New York City, NY.
New York has always held special interest to me
because it's so vibrant with life - so much to do and see at all times of
the year. One of the many benefits of working for the airlines is personal
travel, and aside from the many times I've had layovers here - where we've
shopped till we dropped along Canal Street and at Bloomingdale's and then
dined at sumptuous delis and restaurants - I've also ventured to New York
with family for parties; school campus visits; shows; sightseeing; and
speaking engagements. I have presented at IBM's Watson Research Center
in White Plains in 2001 and the Earth Pledge Foundation, when I was asked to
speak at their green roof initiative symposium inauguration in June 2002,
and last March when I attended a greenroof plant seminar.
New York and New Yorkers have been called many things, but one thing's for
sure - they are unique, they are survivors, and they love their city and open
spaces! You can't beat Christmas in the City with all the spectacular
decorations and window displays, or Rockefeller Center in full swing. Spring
is a joy to behold strolling along in Central Park observing the sights of
sounds of people and nature, and summer is a great time to take in a show,
museum, or attend a sporting event. As the leaves turn color and the weather
starts to cool, autumn signals the promise of change in the air - and a
perfect chance to enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride and explore this
The memory of September here, in Washington D.C. and in Pennsylvania will
never be the same, of course, after 911. As citizens of the world, we all
relate and sympathize personally in different ways; as a flight attendant, I
related to the horrific events on one particular level. But when the call
was made for the World Trade Center site redesign, as an ecological designer
I experienced the realization that here was an opportunity for New York to
honor and immortalize our people lost by designing a sacred place that
embodied the very essence of human nature: life itself. By designing with
nature as the key element, a living, breathing landscape would reassure
future generations by gently changing with the seasons. Even the harshest,
cruelest winters eventually melt into spring with the promise of rebirth,
reminding us of loved ones and a brighter future.
Greening Ground Zero
approved Ground Zero memorial certainly has lovely elements of nature in the
design... and I may be biased, but I would love to see greenroofs integrated
within the built environment, so that people at various levels within the
structure can look out and experience the beauty and movement of life.
more of Studio David Libeskind's World Trade Center redesign at the Lower
Manhattan Development Corporation's
website. Along these lines, also read about the "Green Ground Zero
Sustainable Design Competition" at Upcoming Events. Green Ground Zero - "The
First Buildings of the Rest of Our Lives" is a project of
Green House Network
coordinated by New
York Climate Rescue, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting
sustainable develop- ment in Lower Manhattan.
September 4th, William McDonough, visionary green architect and Cradle to
Cradle author, will give the keynote address at Pace University to launch
Green Ground Zero's Sustainable Design Competition for Lower Manhattan.
Leslie Hoffman, Earth Pledge's Executive Director, will serve on the design
selection committee headed by architect Randy Croxton.
Ecological Design in the 1800's
Frederick Law Olmstead, the "Father of Landscape Architecture," along with
Calvert Vaux designed Central Park as a natural refuge and means of escape
from the drudgery of city life. Their 1858 "Greensward Plan" - the
design for Central Park - was a master plan for the first major park
intended entirely for public use, and over 25 million people visit the Park
every year. See photos, learn about history, conservation efforts,
tour information and much more at the
Conservancy, the private, not-for-profit organization that manages
Central Park under a contract with the City of New York/Department of Parks
Early New York Roof Gardens
Courtesy The Garland Co.
Yorkers enjoyed the beauty and recreation of Central Park year round, so
many New York theaters and restaurants followed suit and boasted roof
gardens since the early 1900's.
example, the five roof gardens perched atop the 7th floor of Rockefeller
Center have been in existence since the mid 1930's and continue to provide
greenspace and a welcome, visual respite from the norm of dreary asphalt and
August 28-September 4, 2003 Time Out New York magazine
includes the Rockefeller rooftop gardens in their feature article, "Secret
gardens - Discover the hidden worlds above NYC." The feature mentions
eight brief examples of private hidden roof spaces of memorials,
public buildings, decks, garden terraces, and intensive greenroofs.
Counting the Rockefeller's five greenroofs as one example, perhaps only two
other projects noted would count as an intensive greenroof - The Towers in
Brooklyn and a Japanese Teahouse Garden in Manhattan.
A Heart of Green for the Big Apple
The Earth Pledge
Although NYC is known for its skyscrapers and seemingly endless array of
concrete canyons, sustainable design has always been important to many
people here, and a large number of environmental designers, projects, and
organizations are including greenroofs as a design element in the planning
of a greener New York.
