GPW: Casa Feliz Studios

October 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm Project of the Week: 9/26/11
Casa Feliz Studios
San Jose, CA, USA
5,375 sf. Greenroof

Year: 2009
Owner: First Community Housing
Location: San Jose, CA, USA
Building Type: Multi-Family Residential
Type: Extensive
System: Custom
Size: 5,375 sq.ft.
Slope: 1%
Access: Inaccessible, Private

Project Description & Details

Casa Feliz is a multi-award winning affordable housing project that is LEED NC Gold certified. The brainchild of First Community Housing, a San Jose affordable housing developer known for its innovative green-building practices, it’s located on a tight 0.34-acre infill site near downtown San Jose. Casa Feliz Studios provides 60 units of high-quality affordable housing for extremely low-income tenants – 35% of the studios are set aside for tenants living with developmental disabilities.

There are five distinct living roof areas at Casa Feliz. The large two top floor living roofs, one of which is planted beneath a 16-kilowatt photovoltaic array, are planted with a mixture of annual and perennial grasses and wildflower species that do not require irrigation. The native plantings are designed to attract insects, birds and butterflies, including the Bay Checkerspot, an endangered butterfly native to the area. Tremco’s biodegradable modular greenroof system, BioTray™, provides immediate erosion control and thermal resistance. The integrated system of living roofs and at-grade bioswales retain up to 80% of stormwater on site.


Designers/Manufacturers of Record

Architect: Rob Quigley Architects, FAIA
Contractor: Branagh, Inc.
Civil Engineer:
Carroll Engineering
Living Roof Consultant:
Rana Creek
Landscape Architect:
Cottong & Taniguchi
Energy Consultant and Commissioning Agent:
Guttmann & Blaevoet
Structural Engineer:
Living Roof Monitoring:
Tremco Inc.
LEED Consultant:
Simon & Associates
Modular Greenroof System:
BioTray™ by Tremco Inc.

Additional Info

Completed in spring 2009, First Community Housing and Rob Quigly Architects designed Casa Feliz Studios to replace an aging residential hotel near downtown San Jose; the project serves extremely low income tenants (20 to 35% AMI) with 21 units for residents with developmental disabilities. On-site tenant support services are provided and facilitate communication between residents and property management and all residents receive a free annual Eco Pass for free bus and light rail travel within the County.

“Partnering with the city and the local community, First Community Housing sought to meet a dire need in the city by constructing maximum density SRO units in a central location, with amenities designed to help residents connect to the community.” ~ Home Depot Foundation 2008 Awards of Excellence Affordable Housing Built Responsibly Case Study

At less than a half acre, the infill site required a creative and efficient design. Four stories of housing are located over a single level of below-grade parking for 22 cars; the 59 units average 255 square feet.

Because the residents of the community, living in a combination of deteriorating apartment buildings and Victorian-style houses, were worried about the potential appearance of the building, a series of community meetings were scheduled.

In order to ease concerns, in all seven different design charrettes were held for ideas and input and included the architect, landscape professional, sustainability experts, engineers, the rest of the project team, along with the local residents.

During preliminary design of this 4-story, 25,000 square foot building, First Community Housing was confronted with a requirement to replace and upgrade the existing public storm sewer to a 100-year flood capacity at a cost of approximately $300,000.

Analysis of Casa Feliz indicated the greenroof would actually cost less long-term than installing off-site stormwater-management improvements that would have been required otherwise by the City.

Seeking a more sustainable and less costly solution, the project team worked with Rana Creek Living Architecture to design an integrated system of living roofs and at-grade bioswales capable of retaining up to 80% of stormwater on site, such that only a new 10-year event pipe would be required for the storm sewer.

The two large top greenroofs have a custom designed built in place greenroof system, with one half containing the 16-kilowatt photovoltaic array.

The Tremco biodegradable modular greenroof system, BioTray™, was developed by Paul Kephart of Rana Creek and Kurt Horvath of Intrinsic Landscaping. The plants were propagated and transported to the site in coconut coir baskets. Once installed on the building’s lower-level roofs, these biotrays provided immediate erosion control and thermal resistance.

“The owner’s commitment to producing a sustainable building was recognized with a Gold LEED rating. In addition to natural lighting, another priority was the provision of natural ventilation and toxic-free building materials. Green building strategies include sustainable, recycled or regional materials, FSC certified furniture and site benches, water conservation, use of native and organic plants, low flow plumbing fixtures, energy efficient appliances, low-VOC emitting materials, and over 90% construction waste recycling.

