Big Apple Green

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, The Green Roof Guy
The Green Roof Guy's Column

Photos by Kelly Luckett Unless Otherwise Noted.

Hello once again, green roof fans!

Two green roofs atop 1133 Avenue of the Americas; Photo Courtesy of The Durst Organization.

The Green Roof Guy has been abnormally quiet for far too long - initially because the economic down turn reduced the activities that inspire me to write, and then because of the amount of dedication some projects I’ve been working on required.  I’m just now coming up for air after a huge project in Central Manhattan for the Durst Organization.

People, let me tell you, the experience has been equivalent to working on a master’s degree in material handling.  This wasn’t my first project in New York City.  I’ve worked the Big Apple half a dozen times over the years.  To be quite honest, I’ve never really been a fan.  Its loud, fast, and crowded streets are a far cry from my sleepy little lake community of Lake Saint Louis, Missouri.

The Dursts put me up in an apartment about six doors east of Times Square.  Reluctantly, the beginning of last November 2012, I packed my bags, smooched the wife and kiddies, and headed for the city that never sleeps.  By the end of my two month stay, the big city sizzle was in my blood. 

The Durst Organization has installed over one acre of green roofs within their portfolio, and my project consists of about 24 roof areas and setbacks on six high rises in Midtown - 25,310 square feet total.  For you non-city slickers, a setback is the roof area where the building stairs steps inward as the high rise stretches skyward.  After spending a day with Durst building managers, observing narrow streets and cramped loading areas, riding freight elevators, walking winding hallways to peer through windows through which we would hand materials, I clearly understood the degree to which I had my work cut out for me.

Unloading Green Roof Pavers through a window at 205 East 42nd Street.

There are strict limits to the truck size allowed in Manhattan, meaning the 48-foot flatbed semi-tractor trailers I’m used to would be out of the question.  I worked with FedEx Freight Brokerage to solve logistical problems.  We would stage material at our soil blender in Millerton, NY, about two hours north of the city.

Interesting side note: The name of the blender is McEnroe Organic Farm.  We started working with them in 2006.  The Durst Organization is part owner of McEnroe.  They collect food waste from their offices and make the compost I need for my growth media.  For example, food from the 22nd floor cafeteria of 1133 Avenue of the Americas that patrons didn’t eat could very well have ended up above the 47th floor, now helping to feed sedums.  How green is that?  Actually, they collect food waste from all their Durst building pantries and kitchens in New York City — 11 buildings totaling 13 million square feet and send it to be turned into compost at the McEnroe Organic Farm in the Harlem Valley.

Anyway, FedEx would bring 53-foot van body tractor-trailers full of Green Paks and Green Roof Pavers (a new product of ours made from 100% recycled tires, 20” x 20” available in red and green) into a warehouse in New Jersey.  There the load would be broken down so it could be brought into the city 18 or 20 pallets at a time on smaller box trucks.  The palletized material could then be taken up through the building in freight elevators and transferred out to the roof areas.


Moving the pallets.

A few of the access points to the roof areas were in hallways or mechanical rooms. However, the majority could only be accessed through tenant space.  Some spaces were vacant, allowing us access during the work week.  Many were active office space, restricting our activities to the weekend days.  The entire pathway from the elevator to the window or doorway would need to be protected.  Literally miles of Masonite and cardboard protection would be duct taped in place by porters working the Friday night shift.  It would all have to be removed and cleaned before the start of business on Monday morning.

The scheduling made solving the Rubik’s cube seem easy.  How long would each section take?  What about rain days?  Then there were conflicts with concurrent building renovation scheduling.  As you can imagine, we ended up with a very complex schedule that had to be strictly adhered to while remaining flexible enough for the unknowns.  I know.  It’s an oxymoronic situation.

Hurricane Sandy battering the U.S. East coast on Monday, Oct. 29 at 9:10 a.m. EDT.
Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project via Flickr.

Schedule hammered out, material ready to start flowing, travel arrangements complete, all set to get started, I was sitting in the living room enjoying some time with the wife with whom I’d be separated for weeks at a time.  She was browsing on her laptop when she looked up and asked “What do you know about a super storm moving up the east coast?”  We tuned in CNN and watched for the next few days as Hurricane Sandy slammed into the east coast.  Landfall was October 29th, and my flight was scheduled into Newark on November 1st.

