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“Up on the Roof” with People Magazine – a numbers game

September 28, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Check out the September 29, 2008 issue of People Magazine, and turn to the next to the last page.  “Up on the Roof” are Troy Wagner and his wife Julie – center stage on the mostly graphic two-page spread, talking about  their 110-year old home in Tacoma, Washington.    Back  at the beginning of the year  Troy had shared his experience with us about building his two greenroofs  using a  rather unique method.   Based on traditional Scandinavian turf homes, one has a  12/12 pitch planted with sod, and he actually has a resident goat who provides a unique but sustainable form of maintenance from time to time!

The second  greenroof is  over his lesser pitched garage, which he actually mows.   On one side the couple  tends to vegetables while the other is a flower garden.   Troy told me that after having owned a roofing company for 15 years and looking at 20,000 roofs he felt it was time to set an ecological example, so in 2004 they built their living roofs.   Check out the  “Troy’s Green Roof”  profile in The Greenroof Projects Database. People also has photos of the Roofscapes’ Life Expression Wellness Center,  the California Academy of Sciences, and a private residence in Sunol, California.

Known for their spectacular coverage of celebrities as well as plain old regular folk, I was surprised when one of the  People article’s authors, Maureen Harrington, called me back in July to pick my  brain about “the phenomenon of greenroofs in the U.S.”  – I guess greenroofs really  are becoming mainstream!   She was looking for facts, and Ed Snodgrass of Green Roof Plants, who was interviewed,  referred Maureen to me.

Everyone wants hard statistics (I also recently fielded some from Bloomberg News and  Newsweek), and  we get  requests  from tons of  freelance writers all over the world – the UK, Chile, France, Poland…you name it.   The point is  our industry is still accumulating these figures since research and projects, at least in North America, are relatively new.   I say relatively because although we can been studying and building modern-day living roofs here since the 1990’s, the Germans have  figures from many types  of testing and  trials from the 1970’s.   The websites of both Green Roofs for Healthy Cities  (GRHC) and  us here at Greenroofs.com have been up since 1999 and in terms of facts, each  has a lot of specific data: GRHC in their Tree of Knowledge page and from  Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference proceedings (available for purchase if you didn’t get to each one), and  Greenroofs.com in FAQ’s, ResearchLinks, Industry Support, and The Greenroof Projects Database.

But getting back to the People article, I  suggested ranges rather than hard facts  for costs and energy savings because each greenroof project is unique, something we have all been harping on for years.   And in terms of numbers of projects, I gave my best guesstimate of “more than 500” based on what we do have listed in The Greenroof Projects Database, profiles waiting to be entered, plus approximate numbers for under represented U.S. cities, including the more traditional sod homes found across the northern states.   And they only wanted figures for residential projects, so that number includes not only Single-Family but also Multi-Family and Multi-Use profiles.

That’s why it’s so important to keep compiling case studies from across the globe to show  the world  that  greenroofs are viable, demand and  construction are thriving, and the market is here to stay.   Everyone wants to know where they are, what type they are, who designed them, how big they are, etc., and of course everyone wants to see photos, too!   The Greenroof Projects Database is meant to be a free international resource, so we encourage you to continue submitting profiles with as much information as you feel comfortable sharing, and we always send readers back to the original source for follow up.

Getting back to the article, Ed has a couple of quotes and referring to the added capital investment of greenroofs, he simply says:

“It’s like getting a Prius or solar panels…It costs more upfront but there are long-term savings.”

In addition to the obvious ecologocal, economic, and aesthetic benefits, we all know that greenroofs offer habitat for displaced birds, butterflies and other wildlife.   I don’t know that goats up on a roof  are the wave of the future, but I do believe that eco-friendly architecture is.   In today’s environmentally  conscious climate, eco-trends are here to stay and as these trends become the norm and turn mainstream, we’ll see costs driven down and then the vegetated roofing market will really take off.

And who knows, maybe in a few years’ time alongside perusing the Best & Worst Dressed People issue we’ll be also reading about the Best Sustainable Design  Trends in People –  perhaps even an article  behind the greening of the White House?   Now there’s a people story!

The World Green Roof Congress ’08: Innovation, Research & Friends

September 13, 2008 at 7:24 pm

My husband (and business partner) Aramis and I were lucky  to sidestep  our film  scheduling issue and we are very pleased to be able to go to The World Green Roof Congress in stately London this upcoming Wednesday and Thursday, September 17-18!   Presented by CIRIA in partnership with Livingroofs.org, this Congress promises to offer us greenroof aficionados an interesting mix of the latest in innovation and research progress  in the UK and around the world in addition to a great working vacation.  