Earth Pledge (EP)
is devoted to sustainable design, architecture and cuisine and is but one of
the many wonderful NY organizations involved in greening efforts. According
to Earth Pledge's mission statement, "Earth Pledge identifies and promotes
innovative techniques and technologies that restore the balance between
human and natural systems. Through education, research, and implementation
we deliver viable models to government, industry, and communities. The New
York region is our laboratory for implementing replicable solutions that
will inspire and facilitate a global transition to sustainability. " Please
read the upcoming Guest Feature Article from EP's Green Roof Initiative
Director Colin Cheney about their many programs and initiatives, and read
about their greenroof in The Greenroof Projects Database
New York's Metropolis Magazine is offering $10,000 for a green
idea or design. The Metropolis Next Generation Prize was established
to recognize and encourage the talent of today's rising stars in design. The
cash prize of $10,000 will be awarded to an enterprising individual or
office who's Big Design Idea will benefit people and the environment, and
will challenge design professionals to create human-centered products,
environments, and communication systems.
The Call for Entries deadline is December 15, 2003 and late entries will be
accepted with a fee - see
The Greenroofing of Gotham
interviewed a handful of local architects and designers for their
experiences and opinions on overcoming barriers to greenroof
construction. Following are their comments and a few of the numerous
current and planned projects in the works in NY; expect to read more
in-depth about each in Greenroofs.com's Projects database soon:
Associates, a landscape design firm,
designed the Earth Pledge Foundation greenroof and is currently developing
the Long Island (Green) City Project (LIC) in partnership with the Pratt
Institute and Earth Pledge. The goal is to turn LIC into a model of green
development including rooftop greening on industrial sites and extensive
park creation. Also, Balmori Associates and Cesar Pelli & Associates
are designing 20 River Terrace - the country’s first green high-rise
apartment building which will include a large rooftop garden.
Richard Dattner &
Partners Architects is working on two greenroof projects in NY and
Queens: Queens Library and Hudson River Park.
Architect is working on a project that is a former tenement, now
condominium, walkup in the Lower East Side. As an owner in the
building and a member of the condo's board, so it has become his "mission"
to include some green roof aspects in the process of undertaking a roof and
facade renovation project for entire building.
In the process of
researching the project, David found that virtually no attention has been
paid to his type of structure, which is a predominant type in NY - a low
rise brick building with wood joists. This type of building cannot take the
weight of even extensive green roofs over an entire roof without serious
Eldridge Roof Garden
Prototype, Courtesy David Bergman
According to David,
he has "come up with a design that (1) takes into account the existing roof
structure, (2) provides a tangible amenity to the residents and (3) is
relatively affordable. The plan places lightweight removable sedum planters,
interspersed with some heavier bushes, along the perimeter of the roof where
the structure can best take the weight. Then in the middle, we will place
recycled plastic lumber decking, which both protects the roofing and is
removable for repairs. The planters are also removable per NYC code
requirements. With the shallow planters, the thought is that residents could
plant herbs or other sedums as they desired.
While this is not as much green coverage as one would like for a green roof,
it is an achievable prototype that could be readily applied to many
buildings - buildings which occupy a large percentage of the city's roof
area." Construction will start as soon as the waterproofing is
Big Sue LLD,
Susan Boyle, is developing two green roofs as part of a larger “green
renovation” of a warehouse/single residence in Brooklyn. Big Sue is
the general contractors on the job, and worked with Katrin Scholz-Barth
Consulting on the design. Big Sue read about greenroofs for the first
time in the Earth Pledge book Sustainable Architecture White Pages.
From that point they started talking to friends in the planning and
architecture fields to learn more, and now plan on integrating green roofs
wherever possible in future projects.
The Crown Heights
Brooklyn warehouse building is brick construction and was built in the
1880's as an ice house for a brewery. Both roof areas are designed as
extensive greenroofs. The smaller of the two has a 4" growth media depth
with an area of approximately 900 sf and is accessible to one of the
residential units in the building. T he larger greenroof is located on is a
sloped roof and will have a 2" growth media depth and will not be accessible
- but will be seen by hundreds of people a day as they ride by on an
elevated section of the subway line.
Big Sue feels that so
far the biggest hurdle has been coming up with the best, most cost effective
design. "There are a bunch of set designs out there but if your case
is slightly unique or you are doing the project on a tight budget (or both,
as in our case) and want to install as much of the roof yourself as
possible, you really have to do A LOT of research," shares Susan Boyle.
