What Is Green Architecture?

When paradise comes up in everyday conversations, chances are no one's talking about urban farming. ‘Paradise’ as an idyllic, utopian place is a fairly new spin on the term. The Persians of the 600’s BC used the phrase originally to refer to their parks and gardens kept enclosed within massive walls.

The word has been coopted by other languages to refer to anything from metropolitan orchards, private hunting grounds, and even the Garden of Eden, but the term would be more apt in a conversation about the vegetable patches on rooftops and balconies in contemporary, sun-kissed, smoggy Athens and Rome than Heaven. 

Most urban gardens, from Rome’s fabled Gardens of Sallust to the produce growing on a someone’s balcony, all lack one characteristic: integration. A flowerpot on a roof doesn't integrate the natural with the unnatural.

The field of architecture can take the ideal of sustainability into new and exciting places by uniting steel and nature. The highest point of sustainable architecture (literally) is the green roof, now a global phenomenon, which offers pragmatic benefits to problems in the short term but can just as easily present the key to easing the burden of raising sustenance in a future permanently altered by climate change.  

At their simplest, green roofs consist of a waterproof barrier under a layer of 4”-6” of soil, planted with beneficial shrubs.

These shrubs must be able to stand the extremes of weather to give benefits like rainwater absorption, heat and cold mitigation during summer and winter, soundproofing from outside noise, etc.

Generally, they tend to be a bit more spartan than say any vegetable or flower gardens on the ground level (but they by no means have to be). They really only need grasses to soak up the sun’s rays to lower the cost of cooling the building.

Plants in their own individual pots and lined up in a row are not going to absorb enough sunlight to remotely keep energy consumption lower in the summertime or insulate the edifice during the winter, if at all.

That’s where integration comes in. For anyone less worried about mitigating AC bills and more worried about growing food, a simpler rooftop garden might an easier option, but what is easy isn’t always right. It would be well worth it to put the time and effort into making a green roof with accompanying garden just for the saving on maintenance costs.

Grasses can offer protection from the elements, vegetables can provide nourishment, and flowers can act as refuges for bees in a harmonized space.

Green roofs aren’t difficult to find, especially in urban areas. The most prominent example in Urban Vine Co.’s home of Chicago is on top of City Hall. The head of green projects for the City of Chicago, Michael Berkshire, claims that its green roof saves the building $5,000 annually on utility bills.

While a world-class city’s civic government has nigh-infinite funding for green projects at its disposal, the concepts are the same for amateurs and professionals.

Whether the roof’s area is 20,300 feet ^ 2, the Greenery’s weight (including its soil and waterproofing) must be carefully calculated, and how many layers a new green roof needs to best retain rainwater for the plants but also keep roots healthy should be considered.

City Hall’s green roof has other features such as beehives and an irrigation system, which are not out of the realm of the possibility for new growers, although the care of live bees and the harvesting of their honey aren’t exactly things one can just try with no experience or research. 

In the Persian sense, heaven is a place on earth. A small, rooftop patch of wind-swept shrubbery, given the right soil and a weatherproofed barrier can make a manageable paradise for any urban farmer who’s willing to put in the time and effort, do research, and above all, look into the weight restrictions of any proposed site. This concept has no set definition.

Let the urban space above the chaos of the city be a blank canvass for the right combination of practicality and aestheticism. If a rooftop with power outlets can hold enough soil for growing crops, it just might be able to support an aeroponics tower’s weight.

The sky is the limit for what a pioneer urban farmer can accomplish on an elevated, outdoor space. More and more cities are requiring that new buildings be built with them, so garden design might become more of a necessity than a hobby for some.