - was a key factor in the regeneration game. 

At least six more greenroofs are planned for this area, and when completed, Deptford Creek will have the largest concentration of brownfield greenroofs in England.   

BedZed from

BedZED from the website's Image Gallery

BedZED BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development), completed in 2001, is a mixed housing and work space development located in Beddington, London Borough of Sutton. Designed and constructed by a team of the architect Bill Dunster, BioRegional, Peabody Trust and Arup, to embrace all aspects of sustainable design, 82 experimental homes and 1600 m2 of workspace offer many eco-living amenities.

According to the BedZED website, "It is the first large-scale ‘carbon neutral’ community - i.e. the first not to add to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and is an excellent example of creative use of brownfield land."

BedZED Extensive greenroofs with wind
funnels; Source: bbc


Some of the  BedZED features include multicolored wind funnels, or wind cowls - which provide passive ventilation - sustainable building, materials, low energy appliances and fixtures, a residents-only car pool, and every part of the roofscape is used for passive solar, PV's, roof gardens or extensive Sedum coir mats.

Flat roofs have been used to provide private gardens where 300mm of soil has been covered with turf (but owners or tenants are free to grow whatever they wish). The extensive greenroof has been limited to the remaining (mainly north facing) areas.  Read the 2002 article in Archives.


My visit with Dusty

Greenroof Area of the Canary Wharf Tube Station

Canary Wharf Underground Station; Photo by LSV

Last October I had the opportunity to visit Dusty Gedge - biodiversity and greenroof champion, and a lovely and colorful character - who took me around to see a few greenroofs, from 'rubble' or brownfield types  to sedum mat extensive greenroofs to highly designed intensive ones found atop environmental centers, Tube stations and financial district buildings found within the London area.

On the day I visited, Dusty was about to give a lecture on greenroofs at the Creekside Education Centre in Deptford Creek, so three trains later, we met for coffee and were on our way to a whirlwind day of train-hopping and climbing up and down rooftop access ladders on a chilly and very windy autumn day.  Yes, it rained a little, but we were fortunate with our timing and I actually had some good moments of sunlight for photos.

The Creekside Education Centre in Deptford Creek

Creekside Education Center Brownroof

Creekside Education Centre Rubble Roof
in Late October 2003; Photo by LSV

The Creekside Environment Project has laid out a vision for an ecologically and socially sensitive regeneration of the 1.2 km long tidal Deptford Creek area - an urban recovery program to promote redevelopment of derelict brownfield sites and enhance local investment and the environment.  Jill Goddard, Ecological Regeneration Manager, London Borough of Lewisham, ran the Creekside Environmental Programme at Deptford Creek, and has been key to seeing 'brown' roofs being established.

The Centre's roof sports the low-nutrient natural substrate typical of  Deptford Creek brownfields, and spontaneous vegetation is slowly evolving, but cover is on its way.  The goal is not complete vegetation cover as open spaces are necessary to recreate the brownfield environment, and in fact, ongoing maintenance will see to this.

Data from the results of monitoring the Deptford area's greenroofs will be held at the Creekside Education Centre. Deptford Creek: Life On the Edge (2002) is a 36-page color publication describing the history, partnerships, local involvement, ecology, biodiversity, sustainable design regeneration projects, and a vision for their future.  All profits go to the Creekside Education Trust; for more info contact

Canary Wharf

Retail East Canary Wharf Extensive Greenroof; Photo by LSV

From here we took the Tube to Canary Wharf - the 86-acre Canary Wharf Estate is one of London's newest premier business and financial districts, with thriving retail shops, restaurants, bars, healthcare and fitness and leisure facilities. Canary Wharf encompasses one of the largest, if not largest, intensive greenroofed areas in England, at between 5,000 and 6,000 square meters.

Read the July 8, 2003 BBC News UK article about these  Canary Wharf greenroofs, "Green roof solution to lost habitats" in News Links.

We ventured onto three extensive greenroofs within the Canary Wharf Estate - two are very shallow sedum mat types and one is sedum on 7cm of crushed brick.  Dusty Gedge and PhD student Gyongyver Kadas are studying all three with the London Biodiversity Partnership and the Royal Holloway University of London, and more greenroof laboratories here are planned for early this year (See Dusty's December 2003 Guest Feature Article for more specific info.)  I have to say I loved the seeming juxtaposition of ecological study of endangered habitats and species atop sleek, modern banking institutions and other commercial giants - high above the hustle and bustle of workers and shoppers who, on the whole, have absolutely no idea that such studies are underway!

