An Exceptional Green Roof
After more than half a century in temporary quarters, Sufism Reoriented now has a permanent home in Walnut Creek, California. Designed under the guidance of Murshida Carol Weyland Conner by the distinguished architectural firm of Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie, the new sanctuary is set among serene gardens on three acres of land in a suburban neighborhood about twenty-five miles east of San Francisco.
Alan Ritchie’s design perfectly realized Murshida Carol Weyland Conner's vision. Brought to fruition by the Architect of Record, Soga + Associates Architect Inc, this beautiful design is to endure for over 700 years. The building is innovative in many ways, from its curved marble cladding from Carrera, Italy, to its climate control with state-of-art air filtering systems, to its Green Roof composition with 100% recycled Foam Glass Gravel engineered by Jorg Breuning , Owner of Green Roof Service LLC , to its storm water management with rain harvesting features to retain the entire annual rainfall, to its 33 feet tall hollow bronze sculpture with seismic base isolators and acrylic butterflies, standing inside of a 3-story tall room with curved glass guardrails.
With highly experienced architectural services and project management by Clement T. Soga, Soga + Associates Architects Inc, the Sanctuary’s construction began on May 24, 2012 and its Ribbon Cutting ceremony was held on February 24, 2017.
Green Roof Service LLC – Green Roof Technology worked hand in hand with Sufism Reoriented, Soga + Associates Architects Inc, and SWA Group Landscape Architecture to create a Green Roof solution that perfectly mimics the natural soil horizons with materials that will last thousands of years without compromising or limiting healthy growth of any vegetation at any time. Jensen Landscape carefully implemented the details and specifications of this new type of Green Roof under the direction of Jorg Breuning. It is the first Green Roof in North America that utilizes Foam Glass Gravel made of 100% recycled glass on a large scale. The ultra-lightweight material performs as a drainage and retention layer combined with outstanding structural capacities. Foam Glass Gravel is produced in the USA and in Germany according to the strict specifications of Green Roof Service LLC - Green Roof Technology.
27th February 2017
World’s First Modular Green Roof System
Green Roof Professionals around the globe often wonder or speculate how and when the commercial modern Green Roof industry really took off. There are many opinions and alternative facts out there but only a few really know that the hot spots with patents were in Basel Switzerland and in Stuttgart Germany for seamless or wall-to-wall Green Roof systems.
The World’s first modular (or tray) system has been developed in Stuttgart by Brecht and Hämmerle, mainly known as the Brecht System (if one doesn’t consider terracotta pots on roofs as a modular system).
The Brecht System was a basic polystyrene box with a three-layer Green Roof system. The system was available in extensive, semi- intensive and intensive planting depth. With this simple three-layer system the inventor combined many benefits in one box. All systems had a water reservoir for maximum water retention – more than any other Tray system currently on the market and more than any fabrics, foams or mineral wools, and the boxes contained standard nursery soil for a healthy fast growth and to lower costs.
There were different options for covering the less attractive boxes, with either wood or metal (aluminum). Today we call these frames around the boxes: Edging.
Based on the polystyrene, the boxes were very lightweight and easy to install. Actually, they fitted into each other to create different heights and different planting depths. I would describe them as a Modular –LEGO-like planting system.
Unfortunately, any polystyrene as a limited lifespan when exposed to UV or biological activity and so many of these roof gardens had problems after 5-10 years. Further, many of the plants rooted out of the boxes (drainage holes) and penetrated the waterproofing.
Around 1992 the last Brecht System was removed and replaced by wall-to-wall or seamless Green Roof systems. All of these Green Roofs are still existing - if the building still exists.
The Brecht Modular Green Roofs system had also other issues that are similar to the currently existing systems. However, nowadays the tray systems use metal, other plastics, and mainly with irrigation systems. This makes them last longer, but as often only delays the point of failure. The roots of plants and the biological activity on healthy Green Roofs are often underestimated as well as the functional lifespan of foams, polystyrene drainage mats, and mineral wool products.
Green Roofs and Fireworks
Practically all dry organic materials are combustible at relative low temperatures. Roof shingles or many waterproofing membranes on roofs are typically petroleum-based products (including Asphalt) and there is hardly any difference to dry organic materials. Some products are equipped with chemical fire retardants that could decrease the risk of spreading fire, unfortunately not the risk of leaks cause by heat and impact.
The living vegetation of fully functional and well-engineered green roofs contains moisture and most plants (especially succulent plants on large extensive green roofs) have a fraction of the energetic potential comparing to all other components used in a building. The green roof growing media (soil for the green roof plants) is a blend of different mineral components with an organic content of typically less that 15%. It is practically impossible to set this material on fire – even when the natural moisture content is not considered.
Fires or leaks on non-vegetated roofs caused by consumer or display fireworks could have been prevented if the building would have had a fully functional green roof without mono-culture vegetation, or if conventional roofs would be well-maintained (regular removing of organic debris from the roof and gutters).
Certainly a fire is the worst-case scenario; however in most cases smoldering firework parts (and cigarettes) are only causing leaks on unprotected roofs that are discovered much later and relate to costly repair. Roof warranties typically don't cover any sort of mechanical impact and they are -again- worthless. See blog post from 2014.
