GPW: Aqua

May 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm Project of the Week: 5/9/11

Chicago, IL, USA
80,000 sf. Greenroof

Year: 2009
Aqua at Lakeshore East, LLC
Building Type: Multi-Use
Type: Intensive
System: Single Source Provider
Size: 80,000 sq.ft.
Slope: 2%
Access: Private
Location: Chicago, IL, USA

Project Description & Details

Designed to comply with LEED certification, Aqua is a mixed-use residential skyscraper overlooking Harbor Park, the center of the Lakeshore East development on the shores of Lake Michigan, and is setting new heights for innovation and beauty among Chicago skyscrapers.  Each floor of the 82-story tower has an architectonic facade of sensuously swerving white concrete balconies jumping out from amongst its stolid brethren.  Each floor plate is uniquely different, designed to remind viewers of the limestone outcroppings along the Great Lakes.

The 80,000 sf intensive Greenroof-Roofscapes ® System roof garden by Barrett Company capping Aqua’s three-story podium roof provides a naturalistic, eco-friendly landscape that reduces the building’s interior temperature and cooling energy requirements in the summer significantly and reduces winter heat loss.  The swirling garden with paths reminiscent of Robert Burle-Marxe includes native and non-native vegetation of evergreen trees, shrubbery, grasses, deciduous trees, sedum and various annuals of great color and diversity, watered by an efficient drip irrigation system.  Challenges addressed in creating and sustaining Aqua’s rooftop garden included weight limitations and water filtration.  Because of occupied areas below, an International Leak Detection (ILD) system was installed to protect against membrane damage as well as other electric field leakage problems.

Designers/Manufacturers of Record

Developer and Executive Architect: Todd Wendell, P.M., Loewenberg & Associates
Waterproofing/Greenroof-Roofscapes ® System: Tim Barrett, President, Barrett Co.
Design Architect: Jeanne Gang, AIA, Principal, The Studio Gang
Landscape Architect: Ted Wolff, Wolff Landscape Architecture
Waterproofing Applicator Contractor: Mark Caruso, P.M., Kedmont Waterproofing
Construction Contractor, Sr. Project Manager: Randy Bullard, James McHugh Construction Co.
Landscape Contractor: Patricia Sund, Executive VP, Countryside Industries, Inc.
Electric Field Vector Mapping (EFVM ®): International Leak Detection (ILD)

Architect Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower rises distinctively amongst its modernist Chicago neighbors, and Aqua’s roof deck presents an unparalleled combination of amenities along with its extraordinary topography.  Already considered Chicago’s newest architectural landmark, equally imposing is an amenities package, known as The Shore Club, which is comparable to a world-class resort.  It includes the distinctive 80,000 sf living roof deck – the largest in the city –  with its luxury gardens, gazebos, pools and cabañas, hot tub, running track, fire pit and grills.  Indoors, a 35,000 sf amenity floor provides fitness facilities, an indoor lap pool, a spa featuring a hot tub, sauna, steam and massage room, a basketball court, private club suites with catering kitchens, media room, billiards and game area, business center with conference room, skygarden lounge and concierge services.

Here’s a cool photo of the Aqua greenroof under construction from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, and below it a plan view from Studio Gang Architects, via Metropolis Magazine:

“Gang extruded the floor slabs to enhance views of key sites in the area and analyzed the building’s seasonal sun exposure to optimize their shading potential, then softened the curves for aesthetic effect.”

1: Lake Michigan 0.3 mi; 2: Navy Pier 0.5 mi; 3: Lakeshore East Park 0.1 mi; 4: North Shoreline 1.0 mi; 5: BP Bridge 0.2 mi; 6: Cloud Gate 0.2 mi. ~ Metropolis Magazine

As you probably know by now,  Aqua recently won our “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof! Earth Day Photo Contest” submitted by Linda Smith of Barrett Company, garnishing the most votes in our annual popularity contest for favorite pictures chosen by our readers  of outstanding living roofs on Facebook through the end of April.   Aqua represents a vegetated roof project whose design and function clearly illustrates the concept of “Loving the Earth” through its sustainable design.  Granted, the luxury $4 billion development is not economically viable or sustainable for everyone, though!  But don’t get me wrong – it’s awesome to see healthy environmental design incorporated into high end properties.

