The gardener on the roof

There can be no doubt that urban agriculture is going to get more of our attention in the future but we draw the line at the adaptive reuse of entire city buildings for intensive urban farming, a dubious idea that seems to be yet another attempt to extend corporate control of food production, an issue that is already reaching crisis point.

Another reason to be cynical about such large scale corporate proposals is a basic management principle – if you have a major fuck up on your hands, get new people to fix it, never ever leave it to the same people who created the problem. Global warming goes with global capitalism and global capital’s “solutions” (eg more nuclear power) will always regard maintaining corporate power as a greater priority than solving the problem – that’s the nature of the globalist meme.


But that doesn’t mean that growing food on the rooftops of city buildings is a bad thing, in fact like all localised and independent forms of production it can be more sustainable and ethical and an important tactic in taking some control back from corporations. And it fits with our belief that adaptively reusing what already exists is always the first step.


Check out this article on rooftop hydroponics in Singapore. The move to food production is the latest step for the burgeoning green rooftop movement (a timeline of the development of green roofs is here).

For many years a building in Sydney’s central business district had a rooftop filled with water and water plants, a sort of rooftop swamp complete with spectacular birdlife. We don’t know if it’s still there but it was the first time we realised that the roof top garden could be more than just an aerial collection of pot plants.


In fact the technology of rooftop gardens has come a long way since then and the benefits of a green roof are now indisputable.

Green roofs conserve energy by moderating temperature on roof and surrounding areas, dramatically reduce storm water runoff, add ecological and aesthetic value by providing wildlife habitat in the urban environment and assist sustainability by protecting and extending the service life of the roof.

As Dr. Manfred Koehler, spokesperson for the new World Green Roof Infrastructure Network (WGRIN), launched this month in Berlin says

Rooftop greening provides an outstanding opportunity to accomplish multiple sustainability objectives and fight climate change.

Until recently the majority of green roofs were on contemporary buildings


such as this commercial building in Kassel, Germany,


the spectacular Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium by nikken sekkei


or the recent coastal research Laboratories of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute by Lyons Architecture for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, considered to be Australia’s best green roof design so far (Photos John Gollings),


or the Solaire building, Battery Park, Manhattan, the first ‘green’ residential high-rise in North America. The building’s design incorporates two green roofs: an intensively planted 5,000 square foot terrace green roof on the 19th floor and a 4,800 square foot extensive green roof on the 28th floor. The cleaned run-off water from the roofs is collected in Solaire’s basement cistern along with the building’s grey water and is later used to irrigate nearby parks.


In recent years, however, a new trend has developed, green roofs on heritage buildings such as this roof garden atop Chicago City Hall, 11 stories and 220 feet above street level, or the incorporation of green roofs into adaptive reuse projects, thus further increasing the contribution that these projects make to sustainability. In many instances this now qualifies the buildings under various certification schemes for tax rebates, assisting their financial viability.


One typical example is the Brewers Hill project, a $120 million multi-stage redevelopment of one of Baltimore’s most significant historic brewery complexes into office space, retail shops, residential units and light industrial spaces. Cho Benn Holback + Associates has designed the focal point Natty Boh building, a 10-story brick building complete with planted green roofs and a rainwater collection system.

Some are even arguing that the adoption of green roofs is being accelerated by the bird’s eye view provided by easily available satellite imagery such as Google Earth:

In this degraded age, the roof is emerging as a focus of society’s growing environmental anxiety. Not that green roofs will save the planet — sadly — but in cities from Toronto to Tokyo they are viewed as increasingly necessary if we are to slow global warming. In the Japanese capital, green roofs are a legal requirement for all projects over a minimum size. Even Toronto’s rooftop profile is starting to change, to become greener, thanks in part to a growing awareness of the bird’s eye view.

On the other hand, speaking of the bird’s eye view, how often is a roof top designed for that much despised flying rat, the urban pigeon?


Here is one that is also an example of the sort of art that we really approve of.

It’s by Natalie Jeremijenko at Postmasters Gallery, New York, here’s the press release and here’s an interview and a profile. We first came across her as a mover and shaker at the admirable How Stuff Is Made project then discovered her numerous art projects.

All we can say is that the video here at Seed made our week.

6 thoughts on “The gardener on the roof

  1. Copyright holder

    I think you’re in breach of copyright for a few of those photos, there. And I think you copied and pasted many of them from the one site. Also: you’ve got your facts wrong: green roofing is an age-old technology dating back to the Vikings and the hanging gardens of Babylon, and rampant throughout Europe. It is certainly not true “Until recently the majority of green roofs were on contemporary buildings”. And it’s untrue that food from the roof means corporate control of food: you’ll find that green roofs started as a grassroots movement: not just a corporate (horticultural and engineering products) movement. Food from the roof is being grown in third-world communities around the world.

    Reply
  2. Ian Milliss Post author

    Of course we’re in breach of copyright. See other discussions re that issue in other parts of this blog. I assume you are just trolling but if you are the genuine copyright holder for anything we have used and you object to our use (which we believe is covered by fair use provisions) then email us and I’m sure we will reach some amicable arrangement. The images we use come from the sites referenced in each case, but if they are all on some other site then tell us what it is so we can all go and have a look at it, info and links should be shared, that’s what blogs like this are about, sharing ideas and knowledge. There are quite a lot of sites with info on roof top gardening, it’s hardly surprising that there is a lot of repeated stuff. My reference to corporate control was not about rooftops, it was a reference to proposals for entire inner city buildings being used for farming, again see other posts in this blog. And of course green rooftops have been around forever, I was clearly discussing the recent upsurge of a particular type of rooftop designed to address specific sustainability issues. No doubt food is being grown on third world roofs, why don’t you share some links to that info with us rather than whining about our attempt to spread whatever info we have?

    PS This comment is such an obvious and heavy handed payback that it is clear that you are, of course, the person I recently emailed who had filled her blog with items from our blog and linked directly to our images to steal our bandwidth yet never had the manners to acknowledge us with a proper link.

    Reply
  3. Grow Box Hydroponics Guru

    I was surfing the internet Monday afternoon during my break, and found your blog by searching MSN for hydroponics growing system. This is a topic I have great interest in, and follow it closely. I liked your insight on The gardener on the roof very much, but I don\’t quite aggree with everything you said. However it is still good reading, and makes some good points. Keep up the good work…

    Reply
  4. Pingback: adaptivereuse.net » Going batty

  5. Bryan

    Very nice to see you’ve included the fact sheet for the Natty Boh Building in Baltimore. I was the construction intern on that project. That was 8 years ago… we felt like we were pioneers then. Excellent blog!

    Reply

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