Category Archives: green roofs


A recent post from CityLab delves into an on-going.  Entitled ‘Are ‘Treescrapers the Future of Dense Urban Living?’, explores the concept beyond the fantastical and thinks about this type of work in terms of reality and the more pragamatic elements.  Weird Dune references about Passive House designers (?) aside, having some critical evaluation the points that were brought up by the architect in the story are valid.

Tour des Cèdres, Lausanne, Switzerland. (Boeri Studio) – via CItyLab

I do think that the focus of the comments maybe relied a bit too much on the particular type of work (i.e. hyper efficient building envelope).  If you see everything through the lens of Passive House, and energy envelopes and embodied energy for structural upgrades, you may miss the trees and the forest.


Bosco Verticale – via CityLab

Admittedly, I am both a supporter and critic of the idea, which I’ve been referring to as Vegitecture (not Treescraping, for hopefully obvious reasons) for some time now.  Beyond being an aesthetic choice which has strong biophilic connections, there’s ecological and even, yes, energy considerations with integrating vegetation into buildings.  It’s definitely a key strategy for a less building centric idea of passive heating and cooling, which has to me has always included vegetation surrounding structures as part of the equation – using evergreen vegetation to block colder winter winds and shade for cooling and deciduous to provide summer shading and opening up during winter for additional heating/sun after leaf drop.  That diagram I think i first say in first year intro to landscape architecture.


Of course everything comes at a cost, so an accounting of cost to benefit is necessary, but that cost also much include other items in the ledger, like health benefits of access to nature, additional passive cooling and heating benefits that could be integrated with exterior and interior system integration.  The opportunity is to make these projects work and think of new ways to better integrate them into the buildings in artful and functional ways.

One Central Park, by Jean Nouvel with Patrick Blanc (Sydney, Australia)

I’ve discussed typologies before, and it’s interesting to see the evolution of the types, from building integrated living walls above, to terrace planters, roofs decks, more traditional green roofs, and much more.  The possibilities in photoshop, alas, are endless.  But in reality, there are some additional considerations, all of which should be taken into account.  Some more images of green on buildings – nothing new here on this blog.  More at the original post on CityLab as well

Vijayawada Garden Tower, by Penda Architecture and Design (Vijayawada, India)
The Diamond Lotus, by Vo Trong Nghia Architects (Ho Chi Minh City)

And these definitely trend towards the fantastic, which is part of the reconciliation between what can actually work and what looks cool in a rendering.  So, yes, that involves messy practicalities the additional structural loading, and how to incorporate thermal breaks, and many others like how to maintain vegetation, how to irrigation, issues of wind uplift, leaf litter, structural capacity, and many more.  Great discussions, and necessary ones, as we grow and evolve the concept.

Asian Cairns, by Vincent Callebaut (Shenzhen)


Worlds Largest

Via, Dezeen, a post about Rafael Viñoly design for The Hills at Vallco, along with landscape architecture firm Olin, to redevelop the “…Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino into a vast mixed-use development featuring a 30-acre (12 hectare) green roof.”  Billed as the ‘largest green roof in the world’, a title of which is somewhat arbitrary and ambiguous, it is still worth a little exploration. The integration of open space and development here seems grand and not restrained as you so often see, which is intriguing.

The aerial rendering (above) is reminiscent of a sort of green Sim City, which connected vegetated corridors draped atop a series of building forms.  Evoking the concepts of underground cities or the parti of insertion of buildings under the existing landscape, the sheer amount of green space is impressive.  And from it sounds like, mostly public.  From the post:

“The Hills at Vallco features an unprecedented 30-acre community park and nature preserve, which will not only be the largest community park in Cupertino, but also the largest green roof in the world,” said a statement from Sand Hill Property Company, the developer behind the $3 billion (£2 billion) scheme.”

Some images of the skybridges at street level provide some drama, but I feel like they want to be more physically green themselves – with hints at the edges of a verdant escape, not a metallic skybridge.


The interior spaces also seem like traditional courtyards, perhaps more for the interior residents to have views of nature within their spaces. There are some hints at connections to the adjacent green belts via ramps and through buildings, but the logistics of movement is something that would be interesting to explore.  Again, the bands flying over make for sculptural forms, but one hope to see the green connections more physically within the site, not just from the air.