Any sort of fireworks damages or many other mechanical impacts are unknown on functional green roofs. Green roofs prevent leaks or even a fire and so it is the best payback is right there.
Nature is (literally) so cool.
Happy New Year!
Does this ever happen in North America?
While in North America the average size of Green Roof is around 8,000sf this size would be considered a small size Green Roof in Germany. The average size in Germany is likely over 25,000 sf and the amount of Green Roofs build every year is probably 10 times higher.
Despite higher energy costs, the costs for the installation are lower in Germany because they build them in less than the half time, with fewer people, with hardly any middle men, without pre-planted plastic boxes and without consistently reinventing the wheel. They don’t try to sell warranties – they are actually installing Green Roofs. They also spend no or less time posting their projects on all social platforms and don’t need to say this is the biggest, nicest, most divers, highest or any other superlatives.
They just do it because they understood the environmental and social benefits of Green Roof mass production instead of trying to grow one carrot in a city for millions of people just to be on TV. Green Roofs in Germany are done for everybody vs. in North America it is often done for personal vanity.
16 years of North American Green Roof industry and still researching? When does North America think big?
Construction Going Up – Ecology Going Down?
From 2010 to 2015 warehouse new construction in the US tippled from around $5 Billion to $15 Billion with all the economic benefits. 15 Billion in new construction equals around 1000 new warehouses every year or approximately 250 million square feet rooftops plus the same amount of infrastructure provision. Annually, 500 Million square feet or 8800 football fields of lost nature by building new warehouses in the United States alone.
With some of the existing warehouses, this translates to a potential of at least 1 Billion of square feet of new extensive Green Roofs every year that could retain the volume of Lake Constance that is surrounded by three countries (Germany, Switzerland and Austria) or over the double volume of Lake Powell (UT/AZ)!
Assuming that these Green Roofs are done right, maintained by professionals and without artificial irrigation, the natural and controlled succession of these Green Roofs would allow a unique habitat for many endangered species over the upcoming years.
These green roofs can also reduce the re-roofing costs by multiple billion Dollars with a related relieve for landfills and a huge reduction in energy use.
Most important however is the climate effect.
Warehouse belts surround any large city in North America. These warehouse belts with endless impervious areas actually preheat the air that is conveyed into our cities by the wind. In the worst-case scenario, these large warehouses have reflective roofing membranes that might cool the building but also increase – due to reflection – the heat in the atmosphere substantially.
Warehouse belts around cities are like a forced air heating system in a building only on a much larger scale – Warehouse belts are a wasteful forced air heating system for entire cities
Fundamental sustainable thinking and large scale long-term research hardly exists in the US, so it is no wonder that experts are likely to miss the entire picture.
Currently in the US there are no significant requirements or ecological considerations in master plans that address this counterproductive climate habits towards our cities. Actually, it seems that warehouse belts grow faster than Green Roofs!
North American ecological organizations, LEED, or other industry associations are also missing the bigger picture. They often work locally – from one block to the next, they are focused on one or two rare plants, on a distinctive bee species, butterflies or other human pleasing critters as long as there is an instant payback in popularity. It seems worth more having a highly unsustainable fully irrigated Green Wall in the cafeteria, a nice green plaque on the wall, or growing some carrots on the roof to demonstrate social and sustainable responsibility. Most marketing efforts for green washing are beyond the costs of a simple highly efficient extensive Green Roof that helps the future generations.
The United States is a great country and North America is a large continent where thinking big was always wanted and welcome. Now it seems people are getting lost in their little plastic boxes, made in China with some nice flowers and a watering can next to it.
It is very romantic but also very embarrassing.
Fireworks, Green Roofs and Happy New Year!
Practically all dry organic materials are combustible at relative low temperatures. Roof shingles or many waterproofing membranes on roofs are typically petroleum-based products (including Asphalt) and there is hardly a difference to dry organic materials. Some products are equipped with chemical fire retardants that could decrease the risk of spreading fire, not the risk of leaks cause by impact.
The living vegetation of functional and well-engineered green roofs contain moisture and most plants (especially succulent plants on large extensive green roofs) have a fraction of the energetic potential comparing to all other components used in a building. The green roof growing media (soil for the green roof plants) is a blend of different mineral components with an organic content of typically less that 15%. It is practically impossible to set this material on fire – not even considering its natural moisture content.
Potential fires or leaks on roofs caused by consumer or display fireworks can be prevented if the building has a fully functional green roof.
A fire on any roof is the worst-case scenario. I many cases smoldering firework parts (and cigarettes) are causing leaks on unprotected roofs that are discovered much later. These problems are unknown on fully functional green roofs. When a green roof prevents a leak or even a fire it is typically not recognized but will save expensive repair or even loss of a building.
Nature is (literally) so cool.
Happy and successful green 2016!
There are many reasons for building owners to question things in the process and to ask for a third party advice e.g. experienced Green Roof experts. The costs for advice are typically only a percentage of potential savings before construction and likely save expensive repair, renovation or rebuild in the first 5- 6 years.Our advice: Don't play cards - ask for advice.
