Perceptions: Seeing green roofs in Austria

November 18, 2008 at 4:36 am

Like  the majority of our readers/ visitors, I am constantly on the look-out for green roofs. Extensive, intensive, moss-covered, or grass-filled eaves… Every green roof is, for me, a signal of Mother Nature’s pulse. A sign that she hasn’t abandoned us entirely, and will slowly, subtly, reclame our denuded constructions with autotrophic (i.e. self-feeding, from the sun’s energy…)  Life.

I recently moved back to Austria,  one of  the several German-speaking lands of milk and honey. Further to my beloved cheese- and chocolate-dominated diet, this analogy also extends to the fact that I’m now living in the Motherland of extensive green roof technology. Whether driving along the Autobahn, hiking at 2500 m above sea level, or going to work, my hungry eyes are constantly satiated with the sight of green roofs.

Here’s the funny thing, though. When I lived in Reutte in the autumn/ winter of 2005, virtually all the conversations I had with locals about green roofs were met with confusion, curiosity  and disbelief:

“Why would you put plants on the roof?” “Never heard of such a thing..” “They may be big in Germany, but green roofs don’t exist around here..” “Green roofs wouldn’t work here, we get too much snow.” It reminded me presenting the concept of vegetated roofs to someone who’d never heard of it before in North America.. except I’m in Austria, a progressive member of the EU.

Granted, I’m not in Linz, which has been implementing green roof policy and incentives since 1989. I’m 600 km west, in a Tyrolean Alpine village that is covered by snow for 6 months of the year. Deep and persistent snow cover plays an important role to the cultural psyche of this region. World-class skiers grow up here. As far as the locals with which I’ve spoken are concerned, green roofs may exist in Linz or Munich, but they don’t fit in here.

What’s so funny, then? Well, when I returned to the area this past July, my eyes were repeatedly surprised by green roof after green roof. They are, in fact, EVERYWHERE here! Just as I have been pleasantly surprised, many of the locals (who had no idea about green roofs before) universe community now report that they’re seeing green roofs everywhere too.. they’d just never noticed them before.

The experience has been not unlike that familiar experience from back home, of witnessing the lightbulb going on above a newly introduced’s head. The only difference is that here, the green roofs are HERE yet few people notice them (or thought much about them if they had). In some of the cases (see photos), it is hard to imagine how  someone could miss them!

 

Catholic church in Reutte with green roof walkway

Catholic church in Reutte with green roof walkway

 

Tourist Information Centre in Reutte with green roof
Tourist Information Centre in Reutte with green roof

This experience has opened my eyes to how green roofs  are perceived. While North American’s figure that Europeans are light-years ahead with regards to social and environmental policy (realistically about  15 years), this doesn’t mean that all Europeans know what green roofs are.

Dare I conclude that, regardless of geography or culture, green roofs may be either new and exciting, or so common that the layman doesn’t notice them.   Is this too much of a generalization?