Both Photos atop Waitrose - Left:  Dusty examining a bee found in a study area; Right: Sedum Mat Extensive Greenroof; Photos by LSV

Forthington Court 4 Greenroof

Barclays Capital Building Services roof of FC4/30 South Colonnade,
Forthington Court 4; Photo by LSV

Interestingly, a study of temperature effects of the greenroof on the Barclays Capital Building Services roof of FC4/30 South Colonnade (the lessee) - was conducted last September by manager Burnett Parsons, who reports on the following:

09/04/2003:  "Since the installation of the 'green roof' at FC-4 20 Cabot Square, Canary Wharf, there has been a noticeable difference in the environment on the mechanical level, situated directly below the 'green roof.'  The temperature has noticeably stabilized throughout the year as follows.

1. During the summer months the temperature remains at a comfortable level. Before the 'green roof,' mechanical level ventilation fans often ran to keep the area cool. The ventilation system is now not required to operate.

2. Winter months required the heating of the mechanical level. Heating is now not required. I would estimate the saving in electricity consumption would be approximately 25,920 Kw per year."

Extensive Greenroof Drain

Overview of Extensive Canary Wharf Greenroofs

Left:  Test Area Drainage Outlet; Right:  Retail West Extensive Canary Wharf Greenroofs taken from FC 4; Photos by LSV

Canary Wharf Park Fountains Canada Square Park

Intensively Designed Greenroof Areas of Left: Jubilee Park;  Right:  Canada Square; Photos by LSV: 

Current Movers & Shakers

Several government and private organizations, universities, and a handful of designers and architects are actively involved in both London specifically and England in general regarding ecological issues that include greenroof development or promotion.  Many of the governmental bodies partner with each other for specific issues including greenroof related research and dissemination.

The London Biodiversity Partnership's mission is to promote and ensure green roofs are a planning condition where brownfield land and black redstart territories are likely to be impacted by development.  The black redstart was first reported to have bred in London at the Wembley Exhibition Centre in 1926 and since then its population has fluctuated primarily as a consequence of man’s activities within the urban fabric. There is a definite correlation between the black redstart’s population in London and the likely loss of its breeding habitat through regeneration.  The primary aim of the London Biodiversity Partnership’s BLACK REDSTART Action Plan is to reduce the adverse impact of regeneration on black redstarts and ensure that its present population is not only adversely effected by such schemes but, where possible, enhanced.

The Black Redstart Organization has been in existence since 1997 to conserve the black redstart bird, mitigating for their lost habitats, which means putting up aggregates onto roofs and allowing them to colonize naturally.  "This website aims to draw on all the recent successes and information available in this field, and amongst many welcome proposals, this targets urban brownfields for development and regeneration. Such areas support many of the strong holds of the black redstart in the UK."  The Black Redstart Organization is headed by Dusty Gedge, an ornithologist who is leading up the London black redstart action plan, a keen and passionate promoter of the brown roofs work, and author on several articles on the subject.  Dusty presented his paper entitled "From rubble to redstarts" for the Black Redstart Action Plan Working Group and the London Biodiversity Partnership in May 2003 at the First Annual North American Green Roof Infrastructure Conference, Awards, and Trade Show: Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities in Chicago, IL.

The Peabody Trust The Peabody Trust is London's oldest, and one of its largest, voluntary social housing providers. The Trust is committed to sustainability, and has recently endeavored to put theory into practice, having installed green roofs on its new BedZED development, and is seeking to install more in its future developments or existing estate refurbishments.  They estimate that their residents manage about 25 roof gardens and have installed extensive Sedum roofs on three developments so far.  Mathew Frith is the Landscape Regeneration Manager, and has also authored several greenroof and biodiversity articles and can be reached at

The Corporation of London provides local government services for the financial and commercial heart of Britain, the City of London (the Square Mile). It is committed to maintaining and enhancing the status of the business City as the world's leading financial center through the policies it pursues and the high standard of services. The Department of Planning & Transportation and the Department of Open Spaces have been working together to encourage green roofs in the City of London, as part of a strategy to promote biodiversity and environmental quality for its 7,000 residents and over 300,000 workers.

Currently, the Corporation of London has granted permission for three commercial schemes which have conditions attached to them requiring the incorporation of a greenroof, and a further three projects with similar conditions are expected soon.

No. 1 Poultry Roof Garden Cannon Bridge Roof Garden

Left:  No. 1 Poultry;  Right: Cannon Bridge Roof Garden, Liffe Building, over Cannon Bridge Station;
Both Photos are within the City of London, Courtesy of the Corporation of London

English Nature English Nature is a government funded agency set up by the Environment Protection Act of 1990 and champions the conservation of wildlife, geology and wild places in England. They achieve this by taking action and by working through and enabling others.  Pete Massini, Conservation Officer with English Nature, has helped to fund research, and key biodiversity work into local authority policy.  The Biodiversity Action Plan is the UK's initiative to maintain and enhance biodiversity. English Nature and other organizations from across all sectors are committed to achieving the Plan's conservation goals over the next 20 years and beyond.

