By Jörg Breuning
Well before modern green roof technology started in Germany in the 1970s, I was already collecting Sedums in the Alps. As a kid I liked the little ‘fir trees’ because I was able to carry them home in my stuffed Lederhosen pockets and miraculously they would survive, even after a 4-5 hours hike. Forty years later, there is still one surviving ‘fir tree’ growing out of a terra cotta pot at my Mom’s house. The last time it was repotted was more than 20 years ago.
When I was a teenager, Professor Hans Luz, a Landscape Architect from Stuttgart, Germany, was pioneering the implementation of green roofs on buildings and parking structures. A visionary, Luz recognized green roofs’ stormwater retention potential and their overall ability to reduce the environmental footprint of any building. From there green roofs went viral, spreading throughout Germany and Europe. It was not long before cities began realizing the relief green roof provided to their overloaded combined sewer systems.
By the nineties green roofs had spread all over Europe. Pockets of green roof believers had developed in cities across Europe. But modern green roof technology was struggling to spread beyond the borders of the EU.
During the nineties I frequently vacationed to the United States, notably the Southwest. Even while on vacation one part of my mind was always considering how green roofs could be introduced to the States. I desperately tried to make presentation about green roof in the USA but associations like International Erosion Control Association were never interested. I talked to many American landscape companies during my vacations, but they simply thought I was crazy.
In 1999 Chicago’s Mayor Delay visited Germany and saw a green roof for the first time and decided he wanted this technology on his City Hall. Almost 30 years after green roof technologies were first developed in Germany the time was finally right for the United States. I am proud that I brought green roof technology to this project in Chicago.
Twenty years from now I believe green roofs will be a fundamental part of all new buildings, as important a basic building feature as windows, doors, heating and cooling, water supply, etc. In the end it is all about reducing the footprint of a building and putting on top of a building what was once on the ground – this is just common sense. In my opinion it is simply our responsibility that we have to diminish our impact into nature. We can do it in many ways, but green roofs seem the most efficient. The longer we wait the more of our current profit and wealth we have to sacrifice later.
Success also means Green Roofs must be done right the first time. There is no need to over engineering, use irrigation, strive desperately for LEED points, embellish the aesthetic design or embrace crazy environmentalists’ ideas that want green roofs to save the entire world.
This reminds of another success story that started in Stuttgart, Germany when Gottlieb Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) invented the world’s first car. His invention went around the globe in a very short time and is the basis of any functional economy. From the same place, green roofs are now starting to go around the world and will be the basis of any functional urban ecology.