A Look Back at the
2008 Top 10 Hot Trends in Greenroof Design Survey

By Haven Kiers, MLA, The Design Editor
January 17, 2009

The Chic Sustainability Column

Hello Greenroof Designers!

It’s time to start the New Year in green roofs with a look back at the one we just had.  Remember in the early days of 2008 when Linda and I asked you to tell us about the latest trends in green roofs in our Survey?  Well, we took the year to let them develop and grow and have now compiled them into a nifty summary of the past year’s biggest green roof trends. 

First off, here's a a review on "How do we decide the final Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof Design?" Essentially, we decide from our own design and editorial experience, exposure to the media, and from you, our readers!  How do we determine the number of projects in each category?  That one's easy - time constraints for presenting an albeit fast-paced PowerPoint in about 20 minutes.  In 2007 we were a bit over zealous and had 10 examples in each category (not to mention the intro), so for 2008 we limited ourselves to "just" six or seven to illustrate each trend.

As a recap, here are the final results from 2008: 2008
Hot Trends in Greenroof Design
Top 10 List:

10) Client Specific ‘Boutique’ Greenroofs

9) PreFab Modular Homes are Fabulous

8) Greenroofs as Art & Architecture

7) Parks & Interpretive Greenroof Spaces

6) Solar & Vegetative Roofs as High Performance Buildings

5) Greenroofs for Biodiversity

4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example

3) Eco-Communities & Eco-Cities

2) Sky High Cool Green Schools

1) The Influence of LEED on Design Professionals = Pushing the Green Envelope


Without further ado, here is a Summary of the 2008 Top 10 Hot Trends in Greenroof Design Survey (projects which were included in either our 2007 or 2008 Top 10 Hot Trends Lists are noted with the corresponding year):

1. What do you see as the current market drivers?

There were quite a number of market drivers propelling growth in the green roof industry in 2008, including everything from “major weather events” and “desperation” to “trendiness” and “aesthetics.”

Differences were most noted across countries, as Mathew Frith of Peabody Trust said, "In Britain it is now probably climate change, but also still with strong emphasis on biodiversity conservation (which has been the stimulus to renewed interest over the past 10 years)."  And while Dusty Gedge of agreed, adding, "In the UK biodiversity is still the big driver along with stormwater," Manfred Köhler of Hochschule Neubrandenburg believed client needs included the extremes of "sophisticated high end design - on the one other hand: the tree hugger, and the other, the urban gardener."

Overall, the two drivers that came up most frequently, however, were environmental sustainability (with an emphasis on stormwater management) and marketing. 

Chris Scott of GreenTech stated, "Environmentally conscious end users drive the demand for greenroofs," and Joe DiNorscia of Skyland USA, LLC feels "The tipping point has been reached in North America in terms of thinking about long term care of the environment and green roofs fit that mind-set."

It seems that the recent success of green roofs relies on these two interconnected notions – one, that green roofs are inherently good for the environment, and that two, because of this, their installation can increase the “green” credibility (and therefore marketability) of an organization.  It’s also interesting to note that “cost savings” were only mentioned by one survey respondent.  Apparently, the long term savings of a green roof still aren’t all that appealing or at least perceptible to most people.

Since there will always be a wide range of drivers and desires for green design, with as many innovative ways to incorporate them, this question demanded this category on the list: # 10) Client Specific ‘Boutique’ Greenroofs, which in fact will probably always hold this position as a catch-all for the truly unique projects of the world.

2. How important do you see the proliferation of LEED™ buildings as a market driver?

There is no question that LEED is an extremely important market driver for the green roof industry.  In fact, LEED responses were so popular that we placed it at the number 1 spot on the 2008 List with:

1) The Influence of LEED on Design Professionals = Pushing the Green Envelope

According to most respondents, LEED is “a huge driver,” “very, very important,” and “almost every LEED project has a green roof.”  One of the reasons for this is that many LEED buildings earn points for incorporating practices or materials that aren’t observably “green.”

However, green roofs provide a visual cue to people and let them know that they are looking at a “green building.”  As Dr. Bill Retzlaff, of G.R.E.E.N. at SIUE, stated, “A green roof makes a statement, gets LEED points, and is visible.”

Another benefit to the proliferation of LEED buildings is that people are beginning to realize that up-front investment is “more economical than cutting corners.”  Although LEED buildings (and green roofs) may cost more initially, they tend to pay for themselves and even save money down the line.