The British Council for Offices' mission is to research, develop and communicate best practice in all aspects of the office sector.  By providing a forum for the discussion and debate of relevant issues, members receive policy guidance, a comprehensive program of educational seminars and technical tours.  Greenroof policy is but one of many areas currently being researched.

The Greater London Authority is London's regional government body, with a duty to prepare strategy for London on a range of issues including spatial development, economic development, biodiversity and energy. Greenroofs, as well as green walls and other aspects of building with biodiversity, offer the potential for the Mayor to deliver on a range of his policies, and he supports their proliferation. The Mayor's architecture adviser, Lord Richard Rogers, also supports greenroofs. The biodiversity and energy strategies in particular contain relevant policy.

The University of Sheffield's Flowering Green Roofs research plots were established in Spring 2001 and are situated on a flat roof on a commercial building in the City of Sheffield, UK, approximately 150 miles north of London.  According to Principal Investigator Nigel Dunnett, "The aim of the trials is to investigate the range of plant material that is suitable for use on extensive and semi-extensive green roofs in the UK climate (generally cooler and wetter than central Europe where much previous green roof research has been undertaken). Plant mixtures are being grown on different substrate depths, with and without additional irrigation. Plants were chosen for the trials that had a known degree of drought-tolerance. In the trials, substrate depth has had less influence on plant survival and performance that the effect of periodic irrigation, even if this irrigation was minimal. However, irrigation and increased substrate depth was detrimental to carpeting species, such as many Sedums, which were out-competed by more vigorous species under favourable conditions. Further trials investigate plant establishment methods, particularly the use of seed mixtures to establish meadow-like communities of both native and non-native grasses and flowering plants."  Nigel Dunnett may be reached at:

Nottingham University, Jubilee Campus

Greenroof on the Jubilee campus, Nottingham University; Source: Paul Collins

The Nottingham Trent University, School of Property and Construction has an informative Green Roofs & Earth Sheltered Buildings website created and maintained by Paul Collins.  Paul is Principal Lecturer and Head of Postgraduate Studies Faculty of Construction, Computing and Technology.  Look here for photos of numerous UK greenroofs - extensive and intensive.  The website also has posted a 2000 Survey that "intends to investigate the policy and implementation of two main areas of 'green buildings'; namely 'Green Roofs' and Earth Sheltered Buildings" by including flat roof contractors, case study buildings and separate questionnaires for forward planners and development control departments in local authorities.  Paul may be reached at

Various greenroof manufacturers and suppliers have representation in the UK, namely Alumasc, Erisco Bauder (Michael Jones), GreenTech (Simon Jacob), Kalzip, Roof Forest International (Kim Smith), along with others.  Numerous designers of greenroofs include just a few of the following:

Bennetts Associates - Rab Bennetts is Director of Bennetts Associates, architects of the Wessex Water Operations Centre in Bath completed in 2001. The building received a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Management) rating of Excellent and included new planting in courtyards and on roof terraces with species that complemented the local flora and fauna. The Head Office in London has an extensive green roof.

Residential Greenroof using Nature Mat

Nature Mat® by Blackdown Horticultural
Consultants; Source:

Blackdown Horticultural Consultants - They are busy in the UK with much interest at domestic and commercial levels,  particularly interested in developing the concept of a 'living' as well as 'green' roof. 

"By this I mean a roofscape that actively encourages the use of the roof surface by local plant, bird and insect species," says Dr. Alun Rhys Tarr, Horticultural and Greenroof Consultant.  They are also producers and providers of plant materials, in addition to offering design, consulting, and research and development services.

Urban Roof is an extremely cool website, and the team is a passionate "band of architects, structural engineers, landscape designers, construction specialists, and legal and business minds - and we're focusing solely upon being able to deliver, "soups to nuts" as you Americans say, "green spaces in the sky" in London (later in other large cities in the UK).

Overcoming Barriers

Difficulties and/or incentives with local government or area residents are being examined by several organizations, and everyone has their own opinion.  For example, the research conducted by Adam Ingleby of Westminster City Council in 2002 identified where some of the barriers lie within a number of relevant professions working in London.  I prompted stakeholders from various government and ecological organizations to give their opinions on how to overcome any barriers - be they physical, economic, policy related or other.  One respondent feels that there is a lack of awareness amongst the public and the property/developer/planning industry, and believes that we would all benefit from an up-to-date guide on best practice and information relating to possible hazards, etc.  Dusty Gedge says the key is getting the costs down and exposing the 'myths' of greenroofs.  Another says to provide clear, concise, colorful guidance in written form and suggests taking people onto the roofs themselves!