Another image plucked from The Hills at Vallco website shows some of these connections better, with vegetated slopes and pathways arcing up above buildings and providing a better feel for some of the ‘draping’ that connects ground plane to roof.  The architectural forms benefit from these green faces and provide an additional softness to what could be a traditional mixed use infill project.


The immersion is more evident in the larger open space zones, the ‘nature preserve’ zones mimicking the adjacent rolling hillsides that open up with mixed grassland and groves, which provide some counterpoint to the urban plaza zones above.  The ability to create these multiple landscape experiences


I really love the rooftop vineyard idea, both as a reference to the local regional landscape as well as a way to provide a destination and experience.  It would be interesting to see the viability of growing wine grapes on structure (dry soils with low fertility seem like a winner) and perhaps yield the first ‘green roof’ grown wine to complement some other green roof honey, rooftop greenhouses, and urban agricultural pursuits?  One wonders “What is the terroir of an engineered growing media”?


Like many grand, green schemes, it will be interesting to see how this comes together in reality beyond renderings.  The creation of multi-functional schemes like these have great potential in reducing the impact of development on habitat and management of stormwater pollution and runoff, and reduction urban heat island.  It also provides a visible and concrete connection to nature to visitors and residents.

It comes with an obvious cost, but one that may well be worth it.  And, probably much better than the previous mall.  Perhaps.

Vegetal Cities

Continuing the theme, I spotted this post on Treehugger, showcasing the amazing work of Luc Schuiten, a Belgian architect who offers “…a visionary approach to rethinking cities, in a biomimetic fashion. In his lush and fantastical renderings of what he calls “vegetal cities,” urban centers are transformed into living, responsive architectures that merge nature with the man-made.”

The Woven City (image above) is indicative of the type of work he proposes. These illustrations remind me of a combination of the illustrations of Malcolm Wells, the immersive vegetated architectural constructions of Hundertwasser  to and the botanical constructions like pooktre or botany buildings to name a few. These are solidly in the vegitectural lexicon, so surprised that i haven’t heard of Schuiten and his work before.   I’m glad i did now, as it expands the notion to the city scale, and provides compelling visuals to match the notion.

A few of the images from his website:

The Hollow Cities
The Lotus City


Sao Paulo

Tree House City (Habitarbes)


The City of the Waves

As a huge fan of the use of portmanteau to describe interesting concepts (i.e. Vegitecture) i stumbled a bit over Schuiten’s concept of Cite Archiborescente  (tree architecture) is maybe a bit of a mouthful – perhaps less so in French.  Better is the concept of habitable trees, noted as Habitarbres  or more simply ‘tree-house cities’.

Digging in a bit more to his site – so amazing stuff from a career focusing on this concept.  A video of his Ted talk from Nantes is found below for a bit more context on the approach.

Vegitecture Throwback

Oh, it’s been a bit since i’ve posted something in the category of Vegitecture (aka Vegetated Architecture).  I still follow the trend closely and although more ubiquitous, there are still some showstoppers here and there.  I thought it good to do a quick throwback to some interesting ones i’ve spotted recently, from an post from the Architect’s Newpaper on the Milan Expo 2015 Pavilions from various countries.


United States Pavilionby Biber Architects. (Courtesy Expo Milano 2015)


New Holland Pavilion  (Courtesy Ratti Associati)


Austria Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. (Laurian Ghinitoiu)

The header image above is the Vietnam Pavilion by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. (PHOTOGRAPHERS4EXPO – Saverio Lombardi Vallauri)

Bioclimatic Design

bioclimatic-design-feature3Good article in the USGBC+ magazine related to Bioclimatic Design and some projects that focus on the integration of vernacular strategies (and forms) to increase responsiveness to the local environment in which they are built.  This is nothing new for many designers, and builds upon centuries of knowledge, but I’m mostly interested in how it incorporates landscape and buildings in inventive new (old) ways.