“At 82 stories and over 1.9 million sf, Aqua Tower is one of few high-rises in the world that creates a community on its façade.  With a hotel, apartments, condominiums, parking, offices, and one of Chicago’s largest green roofs, this multi-use tower demonstrates both architectural and technical achievements.  Its outdoor terraces””which differ in shape from floor to floor based on criteria such as views, solar shading and dwelling size/type””create a strong connection to the outdoors and the city, as well as form the tower’s distinctive undulating appearance.” ~  Studio Gang Architects

Some of Aqua’s real awards include 2010 International Highrise Award Finalist, Deutsches Architekturmuseum; 2009 Skyscraper of the Year, Emporis; 2009 Annual Design Review Honorable Mention, Architect Magazine; 2009 “Proggy” Award, PETA; and the 2008 American Architecture Award, Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture & Design.

Aqua has a large selection of vegetation on the podium greenroof – here’s the Aqua’s entire site Plant List:

Fort McNair Horsechestnut;
Kentucky Coffeetree;
Austrian Pine;
Crimson Pygmy Barberry;
Dwarf Golden Barberry;
Green Velvet Boxwood;
Wintergreen Boxwood;
Cranberry Cotoneaster;
Sea Green Juniper;
Blue Rug Juniper;
Andorra Juniper;
Japanese Kerria;
Gro-low Sumac;
Green Mound Alpine Currant;
Pink Knockout Rose;
Anthony Waterer Spirea;
Goldflame Spirea;
Little Princess Spirea;
Miss Kim Lilac;
Dense Yew;
Hicks Yew;
Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass;
Purple Maiden Grass;
Hameln Dwarf Fountain Grass;
Japanese Blood Grass;

Daylily Mix –  Includes a mix of the following:
Happy Returns Daylily
Summer Wine Daylily
Stella de Oro Daylily;
Palace Purple Coralbells;
Variegated Sweet Iris;
Munstead Lavender;
Russian Sage;
Viette’s Little Suzy Black-eyed Susan;
Goldsturm Black-eyed Susan;
Autumn Joy Sedum.

Aqua is reportedly the world’s tallest building designed by a woman-owned firm (at least in 2009) – make sure to read the article by Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune here, where you can see his YouTube video of the site under construction – photo below:

Also, you can see a more recent video and read more about the Aqua in the June 29, 2010 “Finding Home – the hidden neighborhood of Lakeshore East” blog post by Rochelle Vayo Adkinson in Chicago Now here, photo below.

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.


The Winner of our 2011 “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!” Earth Day Photo Contest Is…

April 30, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Photo submissions and voting stopped yesterday for‘s second annual “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!” Earth Day Photo Contest and with a total of 71 votes, the winner is:

Aqua in Chicago, Illinois, USA!

“The Aqua, Chicago, Illinois, USA taken by Tim Barrett, Barrett Company, Millington, NJ” ~ Linda Smith

Well, it’s not the most descriptive entry by a long shot, but it sure makes up for it visually.  Congratulations to Linda Smith from Barrett Company who submitted this lovely project!  One of the tallest buildings in Chicago, the Aqua is a $4 billion development with an 80,000 sf intensive greenroof.  The 82-story mixed-use residential skyscraper is located in the Lakeshore East development in downtown Chicago designed in the Modern architectural style.  The beautiful terrace gardens comes complete with gazebos, pools, hot tubs, a walking/running track and even a fire pit.

Linda will receive a check for $100 and we’ll be highlighting it soon as our GPW, or Greenroof Project of the Week.  I want to get more shots of this stunning recreational greenroof and project info to share with you first.

