We crossed the Atlantic to visit Artie Rollins at his New York City Parks Department’s 30,000 square foot rooftop on Randall’s Island.
An unusual assignment. And an unglamorous location. Even the taxi driver we flagged down in Harlem after the M35 bus we were on broke down had no idea where it was. Or did, but didn’t like the idea of going there. But we were on a mission.
The simple reality is that Artie Rollins is the architect of the largest experimental roof garden in the world, with 32 different green roof environments tended by Max Lerner, a fire-cracker-smart sustainability analyst pulling all the green infrastructure strings together at this major NYC Parks Dept depot.
Randall’s island is flat and municipal, the sliproads and spans of the RFK Triborough bridge rollercoaster over its hinterland. And we were lost. An attempt to breach the inner sanctum of the FDNY Fire Academy was repulsed by the gatekeeper, with laconic directions and a wave of a uniformed arm. Persevering, we spotted the Parks building only by its unruly green rim of plants, overlapping the industrial parapets of the facility. That natural portent was far more a giveaway of its location than the man-made signage on the roadway.
Greeted and then issued with a detailed catalogue of the roof environments by Jacqueline Morgan, Artie’s assistant, we found ourselves admiring the very first green space at the facility, a second-floor light well, enclosed by glass walls, at the core of the building.
Very promptly at 10am, Artie Rollins introduced himself, described the shaded glen which we were viewing and how, as an interior, shaded and windless exhibit, it was very different from the rooftop specimens above, which were fully exposed to the elements, notably variations of temperature, wind and precipitation. We went upstairs. And the October sun was shining brightly.
Fast-forward to an hour later. We had learnt 10 key positives about green roofs from Artie and Max.
A green roof’s protection can increase the life-span of a traditional roof by 2 – 3 times.
Green roofs are inexpensive to construct and incur low maintenance charges.
A green roof provides the infrastructure to build a sustainable eco-system: flora, fauna, compost – and bees.
A green roof improves the performance of solar panels and air conditioning, lowering the ambient temperature.
Green roofs conserve energy by insulating the upper floors against heat and cold extremes, leading to lower bills.
Green roofs lower carbon dioxide and air pollutants in the environment. Composting programmes add value.
A green roof wild life habitat improves the well-bring of employees, adding relaxation and recreation.
Green roof environments dampen noise and mitigate heat islands in urban environments.
Green roofs grow produce such as salads, vegetables and herbs for use in on-site restaurants and kitchens.
Green roofs provide an educational space to clearly demonstrate the benefits of green roofs. As happened to us!
The particular merit of the New York City Park’s Department 5-Boro roof-space is that 32 different green roof systems exist side-by-side. This means that the practical characteristics of each can be closely monitored, scientifically developed and the information shared. One specific benefit of the roof to the municipality is the downsizing of this facility’s air conditioning unit. The 25-ton apparatus currently in situ will be replaced by a 15-ton unit, owing to the cooling effect of the green roof. But up on the roof, all seemed well with the world: the birds were singing, bees were flying and the people were smiling and yes, the sun was still shining!
We’re delighted to have been conducted into Arnie and Max’s “Magic Circle” and we will be consulting with them on our future green roof projects. Their rooftop is a world-class resource and with London’s skyline and new buildings looking increasingly like New York City’s, we are grateful to share the cutting-edge wisdom which it brings, particularly in the urban forage environment for our beleaguered London honeybees.
Taken on their own, any one of these 10 green roof benefits may seem marginal, but when you add them up, you have a money-saving, mood-enhancing, forage-providing, environment-sparing, mind-changing outcome. That’s a end-point we can all welcome!