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Sky Gardens ~
Travels in Landscape Architecture

By Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA Associate, Publisher

June/July 2003  
~ Inaugural Column

ATLANTA, GA.   Let’s start close to home – is based in Alpharetta, about 45 minutes north of Hartsfield International Airport on a good day.  Alpharetta is a great family oriented, tree filled suburb, and a byproduct of the great urban sprawl era when planners thought farther away was somehow better.  Greenspace is highly valued and protected, and although development continues to increase, no one here is particularly worried about the urban heat island effect.

Photo Courtesy NASA

Downtown Atlanta & the Chattahoochee River
 color thermal photo courtesy NASA, May 1997

‘Hotlanta,’ on the other hand, has been dealing with the higher city temperature phenomenon for over a decade.  Temperatures in downtown Atlanta are often 10° F warmer than the surrounding outlying areas.  The added heat contributes to Atlanta’s air quality problem, and the 10-degree rise doubles the amount of ozone.

Atlanta has been in noncompliance with low levels of air quality, and a concerted heat island mitigation effort is being undertaken from agencies such as the U.S. EPA, DOE, Atlanta area universities and others.  NASA recently received an extension to continue their 1996 Project ATLANTA (Atlanta Land-use Analysis: Temperature and Air-quality) study.  Atlanta has several organizations devoted to improving our environment and educating the public.  Southface Energy Institute promotes sustainable homes, work places and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance.  They host a quarterly Cool Communities meeting where we have two NASA research scientists onboard who report periodically on studies and progress in cooling down Atlanta.

Cool Communities is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “help improve Georgia's air and water quality and to promote healthy and livable communities by advocating urban heat island mitigation using sustainable cost-effective strategies for development, construction and existing structure retro-fitting."

Atlanta has numerous professional design firms interested in greenroofs as well as other forms of organic architecture and sustainable design – this year’s Greenprints Conference represented multidisciplinary firms from architecture, landscape architecture and environmental engineering fields, and also had a few greenroof companies as trade show exhibitors.

Click for larger image

Courtesy Benjamin Taube


Atlanta’s mayor, Shirley Franklin, has been very supportive of ecological design efforts citywide, and Ben Taube, Environmental Manager for the City of Atlanta, has been leading the charge to establish a greenroof test pilot project here. 

Approximately 3200 square feet will be greened off the 5th floor cafeteria at City Hall and will be monitored for ambient temperatures, energy usage, stormwater retention and quality, and plant survivability. 

This Current Project will be publicly accessible, and is planned to jump start a series of greenroofs programs and policies citywide. 


Buckhead residential tower; Atlanta office plaza; Turner Entertainment Groups campus; photos courtesy Rob Ryan.

City Hall won’t be the only green building in the Atlanta area – in fact, we have a number of lush intensive roof gardens and terraces on office developments, corporate headquarters, over parking garages, and other buildings such as the Georgia World Congress Center.  The three representative projects above were designed by Hughes, Good, O’Leary & Ryan.  Emory University’s Whitehead Biomedical Research Building became the first building in the entire Southeast to attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification through the U.S. Green Building Council last September.  A second Emory building is also slated for LEED certification, and test greenroof plots are also currently in the works there and at the University of Georgia.

As far as more extensive greenroofs are concerned, Zoo Atlanta’s Action Resource Center has a 16,000 square foot “living roof,” designed in 1997 by Lord, Aeck & Sargent.  The native plant roof is more intensive in nature in that it has an average of 18” of soil mix, but it not accessible to the public.  Saul Nurseries is the largest provider of greenroof plants in the Southeast, and recently erected a test greenroof of their own, where they will be testing sedum varieties and other succulents.

310 HauStudio Artist Studio, Gallery & Residence

April 2003 with blooming Dianthus and Sedum kamtschaticum - September 29, 2002; Photos by Linda S. Velazquez

My first greenroof project is located in downtown Atlanta, in the historic Castleberry Hill district, completed in 2001.  Here is a thriving neighborhood of true mixed use, with everything from refurbished luxury lofts to funky eateries and commercial establishments to the Atlanta Homeless Mission.

HauStudio is an artist’s gallery, studio and residence and also houses Squires Oriental Medical Arts.  The 670 square foot semi-extensive “Asian-eclectic urban greenroof” was designed for Butler to enjoy a greenspace atop the former warehouse and two-story loft home.  Butler is a precious 9 pound Yorkie who is getting on in years and needed easy access to the outdoors from the deck.   Five inch undulating mounds of sedums, dianthus, creeping phlox, and dwarf varieties of woody ornamentals and evergreens are set within stepping stones and expanded slate “gravel” walkways.  Area residents love the flowering greenroof with visiting birds and butterflies, and now many others are considering sky gardens above their barren Atlanta lofts, too.

Perhaps Atlanta won’t be too hot for very long.

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

Beautiful Atlanta by Peter Beney Atlanta Then and Now by Michael Rose Classic Atlanta: Landmarks of the Atlanta Spirit by William R. Mitchell, William R. Mitchell Jr, Van J. Martin Southern Living Landscape Book by Steve Bender

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