"There needs to be more people out there with the knowledge to come up with
different designs for different scenarios. I think this is starting to
happen, as interest in greenroofs grows, and more brands are putting more of
the materials on the market and making them available in the U.S. This
activity creates more competition - helping to bring costs down."
Big Sue believes with so many benefits to installing greenroofs, it seems
inevitable that they will become more widespread. Local governments
need to be educated about how green roofs can improve their city's quality
of life and their bottom line. Once that happens the financial
incentives should follow.
is a design studio headed by Alexis Briski and has recently completed a
small intensive greenroof atop a commercial office building in NYC on Maiden
Lane. Don Sussman of Town and Gardens was the contractor for the
"green" portion of the roof; A + T Ironworks fabricated and installed the
fence; and JB Construction completed the rest.
Surplus brick from
the building's facade renovation was used to build new garden walls that
match the existing parapet walls. The existing bituminous roof remained
untouched; garden walls were built on the existing roof with additional
layers of built bitumen placed as buffers. The new raised concrete
floor tiles are punctuated with three rectangular grass fields, each with
its own internal spray head watering and drainage system. The total
depth of the garden beds is 24" with the bottom 6-8" used for drainage.
Drain Away drainage mats were used and the growing medium is composed of
peat moss, bark composite and perlite, totaling 15" on average.
Maiden Lane Greenroof
by Chroma; Photo by Adam Friedberg
This design evolved
from the owner's decision to develop a tenant amenity on the east roof of a
1950's office building. According to the designer Alexis Briski, "the
view of the neighboring skyscrapers, the East River and sunshine were the
inspiration for this design. I wanted to create a serene and pristine place
that people could enjoy the view of the river, the sky and fresh air while
conducting business or perhaps eating their lunch." White epoxy coated
steel furniture from Landscape Forms and a white perimeter handrail complete
the pristine setting while an occasional stray dandelion brings the
spontaneity of nature to the otherwise ordered rooftop.
Fox and Fowle
Architects is working on two projects in NYC: the Helena, a large
residential tower for Douglas Durst, one of NYC’s largest developers; and
the Calhoun School, a private school that Earth Pledge is working with to
design their roof as a model of a "teachable" greenroof. Fox and Fowle
Architects first worked with greenroofs as they developed the sustainable
guidelines for residential and commercial development at Battery Park City,
NY, and feel that most people interested in greenroof technology see this is
a win-win idea.
construction, The Helena, an environmentally responsible, 38-story apartment
building, is located on the northwest corner of West 57th Street and 11th
Avenue on Manhattan's West Side. Designed using knowledge gained developing
the Battery Park City residential guidelines, high-performance technologies
such as black water treatment, high-efficiency equipment, and green roofing
are integrated into the building. The project is applying for a silver LEED™
rating and will be the first wholly private development of its type at that
level. The green roof chosen for The Helena is an extensive roofscape,
chosen for its low-to-no maintenance and capability to withstand potentially
harsh growing conditions.
Click on the
thumbnail at right to view special ecological design features
of The Helena, courtesy of Fox and Fowle Architects
Associates is a high profile rooftop garden designer working on a
variety of projects, including a greenroof for the Aveda office in
Hellmuth, Obata +
Kassabaum (HOK) has recently been involved with two notable projects:
The Human Rights Campaign building in Washington DC (completed) and the St.
George Ferry Terminal for the Department of Transportation on Staten Island,
New York City (under construction). HOK Associate David Cook, LEED AP,
says the St. George Ferry Terminal "Living Roof" is the corner-stone to its
partnership with NYC DOT and NYC EDC, HOK developed a comprehensive approach
to enhance sustainability without increasing cost and designed a roof that
can thrive on stored rain water during even severe drought conditions and
requires only minimal maintenance. Rainwater from two levels of the north
terrace and the living roof itself will be collected and filtered. A cistern
for the storage of the harvested rainwater will be located underneath the
loading dock instead of underground, saving the costs associated with
driving piles, eliminating the need for municipally provided potable
water for irrigation purposes. Although the building will be expanded by
25,000 square feet, water runoff at the site will be reduced. A highly
efficient irrigation system, employing drip irrigation technology, will use
only rain water captured from the site for the watering requirements. Water
savings will amount to approximately 200,000 gallons of water annually. By
capturing the rain water from the aforementioned surfaces of the building
totaling approximately 30, 000 square feet, the amount of the surface sheet
runoff will be measurably reduced. This action would also result in the
reduction of total solids, phosphates and other possible contaminants
entering the harbor.