Needless to say, the project was in question.  I was surprised when David Neil, Chief Administrative Officer for the Leasing & Marketing Division of The Durst Organization, answered his cell the day before I was to leave.  He informed me that all of the project buildings either had generators or hadn’t lost power.  He instructed me to proceed.  I called FedEx and gave them the green light.  With standing water on the runway at Newark, the airline rerouted me to LaGuardia and put me on the ground on November 2nd.  While I was in the air, FedEx had left six voice mail messages.  FEMA was requisitioning everything with wheels to move generators and food into the storm area.  The next few hours were a rollercoaster of We have a truck, We don’t have a truck, We have a truck but the price went up, We lost that truck.

The Dursts were supplying the manpower from their custodial staff.  I was quickly approaching the go – no go point for the crew of 10 that were waiting to hear whether or not to show up.  7:30 pm Friday night, I see FedEx on the caller ID.  Stomach sinking I answered.  The voice on the other side said, “The truck will be there at 6:00 am.”  We were a go.


FedEx Freight before the break of dawn.

The first section went well.  When the tenant opened for business on Monday, there was a newly installed green roof outside their windows and their office space was immaculate.  The next building got a little more interesting.




November 3, 2012: 655 Third Ave. We were able to go through the tenant space through the doorway above; 330 Paks (1,650 sf) and 768 Pavers.

It was a larger project that required multiple truckloads.  We staggered delivery every two hours beginning at 6:00 am.  By the time the 8:00 am truck arrived, the streets were packed with cars and the sidewalks were packed with pedestrians.  There is nothing scarier than unloading 1,000-pound pallets of material and watching person after person duck under the caution tape and enter the loading area while feverishly working their iPhone.  It quickly became very clear: We had to get the trucks unloaded and get off the street before the city woke up.

We started bringing the trucks in at 4:00 am.  I was a little sleep deprived at first but the stress level dropped significantly.  We finished that building by Thursday.  We rested the crew on Friday.  They would need it, the next building introduced a new wrinkle.





November 6, 2012: 650 Green Paks (3,250 sf) and 864 Green Roof Pavers being installed at 205 East 42nd Street with four setbacks on 13th floor and four setbacks on the 14th floor.

The existing roof system on the rest of the buildings were all inverted membrane assemblies; they all had gravel.  The gravel had to be scooped up and bagged.  As growth media moved up through the building and out to the rooftop, gravel moved into the building and down to the loading area.  It was positively grueling work.  The Durst employees rose to the task.  With crews of as many as 15 men, they looked like an army of ants handing bags of gravel in through windows in human assembly lines.

Over the course of the next five weeks the sections fell into place one after the other.  Material flowed from McEnroe, FedEx moved it into the city flawlessly, and the Durst workers showed up every day and accomplished what had never been done before.  We were closing in on the last building, but it posed yet another wrinkle.





November 11, 2012: Staging and installing Green Paks on the 17th Floor at 733 Third Avenue.

The green roof was to be installed on the main roof level of the last building, which was over the 47th floor.  Just one problem, the elevator stops at the 45th floor.  There are four flights of stairs leading up to the rooftop penthouse door.  There is a hoisting beam and a trap door in the floor of the penthouse that allows access to the 45th floor.

I bought an electric wench and the plan was to wench Green Paks a few at a time up through the trap door.  The set up for the wench took some adjusting and seemed slow the first day.



November 28, 2012: Working high in the sky on the 47th and 48th floors atop
1133 Avenue of the Americas.

The crew grew impatient with me and the wench and they carried the 75-pound Green Paks up the four flights of stairs on their backs.  I solved the wench issues about the same time they were hauling the last few.  They were drenched in sweat and physically spent.  We had to take the next day off to allow everyone to recuperate.  No one wanted to carry any more Green Paks up the stairs, and I couldn’t blame them.  The wench was slow but it was steady.  We settled into a nice pace; Paks up, bags of gravel down.  We nibbled away at the 5,500 square feet until the last Pak was in place and the last bag of gravel rested in the loading dock.