The building’s crowning glory is San Jose’s first living roof.” ~ See the entire project profile at Rob Quigley Architects

The architects say that funding sources included the City of San Jose Housing Department, federal tax credits and State of California Multifamily Program funds.

The Home Depot Foundation Case Study says:

“First Community Housing has achieved significant cost efficiencies by maintaining continuity in the design, construction, and overall development process. By integrating green design features from the start and relying on a tested process, very little money was spent on redesigns or contingencies. Long-term relationships with suppliers enabled the project to get discounts and favorable rates.

The more prominent (more expensive) green features were the photovoltaic system and the vegetated roof system. The PV system hard costs were covered by a Workforce Grant from the city of San Jose.

Any additional cost for the vegetated roof was offset by savings achieved in the storm drain system design. Without the vegetated roof, the storm drain system would have needed to be replaced, at a cost of roughly $300,000.

A key strategy for all First Community Housing projects is to conduct lifecycle financing. Up-front investments in energy-efficiency, water-efficiency, and durability are easily justified because they keep long-term management costs down – a critical element for a building projected to serve 55 years.”

Learn more at Casa Feliz Apartments where you can see applicant criteria, download an application, or see the photo gallery.

Did we miss something? We’d love to hear from you!  Click here to see more information about this project in The International Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database. See how you can submit yours here.

Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!

~ Linda V.

GPW: Musée du quai Branly

September 26, 2011 at 12:07 am Project of the Week: 9/19/11
Musée du quai Branly Greenwall
Paris, France
8,600 sf. Greenwall


Year: 2005
Owner: Musée du quai Branly
Location: Paris, France
Building Type: Museum
Type: Living Wall
System: Single Source Provider
Size: 8,600 sq.ft.
Slope: 100%
Access: Accessible, Open to Public

Project Description & Details

Situated close to the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du quai Branly features indigenous art, cultures and civilizations from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The museum complex contains several buildings, as well as a mediatheque and a garden. The building was designed by architect Jean Nouvel, and the façade measures approximately 13,000 sf (1,200 m). Yet its most noticeable feature is the stunning and now iconic 200 m long by 12 m tall living wall covering the entire northwest façade, punctured by large windows.

Designed by Patrick Blanc using his hydroponic Le Mur Végétal system, the Musée du quai Branly greenwall is one of Blanc’s most famous vertical gardens, and one of the most highly photographed in the world. Facing the River Seine with a park and small streets in between, the micro-climate creates a good environment for a large variety of plants. A range of species were selected from the world’s main temperate zones, including North America, Europe, the Himalayas, China, Japan, Chile, and South Africa. Patrick insisted that the biodiversity represented in this vertical garden echo the cultural diversity of artists the world over, whose works were on exhibit in that very museum.

Designers/Manufacturers of Record

Architect: Jean Nouvel
Green Wall Designer: Patrick Blanc
Green Wall System: Le Mur Végétal
Planning Phase Project Director: Françoise Raynaud
Construction Project Director: Isabelle Guillauic

Google Maps Link

Additional Info

Nicknamed MQB, the Musée du quai Branly opened in June, 2006. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts a variety of shows, concerts, cinema and cultural activities all year round. Behind a sound-proofed glass wall is a secluded garden where visitors can sit and relax after their tour.

At first, residents were unsure of the new living wall cloaking the four-story building, and now they are highly protective of it.

I was in Paris last year in May and of course I made sure to visit the Musée du quai Branly, not the inside, just the outside. To say I was fascinated is an understatement! As I examined plant species at eye level I started following flowing drifts of plant communities diagonally, upwards, downwards…

The building was enveloped in different shades and sizes of green, red, yellow, lilac, pink and white. I started to feel like the reflective windows were just getting in the way of the beautiful picture, yet after a while of observing the colors of the sky change and white billowy clouds pass by, the juxtaposition of modern architecture and the look of a primeval forest was somewhat surreal.


Writing in the 2006 New York Times article “Quai Branly: A perverse, magical space” Nicolai Ouroussoff says, “By contrast, the exterior of the administration building is swallowed up by a vertical carpet of exotic plants punctured by big windows. On some stories, the plants invade the building, crawling down the interior walls. (“When you put in little flowers, people are happy,” Nouvel said of his design.)”


I can see that. The building is almost magical in its irreverent disregard for the status quo of boring flat façades of “normal” buildings – the undulating plant masses, the lushness of the sensuous sweeping bands of vegetation, and the desire to touch them all draws the visitor into the façade itself, as if it were a sub-tropical forest floor on its side. Photos above and below by contributing editor Christine Thuring in 2009.