Aerial Shot of HOK's
Design of the St. George Terminal, Staten Island
The greenroof itself
is planted with native plantings and is designed to attract the monarch
butterfly which crosses Staten Island during its annual migration. DOT
cautiously approached the "living roof," but embraced the concept after
reviewing the design and is participating in the "living roof" test gardens
along with the Staten Island Botanical Garden.
|Click on Project Thumbnail
support, David Cook states, " We've found the local government to be very
supportive of our proposals for putting green roofs on our designs...the
Department of Transportation has played an important role to champion the
green roof of St. George. And Governor Pataki signed Executive Order 111 a
few years ago which mandates that all new state buildings must incorporate
sustainable design guidelines. David believes that local residents
like the idea of greenroofs once they understand the health benefits and
realize that these roofs can be accessible and can contribute to better
views from surrounding buildings - he thinks the key is education - i.e.
educating clients, the general public and private organizations.
investigation and design will soon follow. "I think we are witnessing
the beginning of widespread interest in green roofs in New York City,"
affirms David, and he believes more buildings with large roofscapes, such as
convention centers and manufacturing centers, will use greenroof technology
in the future.
Gardens built a beautiful, small greenroof on a garden tool shed at the
General Theological Episcopal Seminary in New York City.
Mornhurst Gardens, Richard Heller, CLT, a landscape designer, relates
his first encounter as a contractor with greenroofs was with The Phillips
Club, designed by Landgarden Landscape Architects as a lightweight, low-cost
solution to an eyesore. "The design was a combination of intensive and
extensive techniques, very simple, designed to dress up the view of the roof
from the hotels elevator banks. None of us knew this was a green roof garden
and we were basically reinventing the wheel. The rear is about three feet
deep supporting arborvitaes and banks down to a few inches in the front
which is surrounded by an interlocking retaining wall system and four large
planters built into the design containing Kousa dogwoods," says Richard.
As specified by the landscape architect, the greenroof was set on Ameridrain
250 (the Ameridrain "greenroof" was not available at the time) and the soil
mix was a lightweight growers medium planted with vinca. Though the planters
and arborvitaes did well, the vinca was less successful, and the plants
rapidly consumed the organic material.
"Though none of us knew this was a 'green roof,"' our firm recognized that
this was a much lighter way to plant terrace and roof gardens that gave us
tremendous creative latitude as well," Richard continues. "The
following spring, as a speaker at a green buildings seminar in Battery Park
City, I heard a presentation on green roofs by an architect and realized
this is was the future for "in the box" rooftop gardens which are being
weight regulated out of existence here in New York City. As we researched
further, we enhanced the growers mix at Phillips Club with lightweight
expanded shale, changed out the vinca for sedums, and cut the water to the
Kips Bay Decorator Show House
Mornhurst Gardens has also designed and built a small private residential
greenroof lawn in Brooklyn, and done three demonstration green roof gardens
over the last four years at the French Designer Show house, Kips Bay
Decorator Show House, and will do a fourth project in partnership with Earth
Pledge and Green Tech at this year's International Designer Show House in
Regarding barriers to construction, Richard says that building owners are
concerned about what will happen to the plants if the roof membrane needs
servicing. They have ignored the fact that green roof gardens protect roof
membranes, and rejected the idea that the plants can be potted up, soil
removed and matting rolled up as needed. Mornhurst Gardens is
currently working with the GreenTech modular system to explore the public's
response to the idea that plantings can be moved in living tile form in the
event the membrane needs inspecting or repair - "What we really need to sell
green roof gardens to the more farsighted building owners are statistics on
energy savings, and a stronger lead by state and city buildings."
Oaklander, Coogan & Vitto Architects (OCV) is in the process of
incorporating intensive green roofs into four of its projects, all publicly
funded affordable housing developments constructed in conjunction with
non-profit organizations interested in developing supportive, assisted
living housing for the community. All will be accessible by the
Chelsea Residence, located at West 24th St. is a gut rehab of the McBurney
YMCA and will be a 207 unit facility providing community based living and
counseling services for at risk teens and the formerly homeless.
It is halfway through
construction and nearing the point where the installation of green roof
systems will begin.
- Miracle Makers, located at 1013-1029 Broadway, in Brooklyn is gut rehab of
an existing 4-story loft building and new construction of a 5-story building
that will have a total of 101 mini studio apartments and communal
facilities, specifically designed to house veterans and senior citizens.
