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.
Urban Planning in North America
Most American Cities like to have a diverse, sustainable, and thriving city of neighborhoods as the economic and cultural driver for the region.
In reality, these urban planners fall for nicely presented prestige projects that maybe have some green elements like bicycle storage, a solar panel, or living elements like a little green wall in the entrance area or roof terrace with some tomato plants. A little decoration of green is always trendy – whether it remains green or not. Important seems that the building is shiny, the investors and tenants have good names, and that it increases the prestige level of the city.
Urban planning in North America has hardly anything to do with long-term perspectives, environmental, people, or social aspects. “Urban” planning does not go further than maybe two or 3 blocks in a city. North America is a big continent with many tunnel-view urban planners, and since many of these planners have not much to do, they write daily blogs about “great ideas” of new ways for urban developments. It seems they write a lot and they do not do much.
In Europe, urban planning is almost on a helicopter- view basis, long-term with environmental and social aspects. Europe’s great urban planning doesn’t stop at the city or county line and it greatly reduces destructive urban sprawl. Being an urban planner in Europe is a tough job – they have no time to play on the internet posting great ideas. They just do it.
The picture below shows a neighborhood in Munich, Germany from google Earth. The development of this area started in 1994 and it is still going on. Developing an area like that over 20 years required a comprehensive urban planning long ago and with on single goal: minimize the environmental footprint.
1. The area is connected to a large park with sport arena, pools, gyms, and recreational facilities including beer gardens.
2. The community garden on the north allows people to grow their own flowers and vegetable.
3. Most roofs are covered with green roofs, some are used of recreation or growing flowers and food. Most buildings have balconies where plants grow up (extensive green walls).
4. Open space for socializing, playing games, walking dogs. Typically these areas are above underground parking garages.
5. Solar Garden Roof that combine solar with green roofs to max-out the environmental benefits.
6. Houses are entirely covered with PV.
All buildings have very easy access to a dense public transportation network and many office buildings can be reached within walking distance or by bicycle.
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?
First Garden Bridge in the world based on modern Green Roof technology.
Built 1977 for the National Garden Show in Stuttgart, Germany designed by Prof. Hans Luz Landscape Architect. A Green Roof that celebrates it 40 years anniversary next year.
The Green Roof Bridge or Garden Bridge connects the two major parks downtown Stuttgart and is accessible for free since 1977.
Pictures: Jörg Breuning 2012 ...doing it right in the first place!
The annual CitiesAlive Green Roof & Wall Conference is happening next week (October 5-8) in New York City. This conference hotspot is the place for green roof and green wall professionals to learn and discuss the latest technologies.
Every year at CitiesAlive, the 36-year green roof veteran Jörg Breuning and his company Green Roof Technology present innovative products and people that help make your project successful, affordable, and maximally environmental-friendly. “I like to share my experience, horticultural knowledge, and understanding of nature’s principles,” says Breuning, “to help people prevent wasted time, money, and frustration.”
This year, Jörg Breuning will present:
Geocell. World leader in foam glass gravel, a 99% recycled product that substitutes for manufactured foam insulation in green roof construction.
ALT Global, the world leader in advanced cold liquid applied membrane systems.
Prior innovations introduced by Jörg Breuning include introduction of the German FLL Green Roof Guideline. “The guideline is the foundation of all current green roof standards, guidelines, and most specifications, and its continued use among green roof professionals demonstrates its success,” says Breuning.
He has also fostered many North American green roof experts in their early days, including Ed Snodgrass (green roof plant grower and author of Green Roof Plants: A Resource and Planting Guide), Charlie Miller (Roofmeadow), Kurt Horvath (Green Roof Solutions), and Michael Furbish (Furbish Company).
Come mingle with Jörg Breuning and the A-Team at the Green Roof Service LLC/Green Roof Technology booth (307, in the middle of the Trade Show floor).
The 2015 Trade Show opens with an evening reception on October 5th at 7PM and is open on October 6th
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.