One of the very best qualities about Patrick Blanc’s works is that the plants really look like they are the structure – not just planted on top of it. Integrated design at its finest!  Patrick is a great proponent of plant biodiversity – the wall contains over 15,000 plants and 150 different species from around the world.


It was fun watching some people’s reactions as they passed by – the thoroughfare that runs along the left bank of the Seine is very close to the Eiffel Tower, and the street is heavily populated with tourists.  I guess Parisians have had a few years to become accustomed to the rather large structure and have since become nonplussed – but I noticed that most passersby had to stop, look at the wall and then touch it, as if to make sure the plants were real!


A lot of people gingerly felt the many varieties of species, and in fact Patrick Blanc told me that he and architect Jean Nouvel not only expected people to touch them, they hoped they would! Some wanted to put up a screen or see-through barrier so people couldn’t access the plants, but Patrick stood his ground and said most certainly not, that it was part of the experience to use all the senses to really appreciate this living work of art.

As a result, some portions of the living wall need to be replaced occasionally, and Patrick said he was fine with that – sometimes folks pick the “pretty flowers and leaves” and don’t realize it’s a living being.

I saw several areas where the felt had obviously been replaced and stapled in new – to be honest, I’ve seen this in numerous applications of this type of living wall system, although this is the first (but certainly not last) and only Patrick Blanc greenwall I’ve seen.

The patented Mur Végétal system has been around for about 15 years now, and there are many knock-offs.  Patrick says he’s flattered and welcomes the opportunity for others to learn from his many years of research an experience with the hydroponic system.

Paris is a refined global city always seeking new ideas and ideals, and the Musée du quai Branly is a modern museum living in this classic setting, yet it also has been designed to contradict and inspire.  Just like Patrick Blanc’s magical vertical garden wall.

“This is a museum built around a specific collection, where everything is designed to evoke an emotional response to the primary object, to protect it from light, but also to capture that rare ray of light indispensable to make it vibrate and awaken its spirituality. In a place inhabited by symbols of forests and rivers, by obsessions of death and oblivion, it is an asylum for censored and cast off works from Australia and the Americas. It is a loaded place haunted with dialogues between the ancestral spirits of men, who, in discovering their human condition, invented gods and beliefs. It is a place that is unique and strange, poetic and unsettling.” ~ Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Read about my visit with Patrick Blanc a couple of weeks ago here, and don’t miss my exclusive video interview with Patrick Blanc and his “The Vertical Garden – from Nature to Cities” video presentation at the Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011 on September 27 & 28.

Did we miss something?  We’d love to hear from you!  Click here to see more information about this project in The International Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database.  See how you can submit yours here.

Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!

~ Linda V.


Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011: Final Roundup of Expert Speakers!

September 21, 2011 at 11:12 pm‘s  Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011 is less than a week away!  We’re coming into the homestretch with our Virtual Summit and we certainly hope you will join us!

Watch our short, fun, trailer here (under 3 minutes):

Last week I highlighted international professionals from Germany, Mexico, Canada, Chile, and the U.S., and here is the remaining line-up of wonderful, talented speakers at our inaugural online event, also from countries around the world:

Wolfgang Ansel, Germany: The Director of the International Green Roof Association (IGRA) will present  “Green Roof Policies – An International Review of Current Practices and Future Trends.”


Caroline Menetre, USA:  The landscape designer, graphic designer, environmental horticulturist, and contributing editor on will introduce the “The Vertical Garden – from Nature to Cities – An  Interview” with Patrick Blanc.


Matthew Dillon, Australia: The Vice President of GreenRoofs Australasia and member of World Green Infrastructure Network (WGIN) will present “GreenRoofs in Australasia.”


João Manuel Linck Feijó, Brazil: The principal of Ecotelhado, Director of ATVBrasil, and World Green Infrastructure Network (WGIN) board member will present  “The Work of ATVBrasil.”


Lluis Recasens Pahí, Spain: The Professor of Horticulture at the Institut d ´Horticultura i Jardineria de Reus will present “Sustainability in Plant Production.”


Dr. Clayton Rugh, USA: The botanist and biologist and Manager & Technical Director of Xero Flor America will present “One Decade of Ultralight Green Roof Proof-of-Concept on Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant.”


John Shepley, USA: The engineer, co-founder of Emory Knoll Farms, founding board member of the Baltimore Biodiesel Cooperative, chairman of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance and contributing editor on will present “Sustainability at a Small Business: Emory Knoll Farms.

Linda Velazquez, ASLA Associate, LEED AP, GRP, USA: The founder, publisher & editor of and principal of Sky Gardens Design will co-present the “2011 Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design” with Haven Kiers.