In 2005 we attended the  Congress in Basel, Switzerland, where I presented my paper “An International Call for The Greenroof Projects Database.”   We enjoyed a wonderful conference spending time with many old colleagues and friends; from the jokes of the late Dr. Dave Beattie  and Dr. Rob Berghage to the wonderful hospitality of Dr. Stephan Brenneisen and staff to Trish and Kelly Luckett (our travel buddies from all the Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities conferences and the International Green Roof Congress in Nuertingen, Germany  back in 2004), we learned a lot and had a grand time.   And we fully expect the same with hosts the likes of Dusty Gedge, co founder of Livingroofs.org,  and company.

                                                           Christine and her advisors, Dave Beattie & Rob Berghage in Basel, Switzerland, 2005

I’ve known Dusty now for  six years, and for those of you unfortunate ones not to have met him (yet – he’s always making new friends), he’s quite a character – in a good way, of course!   I know everything is relative, but he has quite a thick accent, and when he gets really excited he speeds up, making it a real challenge to catch everything he’s saying.   In fact, Dusty recently told Aramis, “I am practising talking slowly!”

 Examing a bee high atop Canary Wharf; Photo by LSV      Canary Wharf Underground Station in 2003; Photo by LSV

We first started corresponding in 2002, when  he was the lead for the Black Redstart Action Plan for the London Biodiversity Partnership, and this was the topic of his first  2003 Guest Feature  article for Greenroofs.com.   In October, 2003 Dusty took me on a personal greenroof tour  of projects in Deptford Creek in the Thames corridor within inner London, and across several roofs within Canary Wharf, a huge and hugely successful urban regeneration development, and his enthusiasm and knowledge –  not to mention his energy, was intensive!   In November, 2004 he contributed “Livingroofs.org ~ A New Independent Green Roof Organisation for the UK” and through  all his hard  work he has become one of the leading campaigners in the UK on greenroofs.   His commitment to promoting living roofs is genuine and wholehearted and is only comparable to his passion for sustaining and mitigating biodiversity in the built environment by incorporating living architecture.

Back to the Congress – the Keynote address will be given by Richard Blakeway, adviser to the Mayor of London on environment issues; who else will be in attendance?   Many local UK and international professionals will be speaking, and including Dusty, to name but a few are: Dr. Nigel Dunnett, University of Sheffield, UK;  Dr. Ken Yeang, Llewelyn Davies Yeang, UK; Paul Collins, Nottingham Trent University, UK; Dr. Manfred Kohler, University of Applied Sciences, Neubrandenburg, Germany and WGRIN, President; Wolfgang Ansel, International Green Roof Association (IGRA), Germany; Dr. Stephan Brenneisen, Life Sciences and Facility Management, University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland; Kristin Getter & Dr. Brad Rowe, Michigan State University; Peter Lowitt, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, North America; Dr. Elizabeth Fassman, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Auckland, New Zealand; and Dr. Sam Hui, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Hong Kong, as well as couple of our own Greenroofs.com Contributing Editors:  Ed Snodgrass  of Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants  is presenting “Green roof plant selection and landscapes” and Christine Thuring of Green Roof Safari is just  “going for fun” – after six days from guiding her first Green Roof Safari tour.

                    Allen & Overy's London modern headquarters - venue to host the WGRC; Photo source: WGRC

I’m planning on blogging while in jolly old England, taking lots of photos and film of presenters, attendees, exhibitors, and local greenroof projects.   So if you can’t go, check back here for some casual interviews and discussions with friends and associates, old and new.     You know it won’t be all work – we fully expect to enjoy a few relaxed, informal evenings with a pint or two in  some lovely English pubs with lots of local character(s), too!

Learn more about The World Green Roof Congress 2008.

Remember, Honor, Renew…and Imagine.

September 11, 2008 at 10:58 pm

As an airline employee  I’ve flown now on numerous 9/11 anniversaries, including today, returning from Orlando this morning from visiting my beautiful  daughter, Anjuli.   Days after this other day which will also live on in infamy, we were given lapel pins which read “Remember, Honor, Renew” and I’ve worn it ever since on my uniform in remembrance.  You can’t help but Remember the horrific events of September, 11, 2001 – the panic, the disbelief, the heroic actions of so many, the souls lost, the families separated within this lifetime, and also the rather selfish line of  “Where were you on this date?” which people love to go on about.

So today on Patriot Day here in the Untied States we Honor the people from around the world whose lives were lost on U.S. soil here in New York, Washington, D.C.  and Pennsylvannia  because of what, obvious acts of aggression and extreme violence which equate to social/psychological/political intolerance? religious fanaticism? or perceived meritorious acts of moral justice or superiority?   Maybe also a combination of these  and ideals from a  certain small but albeit powerful faction of Muslim separatism, an extreme type of eco-centrism, and a belief that these terrorist acts are selfless,  divine, and which according to these fanatics  result in the extinction of evil and the promotion of greater good?   I recently read about “The Romantic Ideal”  pertaining to The Holy War, which on one website states,

“Muslims emphatically insist that the Jihad, or Holy War, was only a means of defence and was never used as an offensive act…”

I don’t pretend to know much about it, but I do know that many Muslims were dismayed and appalled at these actions.   Read much more on the war on behalf of Islam.