The Aqua was neck and neck with Cultivated Abundance, another beautiful and sensitive project in New York City, below.  But yesterday, Friday, the voting really got furious and it’s obvious the Aqua fans made the difference into the evening hours.

Cultivated Abundance was submitted by Jennifer Nitzky from Mark K Morrison Landscape Architecture PC and came in second place, receiving a total of 59 votes.  I have to say that Jennifer’s write up is certainly the best – remember I wanted everyone to tell us why they felt their project was worthy of being an example of loving the Earth?  Read her entry below:

“Cultivated Abundance, a 2,000 SF intensive/extensive green roof with commanding views of New York Harbor is located on the penthouse of The Visionaire, a LEED Platinum residential high rise in Battery Park City. This dynamic intensive/extensive green roof in New York City sets a new precedent for cultivated abundance while incorporating such sustainable initiatives as recycling gray water for irrigation and retaining 95% of storm water on site. The vision and collaborative efforts of the landscape architect and client resulted in a residential landscape which celebrates bio-diversity, environmental responsibility and provides an urban farming component worthy of educational dialogue for urbanites looking to produce their own food with over 160 different species of plants. (photo credit: Mark K Morrison, RLA, FASLA, GRP)”

This year, we organized our Photo Contest a bit differently from last and utilized Facebook – each person could vote multiple times for their favorite, but just one time per day.  In 2010 we had a total of 1,500 votes for readers’ favorites, compared to this year’s 212 votes.  This really lowered the overall number of votes per project, but we felt it would provide a fairer approach than simply voting a ton of times a day for your favorite.  In any case, it’s still a popularity contest!

It’s been fun for me to read all 161 of the comments from everyone on Facebook – most are short and sweet, which is a great way to get the point across quickly.  You can still do that, too, if you’re interested, and see who voted for whom by clicking on each photo.

There were a lot of cool projects from which to choose, from small to large, single family residential to huge institutional.  I’d like to include each of these in our Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database so that we can all learn more about them and see more photos, too.  See everyone’s submissions and their total vote counts here.

As Earth Month comes to a close for 2011, I hope we all continue honoring our planet with thoughtful decisions, living roofs and walls, and more forward-thinking sustainable design.

Happy greening!

~ Linda V.

GPW: ESRI Canada’s Garden in the Sky

May 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm

As you know by now, ESRI Canada’s Garden in the Sky  in Toronto, Canada  is the winner in our  first contest here at, the 2010 Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!  Earth Day Photo Contest, and was featured as our Greenroof Project of the Week (GPW) from May 2, 2010 through May 9, 2010.   Submitted by Josephine Chan, Public Relations Specialist, Marketing, with ESRI Canada, this project received a whopping 735 votes!   Well, Josephine is a marketing specialist and  should be  commended on doing a great job of  getting the word out to vote for her project!


Although this really was a popularity contest, nonetheless, this “Garden in the Sky” is a stunning example of  collaboration, resulting in a thoughtful,  peaceful, and inviting  greenspace in an otherwise dreary, hot urban roofscape canyon typically found in our core downtown areas.   I asked Josephine why she felt the ESRI Canada living roof was special:

“The green roof is a great project because it provides access to nature in an urban environment.   It reflects the passion for the environment and collective creativity of ESRI Canada’s staff, who were consulted and encouraged to submit suggestions for the design of the green roof.   The result is a colorful, accessible and functional rooftop garden that significantly enhances our workplace and the environment.”  ~ Josephine Chan

ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) Canada is a geographic information systems software company who wanted an ecological roofing alternative for their ninth-story  headquarters.   According to an article in unlimited Magazine, company president Alex Miller saw big potential:

“We’re an environmental company.   Our business is building geographic information systems for our customers.   We wanted to set an example of what a company could do, for a relatively small amount of money overall, at improving the sustainability of our surrounding environment.” ~ Alex Miller

The greenroof was designed by Scott Torrance Landscape Architect of Toronto, who also  conducted  a Green Roof Feasibility Study for the ESRI Canada Head Office in 2007.    The design encompasses several zones of outdoor rooms  for circulation purposes,  and also reflects the indoor plan.