1133 Avenue of the Americas in July 2013 top, and September 2013 bottom;
Photos Courtesy of The Durst Organization.

Since we were so late in the year with the installation, we decide to grow the 72 size plugs out to a larger 50 mm elle pot (32 count) over the winter months in the greenhouse and plant in the spring.  This larger plant afforded more rapid vegetative coverage of the Green Paks.

Our plant list for all of the projects included many types of Sedum, as well as perennials:  Sedum kamschaticum, S. 'Immergrunchen,' S. floriferum 'Weihenstephaner Gold,' S. spurium 'Fuldaglut,' S. spurium 'Roseum,' S. green reflexum, S. rupestre 'Sea Gold,' S. spurium 'Dragon's Blood,' S. spurium 'John Creech,' S. reflexum, S. tetractinum 'Coral Reef,' S. album 'Coral Carpet,'  S. sexangulare; and Allium cernuum, Allium schoenprasm, Carex muhlenbergii, Eryngium yuccifolium, Geum triflorum, Oligoneuron album, Penstemon hirsutus 'Pygmaeus,' Talinum calycinum and Tradescantia ohiensis.

Planting the 733 Third Avenue green roof in April 20, 2013.

Trish Luckett on the 655 Third Avenue green roof during planting on April 26, 2013.

After spending seven weeks working side by side, we were finished.  It was a great feeling of accomplishment.  We unceremoniously shook hands and headed for our perspective homes.  I have to admit, while I was ready to go home, I was a little sad.  I had lived in Times Square for nearly two months.  I’d sampled the best food, saw a couple Broadway shows, and brought my wife and daughter up for the Thanksgiving Parade.  I did the touristy stuff and I lived like a New Yorker.


What a view! Celebrating New Year's Eve 2012 on my apartment rooftop with Trish by my side.

I went home for Christmas, but Trish and I came back and spent New Year's in the apartment.  There was a small gathering on the rooftop on New Year’s Eve.  We toasted with champagne as we watched the ball drop, literally right in front of us.  We packed up the apartment and left the keys on the counter.  When the door slammed closed behind us, I felt a little pang, realizing I was giving up my Times Square domicile.

I did get to see my Durst guys once again.  In October, the Dursts had one more section they wanted to get done this year.  I put the team together for one more 4:00 am start.  By 2:30 pm, the Big Apple had gained another 1,570 square feet of green space, seven floors above 3rd Avenue, with a lovely view of the most memorable skyline on the planet.


Planting the Green Paks at 675 Third Avenue, 7th Floor after installation on the same day on October 12, 2013.

See the 3:12 time-lapse installation video of the 675 Third Avenue, 7th Floor 2013 Green Paks Installation in Manhattan below from Green Roof Blocks and The Durst Organization:


The Green Roof Guy has had a long career with many rewarding accomplishments.  Partnering with The Durst Organization to bring their rooftop green space to over an acre will always be near the top of the list.  I’m certain this is only a pause in their green roof story as they have their sights set on other roof sections including another Sixth Avenue high-rise, with an elevator that stops two flights of stairs below the roof access door.  I’m not sure how that green roof story will play out, but I can assure you all, it won’t be boring.

New York City night lights from the top observatory of the Empire State Building.

Until next time Green Roof Fans, from my family to yours, have a safe and joyous holiday season!

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

Publisher's Note: 1133 Avenue of the Americas is featured in the month of May in The 2014 Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Calendar – order yours today.  They make a perfect holiday gift for your family, friends, staff and clients!


Kelly Luckett

Kelly Luckett is President of GREEN ROOF BLOCKS and Green Paks and a member of the USGBC; he is also a contributing editor on, The Green Roof Guy.  Kelly has been involved in the industry since 1980, is a LEED Accredited Professional and also holds a GRP accreditation - Green Roof Professional.  In 2009, Kelly authored Green Roof Construction and Maintenance, published by McGraw-Hill's Greensource and in 2010 he received the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Civic Award of Excellence in recognition of his contribution to the green roof industry.

Contact Kelly at: 314.220.2113, or email him at either: or

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