Alun Rhys Tarr of Blackdown Horticultural Consultants comments, "From our angle as a commercial designer, supplier and installer I hope that a key element that is taken on board is that no matter how many times you say 'Green Roofs are Good!' if the contractual process inflates the price from supplier to client (by at all points adding margin) green roofs will not be installed. We had an instance where our supply and install price into the contractual process had gone up by 250% by the time it was seen by the client!"

An energetic Pierre Wilter of Urban Roof states, "Let me put London in context. Architecturally avant garde, but completely bound by out-of-date legislation... and probably the most conservative building industry...There are some good, well-meaning folk here, though. Keen to introduce green roofs, using the environmental pitch, backed with academic research. But their success has generally been in large commercial green roofs. Great for the large corporations, not that great for individual citizens... there are 800,000 urban roof spaces in London suitable for, what we see, a blend of green roof and roof terrace. Tiny urban green spaces, primarily giving outdoor space for citizens, but with great environmental and other benefits as a side-effect."

James Farrell, Senior Policy Adviser of the Greater London Authority says, "The UK government needs to take green roofs seriously, establish mechanisms to promote them, and offer incentives for their installation. They should be central to their work on Sustainable Urban Drainage, for example. The quantitative case for them needs to be spelled out for different audiences, particularly planners (development control), developers and architects. We are looking to do this for London. Industry standards are essential, and the value of thin sedum matting systems not over-stated."

Future Outlook for the Third Wave

James also says that at present there are no UK government incentives or advice, and local government advice is sparse at best. The situation is slowly improving, with encouragement for greenroofs in some borough supplementary planning guidance documents, and to be included in an upcoming Greater London Authority document on sustainable design and construction.

I also asked people to share their opinions on how they see the future for the widespread, or otherwise, application for greenroof projects in London, and I received some interesting responses:

Mathew Frith of the Peabody Trust comments, "It will happen by hook or by crook; I suspect this 'third wave' of green roofs will break into significant action across the capital - one can sense the momentum that has gathered over the past 3 - 5 years (and that's coming from an outside position). However, the need for a non-partisan, non-business-driven organisation to advocate the accurate multi-functional values of green roofs, prepare model policies, commission and collate research, and prepare the necessary guidance and specifications is now very urgent, and some of us are in the throes of doing this…. The key, in my opinion, is to ensure that the various benefits/disbenefits of the full spectrum of possible green roofs is made available, that the Sedum-focused industry adapts to the other needs within this area, and that we engage with the right drivers."

"It is my opinion that as the current planned roofs for nature conservation are built, planners and regeneration managers and developers will begin to see the win win," shares Dusty Gedge, "In general, the climate is ripe and ready for a potential change in London regulations and ultimately UK law."

Rachel Hughes, Planning Officer at the Corporation of London says, "It is certainly growing but from a low starting point.  All local authorities in England have commitments to implement biodiversity action plans. This together with planning will be key driving forces in future developments."

When asked how the future looked for the greenroof market in London, one respondent answered a somewhat encouraging, "Not exactly rosy, but at least a light shade of pink."

The Place of the Bold Ones

Indeed, it would appear that more research and work needs to be conducted by the movers and the shakers and within various government entities to overcome barriers and heighten public awareness.  The first British national seminar on greenroofs was presented by "Landscape at the University of Sheffield and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities - UK" on September 24, 2004.  About 200 planners, architects and experts on greenroofs attended and discussed the need for compulsory roof garden conditions in the government's drive to redevelop London city brownfield sites.  Speakers included Steven Peck of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities; Mathew Frith of the Peabody Trust; Nigel Dunnett of the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield; Dusty Gedge of London Biodiversity Partnership; Heidi Eckert of ZinCo International; Noel Kingsbury, a noted horticultural journalist and writer; and Jonathan Hines, of Architype.  People commented that the event represented a diverse range of opinions, all expressed passionately.

The future seems bright for a partnership and collaboration of research and ideas for promoting a healthy greenroof industry between North America and the United Kingdom - certainly a promising future for further greenroof development and implementation in London - the place of the bold one.

To learn more about London, click on the following books:
City Secrets of London London Eyewitness Travel Guide London's Parks and Gardens

Pennsylvania and in particular the Philadelphia area will be highlighted for April/May as a U.S. leader with numerous greenroofs including university research, corporate campuses, and a variety of other project applications.  One of the nation's prominent greenroof industry figures, Charlie Miller, and his company's efforts will be discussed.