The project  was  installed and is maintained by Gardens in the Sky, Flynn Canada.   Not including the planters, the 7,500 sf  installation is a pre-vegetated LiveRoof  Hybrid  greenroof system combining 4″ LiveRoof Standard and 6″ LiveRoof Deep modules.    Josephine told us about several challenges that  were encountered during the design and implementation of the roof garden.  The first step was convincing the landlord, Crown Property Management, that it was an idea worth pursuing.

“Fortunately, they are committed to making their buildings more energy efficient and sustainable.   They agreed that a green roof would be a valuable enhancement and covered the cost of re-roofing the structure on which the garden would be laid.  Capital costs for the green roof were in the range of $25 to $35 per square foot.   The investment the company allocated for the project was substantial.   However, it knew the benefits would far outweigh the costs and proceeded with the project despite the severe economic downturn.”  


ESRI Canada faced other challenges such as winds, loading capacity and logistics for a project located in a busy commercial area of east Toronto, and shares the following items that needed to be addressed:

“Wind velocity, particularly nine stories above ground, needed to be factored into plant selection and installation.   An 85-ton crane was used to lift a total weight of 260,000 pounds of plant modules, including 100 yards of soil, 56 planter boxes and 4,000 individual modules of live root plants.   Further complicating the process was logistics.   Crane availability and other logistical considerations in a busy office building meant that work could only be done on Saturdays and Sundays.   This was carried out with a crew of eight working 12-hour days for two weekends in early May 2009.”   Another reason for doing the crane work  over weekends was so that the fire routes were not blocked during working hours.

One other interesting  challenge was  the need to access window washing anchors set within the gravel, which was accomplished through Scott Torrance’s design (photo below from Treehugger).   The landscape architect positioned the  plantings “so that the lines for the window washers go between them.  The gravel also keeps people on roof away from the glass.”


Kees Govers, BSc (Agr), of LiveRoof Ontario Inc. adds perspective from the installation process:   “In May 2009, Gardens in the Sky devoted two consecutive  weekends to the installation.   On the first Saturday, all the planters and furniture were hoisted to the 8th floor balcony and positioned, and on the second Saturday the LiveRoof modules were craned up and installed along with the irrigation and the pathways.

“The pathways were all preloaded in LiveRoof modules and were simply installed as any other module.   As a result, the entire green roof is truly portable.  It would take approximately one day to completely remove the entire green roof without a trace, if and when the time came.   Because LiveRoof utilizes patented “˜hoppits’ as conveyance for the modules to the rooftop, even grasses and perennials can be completely full grown ready for installation in the nursery and installed without any damage.  As a result, the green roof is truly finished on the day it is installed rather than requiring another two to three years of growth.”


These two photos below were taken by Kees  approximately two weeks after installation was completed (late-May, 2009):


Kees explains that unlike other modular systems, LiveRoof doesn’t stack their modules.   “We also use only a minimal amount of stretch wrap to prevent overheating of the plants.   As a result we can ship fully grown grasses, perennials and sedums without any shipping damage to the plants and without having to utilize refrigerated trailers.   The elevators are removed during installation to create a monolithic green roof without visible modules.”

“We always utilize the living mulch principle when executing plant designs.  No deciduous plants are used without an evergreen groundcover underplanted.  Because everything is full grown and already maturing at the time of installation, there is never any exposed growing medium.   As a result, wind erosion of the growing medium is virtually non-existent even when the deciduous plants have gone dormant.” ~ Kees Govers

Patrick Biller, Green Roof Maintenance & Installation with Flynn Canada, Gardens in the Sky, believes the ESRI is a unique project.  “It has all the typical Sedums and grasses that other LiveRoof systems have, but it also has an area devoted to plants that are unique to green roofs.  A lot of rock garden Sempervivums were used, as well as thyme and Nepeta.   The sculpture in the center is unique and points in the direction of the city with the CN Tower in the background.”   From a maintenance point of view, Patrick says that the  LiveRoof system is quick to install, fills in quickly, and reduces the maintenance challenges, and that everything about the system is efficient.   Other than a few select perennials such as coreopsis and evening primrose dying out,  the greenroof  has filled in very nicely.   In early May Flynn Canada/Gardens in the Sky planted some more coreopsis and yarrow.

