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August 2015
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Green Roof Graces West Michigan Symphony’s Gathering Space


By David Aquilina
Strategic Storyteller

The 900 square-foot green roof features a permeable pavement patio with a distinctive musical note design

West Michigan Symphony's greenroof atop The Russell Block Building.  Photo Courtesy of WMS.

Since performing its first concert in 1939, the West Michigan Symphony (WMS), a professional orchestra in Muskegon, Michigan, has been a vital part of the region’s cultural landscape.  Today, under the musical direction of Scott Speck, WMS offers eight subscription concerts (five classical and three pops) per season.

The Symphony orchestra performs at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Muskegon.  The historic venue is also the performance home of the Muskegon Civic Theatre.  WMS maintained its administrative offices at the Frauenthal, but a few years ago, Carla Hill, president and chief executive officer of the Symphony, began looking into options in the developing downtown area.

“Artists and audiences alike praise the Frauenthal Theater for its extraordinary beauty, excellent acoustics and broad sight lines,” said Hill.  “It is a wonderful home for our concerts, but our offices and meeting rooms were less than ideal.”

The historic Russell Block Building.  Photo Courtesy of The Block.

New Possibilities in an Old Building

The Symphony initially intended to relocate only its ticket office, but by the spring of 2013, the entire staff moved into new offices on the second floor of the renovated Russell Block Building.  Constructed in 1890, the historic building is on West Western Avenue, one block away from the Frauenthal Center.

“In addition to new offices, the renovation of the Russell Block Building gave us the opportunity to fulfill our dream of creating a flexible space to stage smaller, more intimate fine arts performances,” said Hill.

Preparing for an intimate performance.  Photos: WMS.

“It is called The Block,” explained Gary Post, manager, Port City Construction & Development Services, LLC, who planned and managed the renovation.  “Located on the second floor, the 1,800-square-foot area offers seating on two levels for up to 150 people.  In addition to hosting a wide array of performances, The Block serves as a venue for meetings and special events.”

Before: Unattractive and unused roof space.  Photo: The Block.

Muskegon Lake is visible from the west-facing windows of The Block.  Just one problem – just outside the windows was an unimproved tar roof, an uninspiring disruption of the view.

“The idea of creating a rooftop patio area with a garden came from conversations between the Symphony and Port City,” said Harry Wierenga, landscape architect, Fleis & VandenBrink, Inc. (F&V).  “Together, we envisioned establishing a useable space that would be more than a hardscape but a welcoming place enlivened by the colors and textures of growing plants.”

Wierenga created a design to transform the roof into an accessible and appealing outdoor space.  His design invites patrons of The Block to the outdoors onto a landscaped rooftop patio.

After: An invitation to an appealing outdoor area.  Photo: WMS.

Widening the opening from the interior of The Block to the roof and installing glass double doors established a generous and transparent transition from indoors to outdoors.  The doors and windows also serve to visually bring the outdoors into the building’s interior.  A new 40-inch-high wall around the perimeter shelters the space and supports rooftop safety.  The signature element of the design is the unique musical note motif expressed in the pavement itself.  The green roof vegetation surrounds the paved area on three sides.

“To create visual interest within the rectangular shape of the roof, the design of the paved area and the green roof element includes irregular shapes and angles and varied textures to break up the space,” said Wierenga.

The signature element: Distinctive musical note motif.  Photo: WMS.

Green Roof System for the Rooftop Garden

In evaluating alternatives, the project team looked for a green roof system that could conform to the angles and corners of the patio design.  Another priority was supplemental irrigation with no visible components or spray heads that would disrupt the experience of the garden setting.  They selected the Advanced Green Roof Flex-Built System from Advanced Green Architecture (AGA).  It is a tray system with trays manufactured in 100 percent recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE).  A 100 percent recycled polyester water absorbent mat is inserted into the trays before the growing medium and pre-grown plants are installed.  The mat provides retention and acts as separator and filter fabric.  It also serves as a capillary action irrigation mat for the system’s integrated drip-line irrigation component.

“Jeremiah Johnson and his colleagues at Advanced Green Architecture were responsive and devoted time to understanding our vision for the rooftop,” said Hill.  “He presented alternative green roof designs that would complement and fulfill Harry’s overall landscape plan.”

Taller accent plants create visual interest.  Photo: AGA.

“To create a rooftop garden, rather than just a utilitarian green roof, we came up with designs emphasizing plant variety with taller accent plants,” said Jeremiah Johnson, principal, AGA.   “We took special care to include Michigan natives that have been proven to thrive on green roofs in the regional climate.”

Installation of the growing media and plants, and the beautiful result. Photos: WMS.

AGA’s mixed design includes extensive and semi-intensive sections.  The growing media ranges in depth from 4 inches to 8 inches.  The main section of the vegetative area adjacent to the pavement is Sedum “Sod,” an AGA custom mix of a half dozen Sedum species.  Sedum “Autumn Joy” and an Allium/Sedum “Blue Spruce” combination are also featured.  Taller accent plants next to the wall include Blue Fescue Grass, Feather Reed Grass, and Little Bluestem Grass.

The paving material: Permeable, lightweight, flexible, and slip-resistant.  Photo Courtesy of AGA.