- Georgia's Place, Brooklyn is construction of a new apartment complex of 48
mini studio units designed to house senior citizens and persons with
disabilities, also providing support services.
- Newburgh Hotel, Newburgh NY is a gut rehabilitation of the Newburgh Hotel,
a large 120,000 square foot facility in downtown Newburgh. It will provide
120 supportive housing units, artist housing with communal studio space, an
arts center, and social services.
OCV principal Richard Vitto
states, "The roofs are being designed for maximum aesthetic appeal,
function, and recreational purposes. Communal space is crucial to these
types of projects as it is a vital part of the supportive housing
foundation. The green roof provides a perfect blend of function, beauty,
efficiency, and community conscience."
that higher initial costs can be addressed
through monitoring and education. "Currently, there is no vehicle in place
that will translate the long term savings in reduced operations costs into
funds that will allow us to provide these measures during the construction
process. Education of funding agencies and the general public is also a key
- As we
complete projects which have green roofs and as the benefits can be more
clearly demonstrated, people will begin to change their thinking regarding
them and view them as a logical way to cover a building."
New York Government Support
People say that the
mayor is supportive of greenroofs, yet the City is financially strapped.
comments, "We have found government representatives to be a bit hedgy about
just how one claims new greenbuilding tax incentives for installing a
greenroof. So far the closest thing to a direct response is that there is a
clause somewhere in the materials section of the NY State tax incentive
program that allows people to who do have greenroofs to take a deduction,
though no one has been clear how much, for how long, and whether that covers
the green roof system, the system, soil mix and plants, or all the above and
the labor. We find this a little less than outright supportive though
certainly a huge improvement over no support whatsoever."
OCV's Richard Vitto says "We have not as yet
found funding sources that would help pay for just a green roof. We have
however received incentives from NYSERDA - the New York State Energy
Research and Development Association - for energy efficiency measures that
were achieved through an improved building envelope. The green roof
contributed greatly to the improved thermal efficiency of the building
skin. However, this did not easily fit into their traditional model
for awarding these incentives, as the thermal efficiency of the green roof
must be coupled with an HVAC system that will exhibit a substantial savings
in electrical energy, which is the real focus of the NYSERDA programs."
"We are also at a stage in the beginning of this process, and the
involvement of the various regulatory agencies such as The NYC Department of
Building and The Department of Environment Protection is still not where it
should be. Laws to accommodate the installation of green roofs, especially
accessible green roofs, have not been yet been fully investigated and the
overall benefit to the NYC environment has still not acknowledged by the
Green Energy Savings & More
Recent interest in greenroofs have had some New Yorkers touting greenroofs
as an ecological mitigation tool for lost greenspace, the urban heat island
effect and stormwater management. But the argument for greenroofs may have
become even more relative now after the August 14 Blackout - government
leaders are calling for new power plant stations to sustain the current
demand for power. No one would argue that the existing infrastructure
technology needs to be brought up to the present, but perhaps we need to
rethink the equation, and combine technological, economic and ecological
measures to review energy usage. In other words, let's build a better
mouse trap, not necessarily a bigger one.
Weston Design Consultants' study of December 2000 concluded that if all of
Chicago's rooftops were greened, the city would experience an energy savings
of $100,000,000 per year - and the bottom line is that "Peak demand would be
cut by 720 megawatts - the equivalent energy consumption of several
coal-fired generating stations or one small nuclear power plant." Dr.
Brad Bass, of Environment Canada says that just by countering the urban heat
Island effect, greenroofs can reduce the demand for summer electricity by 5
to 10 per cent.
Perhaps we may not be able to reduce demand for
power, but we can reduce usage through the energy savings associated with
greenroofs and other thermal optimizing design strategies. Does that mean
that a high number of greenroofs probably need to be built for a great
enough impact to capitalize on this theory? Probably, but I believe here is
an opportunity for New York and area governments to be proactive and enact
policy and economic initiatives such as grants, tax savings, development
space bonuses, etc., to offset higher initial costs and jumpstart more
I think we all
understand that national and city governments everywhere are financially
strained with many pressing issues, but we do need to stop mortgaging our
"natural resources" - that means our Earth - and our future at some point.
Let's encourage the earth friendly technology of organic greenroof
architecture through public and private support, education and shared
visions of ecological design, at the same time creating beauty, spirit of
place and reinstating respect for our natural systems and people of our
To learn more about New York, click on
the following books:
Join me next month
as I visit green Stuttgart and the headquarters of German leaders Optigrün
and ZinCo, and get an update on measures and initiatives.