Yet let's not forget the human element, as eloquently expressed by reader Martha Shaw: "LEED buildings increase in importance when they champion the people living in them, just as architecture has always done when it takes a populist and humane step."

In any case, "The Influence of LEED" clearly deserved the number one spot as a category of its own, but there were numerous examples of LEED certified buildings throughout all of the Top 10 List.

3. What are the directions sweeping our design profession?  Why are we building greenroofs?

The answers to this question were all over the board and covered nearly every possible reason for building green roofs, from stormwater, heat island and cooling benefits to long term cost benefit analysis.  Here is just a sample of some of the responses:

“Wider acceptance of an overall impression that environmental degradation is real and can (must) be dealt with at the local level (one project at a time) to make a difference in the future,” Martin A. Haber, ASLA, Roy Ashley & Associates, Inc.

“Housing today -- and I live currently in suburbia -- has been revealed like the naked emperor as being ridiculously impractical in so many ways.  We need smarter designs that can cope with the future and yet allow us to comfortably thrive.”

"Growing in intensity is housing developments. This has the potential to dwarf any previous aspects of green roof benefits due to the shear scale and broad application.  Commercial green roofs, the current vast majority of examples, are usually located in developed areas - no clear cut forests, not overturned farm land.  Farm land and forested lands are the province of housing developments.  Increasingly these resources are becoming battle grounds, whether over water or habitat or a number of other concerns," Patrick Carey, hadj design.   This type of comment contributed to: # 3) Eco-Communities & Eco-Cities.

“Design professionals are becoming more focused internally on sustainable buildings, which means that the client is getting a more environmentally preferable building which can include greenroofs.”

“Homeowners are considering greenroofs because city dwellers need green space to recreate.  People also want to decrease their carbon footprint, especially when there are incentives to do so.”

“In terms of energy, there are some businesses that are facing spiraling costs and have needs that can not even be met by conventional buildings.  Internet Service Providers, for example, are finding conventional HVAC systems inadequate to keep their server rooms cool enough for good operational efficiency.”

"Greenroofs as a BMP for stormwater credit.  More incentives are necessary so builders and developers find it cost efficient to do greenroofs.  Money talks.  If it doesn't make the builder/developer money, he/she won't do it (generally)," Bill Brigham, ASLA, City of Atlanta.

And the simply flippant, "It's hip to have a green roof."

4. Which built innovative projects have informed clients and spurred additional market interest, and what types of greenroofs are clients now demanding?

It’s no surprise that many of the respondents chose either their own projects or projects that were locally accessible to them as the ones that have informed clients and spurred additional market interest.  Highlighted projects included the Minneapolis Public Library (2007), ASLA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (2008), Millennium Park in Chicago (2007),  the Laban Dance Centre in Deptford, London (2007), the Ford Motor River Rouge Plant (2007) and Silvercup Studios in New York City.

Minneapolis Public Library, highlighted in 2007's
# 4) Government and Big Box Retailers as Big Environmentalists

ASLA Headquarters, highlighted in 2008's
# 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example

Millennium Park, highlighted in 2007's
# 2) Bigger is Better – Mega Greenroofs

Laban Dance Centre, highlighted in 2007's
# 10) Unique Market Drivers: Boutique Greenroofs

Ford Motor River Rouge Plant, highlighted in 2007's
# 2) Bigger is Better – Mega Greenroofs

Silvercup Studios

As for the types of green roofs clients are now demanding – usable roof space, low maintenance and pre-planted dominated the results.

5. Which greenroof projects received the most press & why – and do you feel it was justified?  In other words, how important is media exposure?

The green roof media darlings were the ASLA Headquarters, (2008) above, the Clinton Memorial Library in Little Rock (2008), and the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. (maybe Obama will fall in love with green roofs now that his daughters attend).  Most respondents felt that any and all green roof press was justified.

Clinton Memorial Library, highlighted in 2008's
# 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example

Sidwell Friends Middle School

Cindy Marso, of Ann Rieff Garden Design, put it best, “The more we hail these types of plantings and show the myriad benefits and the beauty to the general public, who will be able to resist?”

And according to Greg Long, of Capitol Greenroofs, LLC, the importance of media exposure cannot be overstated.  “I can not emphasize how important publicity is for the design community when promoting greenroofs.  On a couple of my projects, jurisdictions have even devoted a web site where people can view the roof through an on site camera.  It even seems like on some projects I have been asked to help with communication plans and press kits.”