The ability to transcend climate came with “…the advent of modern technology in the 20th century, contemporary design trends shifted away from being responsive to natural conditions and emphasized instead isolating buildings from nature to try to overcome those conditions.”  As mentioned, this opened up new frontiers for where we could live, but also lead to homogenization and reliance on heating and air conditioning (or maybe even overbuilding in climates ill-suited for development).   That said, bioclimatic design can include both the vernacular as well as rely on significant technological knowledge to realize – through modelling and other modern design tools.

bioclimatic-design-feature5-300The grass covered roof is a simple and archetypal form of the landscape and building integration – used for cooling and made from locally available, regenerative materials.  Plus, goats for roof maintenance is pretty sustainable.   This pre-cursor to the modern green roof was borne of necessity, but also perhaps can also aid in resilience and climate adaptive building strategies that start to creep into the vocabulary of designers – through the guises of biomimicry and biophilia.  Both work hand in hand as there are inspirations from nature revealed in design, and the planet, as well as building/city users benefit in multiple ways.   It’s a full circle of building based on our innate traditions beginning to feed our innate need for access to this nature.

A really stunning example of the process ( Autorité de Régulation de la Poste et des Télécommunications by Mario Cucinella Architects) is outlined in the article so i won’t go into detail, but has a subtle integration of landscape with building form.


The shape of the building is scooped to capture cooling winds, but the indigenous shape has additional benefit:

 “Another influence on the shape of the building was a desert structure used in antiquity in many arid parts of the world, called a tu’rat, Bruno says. These crescent-shaped structures, made of stones piled without mortar, captured moist winds and fog, which created condensation that percolated down to irrigate protected gardens.  “In the early morning, you can collect a little bit of water, and this allows you to grow plants,” he says. The tu’rat-inspired structure includes the enclosure of a small oasis of palm trees and other vegetation on the south side of the building.”

The relationship of water in the desert is key, and additional elements like  rainwater collection and phytopurification, using a constructed wetland), will dramatically reduce water use while providing comfort and verdant respite.

A more urban example is RB12, a building in Rio de Janeiro design by Triptyque.  Drawing from the bioclimatic concepts popularized by Ken Yeang, the building uses “Suspended gardens integrated into the façade, along with a green rooftop, also help control lighting.”


While ostensibly a form of climate control, in this case it is less successful, as there is supplemental systems for cooling, as mentioned, which makes it less of a bioclimatic model than one that is merely inspired as such.  My thought looking at renderings is that they didn’t take it far enough, or integrated the vegetation thoroughly enough, to make it more than a few plants on terraces.


bioclimatic-design-gallery-01 2The ability to integrate buildings and vegetation – as i’ve called it vegitecture, is a key element for bioclimatic architecture, and offers many potential opportunities for designers to collaborate.  The potential spans beyond the building-centric to also include potential for habitat development in the urban ecosystem, refuge for birds, and pathways for pollinators.  All while cooling buildings and making cities more livable.  Not bad.

Field Trip: Getty Center

Last year around Christmas, we took a great road trip down the west coast and over through the desert.  Already mentioned is some tasty sites from San Francisco (deYoung + Cal. Academy).  Plenty more to come as i sift through pics, but the visit to the Getty Center, perched on the hillside in Los Angeles was a definite highlight.


This Richard Meier designed complex clad in copious amounts of marble features an array of interesting site elements, with Laurie Olin as a major contributor to the site layout and circulation, along with the central garden by artist Robert Irwin.  The following images show the breadth site spaces.  Definitely worthy of a trip (and it’s amazing even in December) – and other than paying for parking – entry is free.

The terraced spaces and marble are sculptural forms are sculptural in their own right, while making spaces for outdoor sculpture, seating, and views of the city.





Around the site, small moments were captures through terraces, stairways, water features, and smaller plazas all of which were tied together with materials (both plant and hardscape) along with a simplicity of form and function.





Simple in form and function, I really appreciated the shade-canopy elements of bougainvillaea on rebar trellises, which made for a nice seating zone, while also provide a dynamic visual element from other areas of the site.




The focal point of Irwin’s Central Garden – probably my least favorite element of floating topiary zone – which seemed a bit overdone – particularly in the context of the sparse minimalism of the rest of the site.


Some of the garden’s circulation, however, was interesting, with a zig-zag path, seating, corten steel, and crossings of a central water feature.






We walked the grounds, never actual visiting the galleries inside, but the experience, views, and integrated architecture and landscape was pretty amazing – and definitely a must-see for the traveler to Los Angeles.


More field trip and photos to come.