Remember,  Government professionals and faculty/students have the special discounted rate of only $25 – that’s for both days plus the 30 days archived on-demand through October 28, 2011.   Other professionals are offered the $49 registration rate.

If you haven’t yet, register today!  Please help us spread the world – tell your colleagues, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, newsletter subscribers, and LinkedIn connections to register here.

I think there’s plenty of room in our relatively close-knit greenroof and wall community to explore new information technologies together and not feel threatened by competition – don’t you?  In fact, don’t you agree we should celebrate each other’s innovations?

This is the  social  media event of the year!  We need to support each other and continue to find ways to collaborate and share information.  We’re thrilled with the many features we have up our sleeves, and we hope you will be, too.

See you next week!

~ Linda V.

Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011: See More of Our Awesome Speakers!

September 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Our Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011 is less than two weeks away!

Last week I told you about our seven fantastic panel sessions who you’ll be watching followed by a live Question and Answer session, including:  “Biodiversity and Green Roofs,” Greenroofs & Walls for Educational & Social Equity in the Bronx,” “The Portland Ecoroof Program: A Cross-section of the Green Roof Movement in Portland, Oregon,” “Vertical Agriculture: A Global Movement Starts Locally, from Walls & Roofs to Table,” “Wind. Water. Heat. Grow. Greenroofs.,” “Greenroofs: Wind & Fire,” and “Green Roofs Without the Hype.”

In addition to our four awesome Keynote Speakers whom we’ve already profiled –  Andrew Grant,  Charlie Miller,  Ed Snodgrass and  Ralph Velasquez – and other luminaries previously highlighted, here are more brilliant speakers you will enjoy hearing:

Roland Appl, Germany:  The Technical Director of ZinCo and President of the International Green Roof Association (IGRA) will present “Combining Green Roofs with Photovoltaics.”


Jörg Breuning, USA and Germany:  The principal of Green Roof Technology (Previously Green Roof Service) and co-founder of Green Roof Safari will present “Green Roof Technology Sails Around the World.”


Ignacio Espoz, Chile:  The founder of LatinGreen, Director of the World Green Roof infrastructure Network (WGIN), and Director of the Chilean Association of Green Infrastructure will present “Green Infrastructure in Chile and Innovative Living Walls for Environmental Restoration in Mining of the Atacama Desert.”

Tanya Müller Garcia, Mexico:  The founder of AMENA – Asociación Mexicana para la Naturación de Azoteas – (National Mexican Greenroof Association), Vice-President of WGIN, and Director of Urban Reforestation and Bikeways for the City of Mexico will present “Development of Greenroofs and Walls in Mexico and Latin America.”

Richard Hayden,  RLA, ASLA, CLARB,  USA:  The landscape architect and Garden Roof Department Manager at American Hydrotech, Inc. will present “Sloped and Complex Green Roofs.”


Haven Kiers, LEED AP, GRP, USA:  The founding partner of GreenSwell Design and Planning, trainer with Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, and contributing editor on will co-present the “2011 Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design” with Linda Velazquez.

Terry McGlade, Canada:  The horticulturalist, landscape designer, and  founder and President of Gardens in the Sky will present “Constructing Gardens in the Sky.”


Chris Wark,  MSME, LEED AP,  USA:    The engineer, Senior Energy Analyst for Viridian Energy & Environmental, and contributing editor on  will present “E = MC2 of Green Roofs: Ranking Energy Benefits by Mission, Climate and Construction.”

Imagine a world of green:
What are we doing to create organic architecture?

Next week I’ll highlight the rest of our stellar cast of greenroof and greenwall professionals and enthusiasts!

See the GGW Virtual Summit  Speakers page and  Agenda to learn all about each presenter and their presentations or the panel sessions.

You’ve got to admit that you can’t beat the super low registration fee of $99 for September 27 and 28 plus the 30 days archived on demand through October 28 to hear from all of these excellent speakers…

… but we want everyone to qualify for the even lower  Associate Rate of only  $49 (just type in the name of the non-profit/organization/constituency that you belong when prompted)  or the Students/Faculty/Government Professionals Rate of only  $25 (state the school/university or government).

And, you’ll be  automatically  entered for the chance at winning our second Apple iPad2 drawing, announced on September 30, 2011.

Pre-register or learn more by visiting:

We hope you join us for this very interactive virtual experience – think film festival meets 2-day  webinar  and online expo extravaganza!

Brought to you by, we’d like to thank to our Virtual Summit Sponsors  TREMCO (Rare Earth) and  American Hydrotech (Emerald) and our Exhibitors, Associates, and Media Partners – make sure to visit them at the  Expo Pavilions.

See you  online  on September 27 & 28, 2011!

~ Linda V.