“I had the privilege of doing the spring clean-up on this site this spring, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly.  All the hustle and bustle of the city, with the Don Valley Parkway directly underneath and general road noise are masked up there, and it feels like an oasis.  Not very often do we do projects that can actually separate you from your surroundings, offering a tranquil space for people to enjoy.  I wish more projects were like this one!” ~ Patrick Biller

Despite the many site  challenges, ESRI Canada believes the company was able to “transform a previously dreary concrete terrace into a lush green roof that provides important environmental and business benefits, including improved air quality, lower energy consumption for air conditioning and reduced stormwater runoff.   Previously, you would be met by dust and highway noise when you stepped out onto the terrace.   Now, employees and visitors can walk out to green outdoor space for formal meetings, corporate events and informal lunch breaks.   They can enjoy the breathtaking view of perennials and tall grasses intermingled with sedums that can also be seen from inside and neighbouring buildings.   Birds and butterflies have also become frequent visitors to the green roof.   It has been transformed into a colourful, living garden enjoyed by many.”

Josephine gave us her personal reflections on the greenroof and its contribution to a healthier Earth:   “It’s been almost a year since ESRI Canada’s green roof was installed.  It was about the same time when I started with the company.  I have never worked in an office with a green roof before so I was, and still am, extremely impressed with ESRI Canada’s environmental effort and proud to be part of a company that is committed to being green.

“From inside the offices, you get seamless views of the garden, which is broken into zones that extend the interior space.   It’s a refreshing place to relax during breaks and provides a great venue for more formal corporate gatherings.  It’s designed with several walkways, so you can tour the roof and look closely at the more than 50 varieties of shrubs, flowering plants, grasses and trees.

“We’ve hosted numerous tours for customers, partners, journalists, and tenants in the building and surrounding buildings who are curious to see the green roof.  They are always amazed by how cool and quiet it is there, given that the busy Don Valley Parkway is just below.   Birds and butterflies are also frequent visitors.  It’s a living garden enjoyed by many.   In addition to providing weather and noise insulation, it retains stormwater and delivers significant energy cost savings.   It also serves as an excellent demonstration of and inspiration for preserving nature and caring for the environment.  “

Kudos to  all the stakeholders for a wonderful project and in particular  to Josephine Chan of ESRI Canada, who says she’ll be donating the $100 prize to a local charity that protects migratory birds.   Josephine adds, “I love seeing them on the green roof!”

Lloyd Alter from created two videos about the project for his article “Prefab, Portable Green Roof Installed In Toronto” of October 5, 2009, where he interviewed ESRI General Manager John Kitchen and the landscape architect, Scott Torrance.     Also read more from  the  project  profile in the Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database, and watch a short video about ESRI Canada’s Garden in the Sky below:

Happy Greening for Mother Earth! ~ Linda V.

The 2010 “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!” Earth Day Photo Contest Top 10 List

May 3, 2010 at 2:58 am

You know by now that the winner of our inaugural “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!” Earth Day Photo Contest 2010 is ESRI Canada’s Garden in the Sky, and here we go, following up with our Top 10 List of the entries accumulating the highest number of votes overall.

We received 30 photos of international living roof projects representing seven countries, including the United States (18), Canada (6), UK (2), Japan (1), Singapore (1), Germany (1), and Sweden (1).