6. What new plant types (grasses, for example) or design palette styles (Asian-inspired or native communities, for example) have you seen?

The big trend here is with native and rare plants that provide biodiversity.  As green roofs mature in the marketplace, so do the types of plants that are used.  More frequently, designers are shying away from the ubiquitous sedums towards regionally adapted plant palettes.  Projects like the California Academy of Sciences (2007) in San Francisco boast native wildflower mixes, and organizations like the Lady Bird Johnson Center (2008) have launched research programs to study the use of native plants on green roofs.

California Academy of Sciences, highlighted in 2007's
# 5) Physics-Defying & Cutting-Edge Applications

Lady Bird Johnson Center, highlighted in 2008's
# 7) Parks & Interpretive Greenroof Spaces

But fear not for the much maligned sedums!  These sturdy workhorses will always have a secure spot on a green roof.

7. Share some of the innovative technologies that you've seen incorporated into greenroofs.

Many of the innovative technologies our respondents described make use of stormwater runoff.  Examples include: greywater irrigation technologies, cisterns, and detention ponds and dry creek beds to capture roof water.  Respondents were also excited by new lighter weight growing medium mixtures and pre-vegetated modules that were light enough be used on retrofit projects.

For example, Nathalie Hallyn of The Kestrel Design Group, Inc. said, "Green roof projects with holistic design that maximizes function and aesthetics; e.g. green roofs that are planted with wetland plants to maximize evapotranspiration and building cooling; unique habitat features in urban areas where there is no space for them on the ground."

And Sarah Murphy of Canopy likes the idea of mixing high tech with low tech by using construction debris, such as old bricks, to create a patio on a green roof and then incorporating photovoltaics into the design as well.

8. Who are the influential and creative designers driving design and fostering growth, expression, or awareness?

We didn’t get an overwhelming response to this question.  Many respondents simply left it blank.  In fact, not one designer received more than a single vote.  Some of the answers included: Paul Kephart and Rana Creek, Stephen Brenneisen, Reid Coffman, Paul Mankiewicz, William McDonough, Steven Peck, Linda Velazquez, Ed Snodgrass, Perkins + Will, HOK, Fox + Fowle and universities such as the University of Georgia (UGA) and Penn State.

As one response succinctly stated, “Remarkably, the design community in my opinion isn't doing as much as they could to promote these systems...”

Should this be taken as a call to action?  Is it time for green roof designers to step up to the plate and make their voices heard?

9. Share with us what you consider “Visionary” Built Projects - why, where are they, and by whom?

Again, slim pickings.  People responded with the types of projects they would like to see, not necessarily ones that had already been built.

Here’s a taste of the reality and perception: “I feel that every greenroof is visionary in its own right because on every project you always have to find creative ways to fund the project and then during the design phase have to make critical decisions on what components and elements either remain in the design or get "value engineered" and removed from the job.  ‘Visionary’ projects come at such a cost that many clients could never afford such an undertaking.”

10. Share with us thoughts on Visionary Proposed Projects - why, where are they, and by whom?

There was a little talk about William McDonough’s proposal to grow rice on rooftops in China (2007), but beyond that, this group of respondents is not impressed with any proposed or conceptual projects.

Rooftop Rice Paddies, Liuzhou, China (Conceptual); Architect: William McDonough + Partners, highlighted in 2007 in the # 1) Visionary Proposed Projects category.

11. If you had to just name one, do you have one favorite greenroof project overall, as well as just one from 2007 – and a quick why?

The "quick why" was quick indeed, usually described with a one-word adjective including: meaningful, stunning, important, experimental.  Notice how many of these fall into the "institutional" category - it would seem people are looking for leaders on a grand scale.  Readers didn't differentiate their preferences by year, but the contenders were:

Clinton Memorial Library, Little Rock, AR (2008) see above, in # 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example.

Zurich Central Railway Station, Zurich, Switzerland.  We had too many examples of biodiversity already in this category, especially from über-biodiversity-friendly Switzerland.

North Park 500, Atlanta, GA.  Our Institutional & Office Parks category was full here, too.

Ballard Library, Seattle, WA (2008) in # 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Conference Center, Salt Lake City, UT (2008) in # 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example.

Ballard Library, highlighted in 2008's
# 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Conference Center, in 2008's # 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example

ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall, Fukuoka, Japan.  "Asian Crossroads Over the Sea" was highlighted in 2007 in # 8) Living Roofs and Living Walls = a Living Skin for Green Buildings.

