The main reason we design rooftop gardens, not simply green roofs? They're more fun!
We know all about the environmental benefits of green roofs. From our research we can also demonstrate the health benefits of green space. So, wherever possible, we try to design intensive green roofs which can be used as rooftop gardens so our clients can reap health benefits too.
Of course, any green space is valuable, but if it's possible to make it usable too, it seems a waste not to. When we're assessing a project, we look at a number of factors which help us decide whether it's possible to create a rooftop garden. For example, we have to assess the loading potential of the rooftop. Some retrofit projects would simply take too much structural work to make a rooftop garden. In this case, we would design an extensive green roof with low-maintenance plants like grasses or sedum instead - there are still plenty of benefits to be had!
If we can design a rooftop garden, it becomes a balancing act between greenery and the habitable spaces. Our philosophy? Let the plants win. With this strategy, the rooftop garden feels more like a private oasis, with lush plantings surrounding nooks to relax in and open spaces to gather as a group or even a BBQ and outdoor dining area - the opportunities are endless. Giving the plants priority and fitting other functional spaces around is the difference between a roof terrace with a few pot plants dotted around and a successful, thriving rooftop garden.
If possible, we love our green roofs to be experienced and enjoyed. We want our clients to linger with the smell of the first hint of jasmine on a still spring day. To break off a twig of rosemary for that evening's lamb koftas. To lose track of time, engrossed in a good book and the warm winter sun. To catch up with work colleagues at lunch in their own private garden. To barbecue, chat and laugh with friends and family. We want them to engage with and enjoy nature. This is what you miss with an extensive green roof. But make it a rooftop garden with intensive planting, and all of these experiences become possible.
Sadly, many of the green roof and green wall experiments over the years have failed - it's ok, we're all still learning about how to make green roofs and walls work. But we believe a key to the success of our designs comes down to one key ingredient - people.
We've all heard the saying 'out of sight, out of mind', and it also applies to green roofs. When they're hard or impossible to access, green roofs which aren't properly designed have the potential to deteriorate over time. When you invite people to engage with and explore their green roof - their rooftop garden - you also encourage them to monitor its health. This allows constant fine-tuning to ensure the garden's long-term success.
We are in awe of the great potential of rooftop gardens to improve our cities. At Growing Up Green Roof, we planted the seeds (pardon the pun) of a functional, rooftop garden which can be occupied. At the time, green roofs were still an experimental science - that's why we ensured that a portion of the project was made available to the University of Melbourne to research and monitor the garden and the surrounding environment. Eight years later, it's all grown up (sorry, another terrible pun) and we've learnt a heck of a lot about what makes a green roof succeed; what works and what doesn't work. We get a great sense of pride to see how well Growing Up Green Roof is doing and how actively it is still enjoyed by the occupants.
At our latest project, Phoenix Rooftop, we proved that rooftop gardens can not merely survive, but thrive in the most hostile of urban environments - 30 storeys high, on top of an exposed and wind-swept apartment tower. If a rooftop garden can work for these sky-high clients, it can work virtually anywhere.
Imagine if 20, 50 or even 80% of our buildings had a functional, flourishing and fun rooftop garden? What could that do for our cities and towns? Our buildings would be better insulated, staying warmer in winter and cooler in summer, we'd help to reduce stormwater runoff, we'd be filtering the air, creating a healthier environment for everyone, and we'd provide new homes for insects, birds and bees which are a key to biodiversity. But just as importantly, we would unlock more green spaces for us to enjoy. Cities don't have to be concrete jungles, they can be lush and alive - the perfect symbiosis of people and nature.
That, ultimately, is why we design rooftop gardens and not just green roofs.