(Photos ©  Jason King)

The Red Brick Chronicles – ‘Advancement verus Apocalypse’ by Rem Koolhaas

As I mentioned in the recent reckoning of the L+U blog, I wanted to focus on a number of recent texts that I’ve had the chance to delve into (by disconnecting myself from the nefarious teat of the RSS feeder)  Of significance is finally getting around to expanding on the initial readings of the book Ecological Urbanism (check out Intro by Mohsen Mostafavi, ‘Why Ecological Urbanism?  Why Now?, in two parts here and here) which although gigantic, dense and brick-like, is also yielding some engaging content.

Thus in lieu of another option for a book with over 100+ essays and snippets from various authors, I’m going to chronologically post on each one on a mostly, time permitting, daily basis – in some cases just a fragment or two worthy of discussion – sometimes in more length.  Hope you enjoy.  Here’s the first installment – follow by regular installments with the moniker RBC.


Advancement versus Apocalypse
|  Rem Koolhaas

In this essay, which I gather is a short-form version of a presentation, Koolhaas provides a hybrid chronology of modern progress, focusing on  “…the coexistence of modernity and endlessly improvised, spontaneous conditions that don’t consume much energy or material. For me, a hybrid condition is the condition of the day.” (56)   Through searching history in the framework of ecological urbanism, he finds some precedents in the early indigenous knowledge of people, noting that over 2000 years ago, the basic tents of ecology were known, expressed in the vernacular, utilitarian architecture where people would “…build to be economical, logical, and beautiful.” (57)  This concept and focus on the site and siting of cities was echoed in the Ten Books of Vitruvius, through the Renaissance, and to the Enlightenment, which.”...had a phenomenal effect on reason, in terms of triggering the apparatus of modernity in a surprisingly short time.” (58)

Thus along with the science and technology of modernity can the apocalyptic baggage best expressed by Malthus in the late 18th Century, and continued in more modern times through authors like Paul Ehrlich in the 1970s (Population Bomb) and even into today’s discussions of peak oil and environmental degredation, referenced by James Lovelock (The Revenge of Gaia).

:: Amazon Burning – image via expertsure

Koolhaas mentions an earlier formative experience with the ecological in the late 1960s, mentioning instructors working with tropical architecture that instilled a “respect for the landscape” and the ability to “look at other cities to see how they work , and to look at seemingly nonarchitectural environments.” (60) and expressed in attempts at the time to combine design and science such as Ian McHarg’s ‘Design with Nature’ referred to as “…one of the most subtle manifestos on how culture and nature could coexist.” (62)

Koolhaas expands this with a quote from Frederick Steiner in‘The Ghost of Ian McHarg:

“Almost 40 years ago, Ian McHarg proposed a bold theory and a set of ecologically related planning methods in Design with Nature (1969). While the proatical measures he proposed have been incorporated into subsequent design and planning practices, the theoretical implications have not yet been fully realized. Present-date forms of the model include the amalgam ‘landscape urbanism,’ with its focus on infrastructure an\d urban ecology, a hybrid discipline arguably indebted to McHarg while distinct in its avoidance of the more strenuous effects of his project.” (62)

In addition to McHarg the text mentions contemporary Buckminster Fuller’s focus on the “…combination of nature and network…” expressed in this network diagram of global high voltage transmission networks (62) and also the work of the Club of Rome – Limits to Growth in 1972 (strangely enough a notable reason in Jonathan Franzen’s recent book ‘Freedom’).

:: High Voltage Transmission Network diagram – image via GENI

The environmental intelligence of the 1970s was soon quashed by the market economy, as Koolhaas mentions, “…had a devastating effect on the knowledge that had accumulated at this point.” (65)  The current situation of economics gain over ecological approaches has continued since the 1970s.

Shifting gears a bit, the current focus on ecological urbanism is the role of technology, specifically indicative of the engineering/technology will save us paradigm epitomized by Freeman Dyson – quoted in the NY Times: “…proposed that whatever inflammations that climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds to grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred ‘carbon-eating trees’…” (66)

In addition to noting these radical technological fixes, Koolhaas also bemoans the current trend of boutique green-was expressed in the application of greenery to buildings, mentioning that, “Embarrassingly, we have been equating responsibility with literal greening.” (69), mentioning specifically the Ann Demeulemeester store in Seoul, the work of Ken Yeang and the recent Renzo Piano design for the California Academy of Sciences building as examples of this travesty of architecture.