The main purpose of an extensive Green Roof is stormwater retention and delaying stormwater runoff amongst many other added values.
Above: An Irrigated thin layered Green Roof System – without irrigation it would be dead.
In the last decade in North America, we've seen many Green Roofs where the intended plants never really flourished. I estimate that in the US at least 50% of the green roofs are not performing to their fullest potential. This can be observed by simply looking at the most obvious of indicators, the plants themselves, regardless if they were planted on purpose or somehow found the space to take root.
Most of these less healthy extensive Green Roofs are thin-layered systems, pre-planted boxes (often called modular systems or hybrid systems), Green Roof Systems from roofing manufacturers with ineffective components, single source warranty-systems, or design intents without consideration for the needs of plants. Typically these systems much more costly (whether thin or thicker) and the mid to long term results are often far below systems that are assembled in place with common sense.
Thin-Layered system with irrigation - doesn't work and doesn't retain much water
We all know that the transition from being a common nursery-grown plant (including pre-planted boxes) to the extreme environment of a rooftop poses severe challenges. Green roof plant nurseries typically have "great" advice and recommend the installation of temporary or permanent irrigation systems. In some areas this might be helpful when operated correctly but in all cases this advice is defeating the purpose of an extensive Green Roof (water retention). In almost all cases any type of irrigation caused a spiral of failures and it is wrong to irrigate extensive Green Roofs in areas with limited water for the cause of just having a green roof (Green Washing). Most company sponsored experts don’t see the entire picture or they only see the short term profit and commission (“Mow-Blow-Go”).
If a problem occurs and since many Green Roof system developer lack the proper and specific green roof horticultural knowledge, they may not be able to identify problems by simply looking at the indicators (the plants). This could cause the problem to gain momentum. In addition, the false conclusion that technology (Google search, Apps, synthetic growth media or sophisticated soil moisture control devices) can fix the problem supports my theory of hardly experienced or misinformed green roof professionals. They rely heavily on technology to fix any issues and miss the big picture.
Nature has the ability to take care of itself, as long as the appropriate design, materials and plants are used in addition to being familiar with the immediate location and climate.
Thin layered, super lightweight systems or systems with “innovative” components are just by physics not meant to retain “more” stormwater for the plants or they retain too much water for specific plants. As a matter of fact the costs for retaining stormwater in thin layered systems are extremely high comparing to a standardized extensive Green Roof with a thickness of 4-6 inch (depending on location). Besides the initial costs the lack of water retention (don’t forget all studies are done by the companies!) won’t support any significant bio diversity plus the operational costs (because of the required irrigation) are tremendous over time. Typically these Green Roofs never pay back with they are not utilized for “Green Washing” purposes in advertising.
Irrigated extensive Green Roofs and/or thin layered, super lightweight systems (below 25 lbs/sf) will increase the nutrient pollution in runoff, require higher fertilization application, have hardly any tendency for self-healing, and may increase the pressure of unwanted plants and have a high risk for failure. Irrigated extensive Green Roofs are not environmentally friendly in most loactions!
Green roof designers and green roof professionals must understand that certain advertising, studies, White Papers or project references are all assembled by specific manufacturers and their goal is to make money – unfortunately on the back of a very advanced technology and on the back of their clients.
When we advise our clients they get the full picture because we have seem all solutions in the last 35 years, we have tested them and we are currently working millions of square feet where these systems require upgrades, reinstallation or massive repair (around 20 million in damage so far).
We also help our clients doing it as efficient as possible and to get their money back from prior failures through warranty claims and sophisticated lawsuits. This might help to standardize the function of Green Roofs and helps to get the black sheep out of the market. The building owner has a right that things are done right from the beginning.
Never irrigated in the last 10 years.
Modern Green Roof technology combined with a Blue Roof to minimize artificial irrigation, to maximize water retention and enable visitors to cross a busy four-lane highway without leaving the lush greening of a park.
The Garden Bridge at Universal Studios in Orlando is the first of its kind in Florida. Designed by Miles Architecture Group Inc., Libra Design Group and Green Roof Service LLC, the green bridge creates an innovative connection of Universal City developments. Selected ground covers, shrubs and trees escort pedestrians almost without notice that they are crossing over a busy highway. The distinctive landmark project is engineered with people in mind.
The Garden Bridge at Universal Studios Orlando project is approximately 3,000 sf (145' x between 18 and 25' wide). The bridge is designed to pond water in the granular drainage area to increase the water retention (a blue-green roof combination, Patent hold by Optigreen - 1978 and the first time introduced to North America by Jorg Breuning in 2001).
Unique projects require unique solutions. Keeping the costs for the structure low, the trees are located above the bridge's pillars. The walkway gently winds up to the bridge and over and is easy accessible for the handicapped or service carts.
The project was possible with an outstanding waterproofing solution by ALT Global. ALT Global meets the FLL requirements for root resitance.
This innovative green roof project is a master piece of teamwork between architects, structural engineers, landscape architects and green roof professionals with an open mind, environmental leadership and common sense.