We also need to Honor everyone who reacted immediately with selfless acts – specifically the brave firefighters, police, and unnamed civilian heroes, and afterwards  also to those of all races, creeds and nationalities who spoke against these inhumane actions – thank you!

So how about Renew part?   Let’s continue the healing process to renew our faith in human beings –  as neighbors carpooling each other’s kids to individuals influencing our local and national political candidates – to ourselves as citizens of the world.    If we understand that we all live on one Earth, we can extend this  committment to renewing our stewardship of our own planet – I mean, if we’re going to renew something, there’s nothing more sustainable for the long term than “live locally, act globally!”

When I put my pin on this morning it occurred to me, as a former student of landscape architecture back in the late 90’s and now as an ecological designer of greenroofs and green walls, that “Remember, Honor, Renew” is also a great philosophy in terms of environmental design.   We are taught to look at a site’s history, both physical and cultural, to determine the “genius loci” or spirit of place as a basis of design.   So from this perspective we can create a spiritual connection to the past in addition to promoting a renewal of ideals and ecological principles for the future, and really express the true nature of a site.

But the Imagine piece of the equation came to me from a rather personal perspective, but one that fits this new amended motto of “Remember, Honor, Renew…and Imagine.”   Our oldest son, Joey, celebrated his first anniversary with his wife, Korinne, in late July, and he picked out John Lennon’s “Imagine” as our wedding song together as mother and son – talk about a tear jerker!   It seemed the perfect fit for my firstborn who has grown into a young creative man with high ideals, so why not for the more jaded of us, too:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one” ~ John Lennon, 1971

Unrealistic utopia?   Can we truly live as one?   Could we ever live without possessions?   I doubt it – who knows.   But the sentiment is real and  parents pass on their beliefs and dreams for the future to their children, and we as designers  also have the  responsibility to pass on this type of holistic thinking to our clients and colleagues, don’t you think?

Imagine a world working in tandem to combat issues as seemingly unimportant  as a specific  religion (God is God, right?) or political theology to more pressing ones such as global warming (Nature as God perhaps?) and freedom, peace and safety for all.

So, “Remember, Honor, Renew…and Imagine.”   Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, maybe the new Freedom Tower which will replace New York’s World Trade Center (finished by 2011 or so)  will embrace this new credo, but we certainly don’t have to wait until then to continue believing in ourselves and each other,  and imagining a better future, do we?

Linda V.

Green Roof Safari – we’re rolling!

September 7, 2008 at 3:12 pm

After months’ worth of planning and organization, this Sunday night I find myself in a green roofed hotel in Darmstadt, Germany. Tomorrow Green Roof Safari will run its first day, and I’m hoping everything unfolds as it ought. As does our small group of jet lagged participants, I’m sure!

Tomorrow, we’ll launch the itinerary with a colourful bang – Hundertwasser ‘Waldspirale’.


The Waldspirale (“Forest Spiral”) in Darmstadt is a remarkable achievement of an original Hundertwasser concept, truly representing the Austrian artist-architect-ecologist’s goal of “harmony with nature”.

A flowering meadow, interspersed with trees and shrubs, carries the visitor from ground-level slowly upwards in a horseshoe shape, eventually reaching a tower 40 m above ground.

From Darmstadt, we’ll proceed south to Pforzheim, where we’ll visit the FBB-green roof of the year (2006). The Schloessle Galerie Pforzheim is an intensive green roof atop a shopping centre, and is an island of green surrounded by densely packed houses. At 7,000 m2, the green roof includes lawn, a bamboo ring, plant caverns, a playground, an Amelanchier grove, and walkways.

From Pforzheim we’ll continue to Stuttgart – the first city in the world to   promote green roofs with financial incentives (since 1986).   We’ll spend 2 nights here.

My Green Roof Safari partner, Joerg Breuning, is originally from Stuttgart.   Joerg has been working with green roofs from apprenticeship through his own business for over 25 years. And I lived in Stuttgart for a year, on a year abroad at Uni Hohenheim. At the time (1997), I didn’t even know what green roofs were, quite happy with a summer job working in the botanical garden.

On Tuesday morning we’ll meet John Doeveling, Garden Architect for Stuttgart’s Office of Gardens, Cemetaries and Forests.   One of Doeveling’s jobs in Stuttgart is to coordinate, care and control Stuttgart’s incentive program for privately-owned green roofs.   We’ll spend the rest of the day packing in as many green roofs and views as possible!

From Stuttgart we’ll head to Freiburg and visit with Christian Lang, who was my internship supervisor back in 2002. It will be great to meet with Christian again, and check out some of the projects in the area.

I’ll try to write more when we get to Basel.. some reflections on Germany before the Swiss goodness kicks in!

Stay tuned,