:: Ann Demeulemeester Store in Seoul – image via Style Frizz

This confuses me, as while I am not as excited about the green application of vegetation, the inclusion of the specifically bioclimatic architecture of Yeang seems misplaced, as it seems an expression of ecological urbanism.  Instead, Koolhaas finds merit in building new eco-cities in the desert, mentioning Norman Foster’s Masdar zero-carbon city as “serious”, and a step forward from the boutique natural interventions of Yeang and Piano, mentioning:  “…we need to step out of this amalgamation of good intentions and branding in a political direction and a direction of engineering.” (70)

:: Masdar City – image via Menainfra

While a somewhat interesting exploration, it is somewhat circuitous and peppered with Koolhaas’ self-professed doubt in the overall project, mentioning in the intro “I did not assume that anyone in the academic world would ask a practicing architect in the twenty-first century, given the architecture that we collectively produce, to participate in a volume on ecological urbanism…” (56)  This perhaps colors the text somewhat away from individual buildings and more towards the massive, techno-centric solutions from Koolhaas/OMA – such as the large-scale wind energy project in the North Sea mentioned in the end of the essay.

It’s obvious therein lies a distancing from the individual ecological building in the context of these bigger, more significant infrastructural interventions – which marks a distinction, notably with the architecture of Koolhaas being rigorously programmatic, urban-engaged, but typically non-ecological.  Maybe the realization that one building here or there isn’t going to be the solution is valid and worthy of discussion?  Is ecological urbanism about large-scale ecocities or infrastructure, or the aggregation of interventions at a variety of scales – maybe even including buildings?

(from Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi & Doherty, eds. 2010, p.56-71)





Landscape Performance Series

Interesting link to the Landscape Architecture Foundation‘s new resource – the Landscape Performance Series – which is sort of an adjust to the Sustainable Sites Initiative which is “…designed to fill a critical gap in the marketplace and make the concept of “Landscape Performance” and its contribution to sustainability as well known as “Building Performance” is today. The LPS is not a rating system, but rather a hub that brings together information and innovations from research, professional practice and student work in the form of case study briefs, benefits toolkit, factoid library, and scholarly works.

As someone who is adamant that our profession attain a much higher level of rigor in determining the efficacy of designs, this is a great new addition.  The projects are interesting, cover a wide range of landscape typologies, and offer data that is not available in typical media ‘puff-pieces’ or even more technical papers.  A typical case study includes a number of interesting features.  For instance, a look at the great Seattle project, the Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel, provides an overview, sustainable features, challenges/solutions, cost comparisons, lessons learned, and project team.
:: image via LAF
While the data is more expansive, we still have a long way to get really good information that can not just validate projects but can also drive future design solutions.  Information on cost, performance, and technical data is still anecdotal – not saying it doesn’t exist, but that it either hasn’t been studied, or hasn’t been released.  The issue with data and research is always not the results, but the methodology and transferability to future projects.  Every landscape architect should study the Case Study Method for an approach to post-occupancy evaluation, particularly Mark Francis’ article in Landscape Journal, that should become the foundation of every project – not just those with innovative features or with funding to provide necessary data.  
:: image via LAF
From a design perspective, we need greater access to available research.  I’ve had an interesting (and wonderful) opportunity to have access to the research library resources of a major university, and it has been amazing to see all of the data out there that has not trickled down to the design community in a meaningful way – even when you are actively searching for this information.  Take for instance the state of research in Green Roof technology, which in common access is limited to minimal, local, or specialized data on soils, plants, and benefits.  
:: image via
A very quick survey of some recent literature yielded international data on building heat flux, growing media for stormwater retention, water quality and building insulation, energy performance, plant establishment, habitat function, cost/benefit through life-cycle assessment, economic value, innovative structural techniques and systems, and heat island mitigation.  In addition, there are technical studies that offer innovative modelling techniques that provide macro-scale, not just site specific data, about the benefits of sustainable strategies, including green roofing.
:: image via Inhabitat
Aside from anecdotal, feel good stories about ephemeral or vague benefits, these offer tangible examples of research that can lead to better design and implementation.  While all of these research studies are not immediately transferable, many are, and it highlights the need for designers, even those not doing research, to be more involved in the creation of research agendas that will actually lead to better solutions.  It’s not an either/or scenario – but one where we much work together if we are to make our landscapes more viable, but also give ourselves the tools to measure and evaluate them.  I commend the LAF for their work – and encourage others in the landscape architecture community to support and expand this work.