Permeable Pavement for the Patio

The requirements for the patio’s paving material were multi-faceted.  The project team considered five factors:

• By regulation, the maximum static plus live load for the roof is 100 pounds per square foot, and no more than 60 occupants.  The paving material had to be light weight.
• The existing roof had poor drainage.  Two new roof drains were added.  The plan called for installing both the pavement and green roof elements on top of a geotextile drain sheet.  The paving material had to be permeable to eliminate standing water and allow stormwater to flow to the drains.
• For easy access and safety, the surface had to be low profile in order to minimize the height of the threshold between the patio and the entry into The Block.
• The musical note pattern is the essential design element of the entire project.  It was critical to select a paving material that could express the design.
• In keeping with the Advanced Green Roof Flex-Built System’s use of recycled materials, a green building product was preferred.

Design: Irregular shapes and angles, varied textures.  Photo: WMS.

We considered pavers and composite decking.  However, these are linear materials which are not flexible to adapt to the shape of the patio or versatile to express the design,” said Wierenga.

Pavers presented another problem.  “With a permeable paver system, the threshold between the patio and the new doors to The Block would have been four inches,” said Post.  “That would have been too high and a tripping hazard.”

New 40-inch-high wall shelters the space, adds safety.  Photo: WMS.

Wierenga had used Porous Pave in projects at grade.  “I knew that it is light weight, permeable, and pourable within forms to conform to the angles of the patio and the musical note pattern.”

Porous Pave XL consists of 50 percent recycled rubber chips and 50 percent stone aggregate with a moisture-cured binding agent.  Porous Pave XLS is 100 percent recycled rubber chips with a more elastic binder.  One inch of the XLS formulation, weighing just three pounds per square foot, was poured into the design.

Finishing touches: Addition of benches.  Photo: WMS.

The installation achieved a smooth and seamless expression of the design and maximizes its visual appeal.  The gray and black custom color mix harmonizes with the color of the new wall around the green roof and complements the gray concrete elements of the Russell Block Building.

“Porous Pave is engineered with 29 percent void space so water passes right through its surface, leaving no puddles of rainwater,” said Dave Ouwinga, president, Porous Pave, Inc.  “The low profile minimizes the threshold.  It is only an inch and a half.  The recycled rubber makes it a green material and slip-resistant, enhancing the patio’s safety.”

The sculpture by Lee S. Brown provides an interesting focal point.  Photo: WMS.

Finishing Touches, Concluding Comments

In 2014, a steel and limestone sculpture by local artist Lee S. Brown was installed on the patio. “Salute,” exploring waves and cellular structures, provides a focal point on the rooftop.  In the spring of 2015, the final touches were put into place: three black wrought iron benches.

The patio is open an hour prior to each concert at The Block.  Patrons can gather and enjoy cocktails and conversation.  People who rent the venue for special events also appreciate the space.  As a testimonial to its beauty and unique appeal, many couples choose the patio as a memorable setting for their wedding photos.

Intimate indoor space opens to the outdoors.  Photos: WMS.

“As the developer of the property, I find it interesting that we could start with a building that is now 125 years old, integrate relatively new concepts like a vegetative roof and permeable paving, and end up with a space that effectively and attractively bridges the years,” noted Post.  “Many times during the Russell Block Building restoration, it might have been easier, and certainly less expensive, to tear it down and start over.  However, taking on the challenge of restoring a historic building and returning it to productive use is rewarded when amenities like the outdoor gathering space are completed at the level of excellence of The Block’s green roof.”

The patio is open an hour prior to each concert at The Block.  Photo: WMS.

Green Roof Project Summary:

Name of Owner: West Michigan Symphony
Project Name and Address: Russell Block Building, 360 W Western Ave, Muskegon, MI 49440
Type of Building/Facility: Multi-Use
Type of Green Roof: Mixed Extensive and Semi-Intensive (4-8”)
Size in Sq Ft: 900 square feet total, including 520 sq feet of vegetation and 380 sq ft of paved patio
Installation Date: Patio, September 2013 and Green Roof, July 2014
Access: Private, Accessible by Appointment
Green Roof System: Advanced Green Roof Flex-Built System
Green Roof Pavement: Porous Pave XLS:

  • Depth: 1 inch

  • Color: Custom mix of gray and black

Roofing/Waterproofing System: GAF EverGuard Extreme TPO 70 mil Fleece Fleece-Back Single-Ply Membrane
Other Components:

  • Roof Components: TerraTex Geotextile Fabric and TerraDrain 101 XL Geotextile Drain Sheet

  • Irrigation: Sub-surface drip irrigation integrated into the Advanced Green Roof System

Participants of Record:

  • Architect and Landscape Architect: Fleis & VandenBrink, Inc.

  • General Contractor and Roofing Contractor: Port City Construction & Development

  • Structural Engineer and Roofing Consultant: JDH Engineering, Inc.

  • Green Roof Designer, Manufacturer and Installer: Advanced Green Architecture

  • Permeable Pavement Manufacturer and Installer: Porous Pave, Inc.

David Aquilina

Publisher's Note: The West Michigan Symphony, Russell Block Building was featured as's Project of the Week on August 10, 2015.  See the Project Profile in The International Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database.

David Aquilina, Strategic Storyteller

David Aquilina, Strategic Storyteller (, is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.  David makes his home up on the edge of the northern prairie in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Contact David Aquilina:

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