Sustainable urban design features like green roofs provide a number of benefits to people and the environment. Courtesy Kerry Ross

Living architecture

Green roofs add a touch of nature to the concrete jungle

Great thinkers have always known that nature is essential to the human spirit. Perhaps that is why more and more architects, designers and builders are choosing to create green retreats in their designs, including rooftops that allow the eye to drink in nature’s beauty.

“There are just so many benefits to green roofs,” said Kerry Ross, one of Canada’s leading green roof experts and the first accredited green roof professional in the country. She spearheaded a number of “living architecture” projects, including the eco-roof at the University of Calgary Research Park and the green roof initiative at Calgary City Hall.

She is also a huge proponent of “greening up” residential architecture, especially in the inner city, where lots are often smaller and outdoor space is at a premium.

“We all crave spaces of nature – they help to lower our heart rates and reduce stress,” said Ross, adding that even just viewing living plants from a window will provide benefits. “There are so many health and productivity pluses to living architecture – we are now just starting to get more metrics and data to shore up the benefits.”

Courtesy Kerry Ross

Green roofs are also great for the environment. Adding more vegetation to the inner-city’s concrete jungle mitigates pollution by filtering pollutants from storm water and the air. Vegetation also reduces storm runoff and flash flooding. Living roofs – whether they are home to herb and vegetable gardens or greenscapes brimming with natural grasses – act as natural insulators, saving energy through significant summer cooling benefits and providing some winter heating reduction. They can also reduce noise levels by up to 50 decibels.

Ross says that in Calgary, residential architects, designers and homebuilders are beginning to understand the benefits of living architecture, while recognizing that many Millennial buyers are looking for this kind of amenity.

RNDSQR co-founder Alkarim Devani is one inner-city builder who is embracing this approach – and in the process, redefining modern living and architecture.

“It’s a bit more expensive to build green roofs, but at the end of the day, it is just good design,” he said. “If you think about how you are going to execute these types of things on the front end, it is definitely doable. The building will definitely cost more than an average box, because, well, an average box is an average box and it doesn’t have access to a rooftop or the amenity space and green roof capability.”

“It’s a bit more expensive to build green roofs, but at the end of the day, it is just good design.” – Alkarim Devani, RNDSQR co-founder

RNDSQR’s latest inner-city project in Calgary’s Bankview neighbourhood is a serious departure from traditional multi-family housing. Designed by Modern Office of Design + Architecture (MoDA), the 20-unit condo, townhome and loft project features contemporary architecture that works with the sloped site lines to form three rooftop terraces that zig-zag in a switchback formation.

The rooftops will be planted with raised garden beds, providing 1,500 square feet of communal gardening space that will be tended by YYC Growers and Distributors for their summer harvest boxes. Residents are provided with a weekly harvest box brimming with fresh produce in return for use of the communal space.

Each resident will also have a personal gardening plot. The green rooftops will act as “social-scapes,” connecting people and providing beauty, functionality and gathering spaces for the residents.

“Everyone is really excited about this project. The urban garden is super attractive to a lot of people, but it is also the whole idea of community living,” said Devani, who notes that sustainable urban design and amenities that bring people together will be the hallmarks of the types of projects that will stand the test of time.

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