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Monday , 22 December 2014
On green roofs and bio-architecture: spring is nearly here!

On green roofs and bio-architecture: spring is nearly here!

It’s true it’s only the first day of March, but March is the month when spring begins, the month of St. Patrick’s Day, the month when daylight savings begins again, so that’s more than enough reasons to start thinking about gardens and all things green, including roofs and bio-architecture.

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The city as seen from the rooftop garden of the Centre for Social Innovation. Green roofs help keep a building both cool in summer and warm in winter. And they just look good.

Though it may not look it at the rump end of winter, Toronto is a pretty green city. We have hundreds of parks, millions of trees and the honour of having been the first city in North America to pass a bylaw that required new buildings to have green roofs. That bylaw, enacted in 2009, applies to all new residential, commercial and institutional development with a minimum floor area of 2,000 square metres.

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Roof garden on a downtown Toronto industrial building that was converted to residential use.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t get to see many of the rooftop gardens and park-like areas that have been installed over the last few years. Many pre-date the bylaw, of course; high-rise dwellers have always sought ways to bring greenery and all that goes with it—the fragrance of flowers, the hum of bees, birdsong—to their aeries above the concrete canyons. Here is a link to a collection of rooftop gardens (unfortunately they are not identified) to put you in the mood for spring, and going up on the roof. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to do something green this spring on that balcony or terrace of yours.

In the past decade or so, many architects and urban designers around the world have created visions of how cities could look if a new, green philosophy of design was followed. Many of the visionary ideas put forward remain just that, however; ideas and sketches that are never realized, victims of “stuck-on-paper” syndrome. These ideas go much farther than simply planting beds of flowers or tracts of grass on rooftops.

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The world’s first bio-facade contains panels of live algae. The building will be in Hamburg, Germany.

One such exception is a building going up in Hamburg, Germany. It will have what is being called the world’s first “bio-façade.” An example of bio-architecture, the building will have specially designed panels covered with biomass (algae) that will create heat as well as shading for the building. The building will be a net-zero carbon structure. A researcher who worked on the biomass panels said that they now have “a commercial scale, effective solution that uses live algae as a smart material to deliver renewable energy. You can’t get greener than that.

 

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Bosco Verticale (vertical forest) under construction in Milan, Italy, an example of bio-architecture.

 

An even more dramatic looking example of bio-architecture is under construction in Milan, Italy. Bosco Verticale (vertical forest), consists of a pair of medium–high-rise residential buildings that will incorporate 900 trees, planted on all the balconies and on the roof. According to the architects, that number of trees and shrubs would be equal to a flat-land forest area of 10,000 square metres.

The architects view Bosco Verticale as a “system” that optimizes, recuperates and produces energy and helps to create a microclimate. The trees will filter dust particles from the air, produce humidity, absorb CO2 and produce oxygen, as well as protecting from radiation and acoustic pollution. The plants will be irrigated with filtered grey water from the building. It is not just a building for people to live in but an example of urban reforestation, the naturalization of the city.

Of course, judging by the renderings of the building, one would have to conclude that only persons who wish to live in a forest need apply. There doesn’t appear to be much room on those balconies for any other use. It’s not for everyone.

Another issue is maintenance. A building like this will require constant care from a dedicated team. You can’t leave all those trees to the care of residents. Time will tell whether the idealism of the architects is matched and sustained by the residents, who will have their own daily realities to deal with.

Meanwhile, can we dare to hope that we’ll see anything like this in Toronto?

About Nicole Ryan Editor

I am Nicole Ryan, a contributing editor at Condo.ca—Canada's Condominium Magazine.

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