328 Euclid, Toronto, Canada.  328 Euclid was highlighted in 2007 in # 3) Cool Green Residences: Organic Integration of Mind, Body & Soul.

ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall, highlighted in 2007's # 8) Living Roofs and Living Walls =
a Living Skin for Green Buildings

328 Euclid, highlighted in 2007's
# 3) Cool Green Residences:
Organic Integration of Mind, Body & Soul


The Stunning School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University , in 2008's
# 2)
Sky High Cool Green Schools

School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (2008) - although this project could have represented # 8) Greenroofs as Art & Architecture, we placed it in # 2) Sky High Cool Green Schools.

The Top 10 List Itself

At the end of the survey, we also asked respondents to review and edit our preliminary, Working List that we had been compiling since mid-2007, which initially was:

10) Client-Specific Boutique Greenroofs
9) Do-It-Yourself Greenroofs
8) Pre-Fab Modular Homes are Fabulous
7) Greenroofs as Art and Architecture
6) Parks, Zoos & Botanical Gardens - Outdoor Living & Research
5) Solar and Vegetative Roofs as High Performance Buildings
4) Museum and Corporate Greenroofs - Setting the Example
3) Luxury Green Homes, Eco-Communities & Eco-Cities
2) Cool Green Schools of Higher Education
1) The Influence of LEED on Government and Design Professionals

Only a handful of people suggested position changes or new categories altogether, in particular from Mathew Frith, who contributed this list:

10) Greenroofs as Art and Architecture
9) Do-It-Yourself Greenroofs
8) Code for Sustainable Homes; what can green roofs do to assist in meeting this?
7) The Influence of LEED on Government and Design Professionals
6) Solar and Vegetative Roofs as High Performance Buildings
5) UK-based green roof research to meet demands of policy-makers
4) Client-Specific Roof gardens (boutique and otherwise!) for luxury residences
3) Green roofs to meet the impacts of climate change
2) Development of green roof policies in regional planning
1) Green roofs for biodiversity

In addition to Mathew's list above, the one standout from everyone's overall input was that we had to include biodiversity as its own trend, resulting in 2008's # 5) Greenroofs for Biodiversity.

Our initial # 9) from the Working List, "Do-It-Yourself Greenroofs," while an ever-increasing trend among homeowners, simply didn't have enough momentum yet so we included examples in # 10) Client Specific ‘Boutique’ Greenroofs.  Another reworked category was # 4) Museum and Corporate Greenroofs - Setting the Example, just a bit too restrictive, which morphed into 4) Institutional & Office Parks - Setting the Example.

One particularly funny Brit's comments followed these categories, which he obviously didn't care for: # 10) Client-Specific Boutique Greenroofs, # 8) Pre-Fab Modular Homes are Fabulous, and # 7) Greenroofs as Art and Architecture: "urghhhhhhhhhh."

So what does this all mean?

It’s clear that the green roof industry is growing and that there are a number of market drivers propelling it forward.  The main aspect that seems to be missing (and made apparent though the results of this survey) is a strong and purposeful sense of design in green roofs.

Clearly, we need visionary projects.  And we won’t have visionary projects within visionary leaders to design them.  The last thing we want is for green roofs to fall by the wayside because a downturn in the economy is making them less attractive.  The way to save green roofs is to build their visual and aesthetic appeal.

Any thoughts on what 2009 will bring to the industry?  Should we send out another survey?  What questions would You like to see asked?  Send us your perspectives by January 31, 2009 and we'll compile some more questions for you to contribute to the 2009 Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof Design.

Now get out there and design!!!

~ Haven Kiers
The Design Editor

Publisher's Note:
  Haven't seen the actual paper from 2008?  Download the lengthy PDF THE 2008 TOP 10 HOT TRENDS IN GREENROOF DESIGN by Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA Associate, LEED AP, Publisher/Editor & Design Consultant and Haven Kiers, MLA, Design Editor & Design Consultant.

Click to see the Lists and PowerPoints for either the 2008 or 2007 Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof Design.

The 2008 Top 10 List of Hot Greenroof Design Trends

Haven is the Design Editor here at and welcomes your comments.  Haven Kiers holds a Master's degree in Landscape Architecture, and works as a landscape architect in California, with Mono County where she lives with her husband and baby girl.   Haven designs and presents nationally about greenroofs, and is also a trainer for the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Green Roof 101, 201, and 401 Courses.

You may contact Haven at:

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