Without further ado, here are the top votes in descending order – click on hyperlinks to learn more about each project – if they don’t have one, that means we don’t have a profile yet in The Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database, but we will soon:

2010 “Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!” Earth Day Photo Contest
Top 10 List

#1) ESRI Canada’s Garden in the Sky, Toronto, Ontario, Canada – 735 votes

Overlooking one of Toronto’s busiest highways, this 7,500-sq-ft portable garden reduces urban heat, noise and stormwater runoff. It provides lush meeting space for staff and visitors, as well as habitat for birds and butterflies. It helps create a greener, healthier environment. Photo by Margaret Mulligan.

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#2)  parc24, Vero Beach, Florida, USA – 190 votes

Parc24 is taking a stand, and directing Vero Beach into the future, where business can be smart by design and green by nature. Photo by Leah Campbell.

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#3)  Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada – 158 votes

This green roof is the pinnacle of what a green roof should be. It combines Art, Architecture, Design, and Ingenuity, without sacrificing its Ecological Benefits. Photo by Patrick Biller.

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#4)  Bellevue Towers, Bellevue, Washington, USA – 86 votes

At nearly an acre in size, the rooftop garden’s bold, modern geometry is informed by the curvilinear tower design, which includes 27,100 square feet of intensive roof garden planting area and 6,400 square feet of extensive ecoroof.  The intensive gardens between towers provide a valuable, usable outdoor spaces for the residents and a visual asset to the condominium units above and adjacent office buildings. This project is certified LEED Gold. Photo by Ben Johnson.

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#5)  Longdrive Residential green roof, Long Eddy, New York, USA – 85 votes

Located on 63 acres in upstate New York the house sits at the edge of the woods overlooking a meadow.  The planted roof on three levels blends into the natural landscape and encourages the wildlife to creep in close to the house. Photo by Steve Chrostowski.

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#6)  St. Louis Children’s Hospital Rooftop Garden,  St. Louis, Missouri, USA – 71 votes

Just outside St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s eighth floor, patients have a unique setting to enjoy time with nature, a private walk or quiet reflection. The 8,000-square-foot Olson Family Garden , an interactive rooftop oasis designed expressly for children and families who want a place for privacy, solace and healing, is another reason why St. Louis Children’s Hospital is a special place for kids. Photo by Tom Tyler.

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#7)  Trent University, Peterborough, ON Canada – 47 votes

Trent’s roof top garden sits on our Environmental Sciences Building providing learning and volunteer opportunities for students.  In this garden we grow vegetables and herbs that are served in our organic campus cafe, the Seasoned Spoon!  Photo by Leslie Menagh.

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#8)  College of Law, Saskatoon, Canada – 36 votes

This 650 m2 green roof is thriving in an extreme climate. Pasture sage, a plant indigenous to the region, grows above the Native Law Centre. In late summer, the sage is harvested in a traditional manner by faculty of the NLC to use for smudging in ceremonies throughout the following year. Photo by Goya Ngan.

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#9)  Greenroof Pavilion at Rock Mill Park, Alpharetta, Georgia, USA – 32 votes

The Greenroof Pavilion design honors the land and Cherokee heritage in this historically and environmentally sensitive Big Creek Watershed with The Greenroof Trial Gardens display; hands-on models and interpretive signage inform young and old alike. Photo by Caroline Menetre.

Note:  FYI – Although I designed this, I did not vote for it, nor any other project for that matter.  This entry was submitted by Caroline Menetre, our Student Intern, who has helped me with planting, plant trial record keeping, and weeding duties – I like how she didn’t even bother to come up with her own narrative, but felt comfortable just copying my own example above!

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#10)  Miami Science Museum, Miami, Florida, USA – 21 votes

The Museum’s four green roof assemblies, each with varied depths and irrigation schedules, include interpretive signs and rain/ temperature sensors. They provide information for visitors and data for the designers of the Museum’s new building. Photo by Chris Trigg.

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See all the photo submittals here.  In my eyes, everyone who entered a photo is a winner, and I know we all enjoyed seeing this wide assortment of greenroofs.  Next year I promise to start earlier so you can have more time to get your “people” to vote for your favorite project – but it was fun, although a bit fast and furious!

Happy greening ~ Linda V.