Extra Content (extended interview & more photos) from:

Was It Worth It?: The Clients Speak!—how have award-winning green roof and wall projects stood the test of time? | By: Jennifer Foden Wilson | Summer 2013 issue

When a living architecture project wins a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) Award of Excellence (or any award for that matter), we all see the beautiful photographs and hear the impressive stories. However, after the awards have been given out and the press coverage has faded, do you ever wonder how that project has evolved and performed 2, 5 or 10 years down the road? I checked in with four GRHC award-winning project clients to see how their green roof or wall projects have fared, what challenges they’ve encountered and the big question—has the investment paid off?

Ron and Joanne Gallagher, owners, Life Expression Wellness Center, 2004 GRHC Award of Excellence (Extensive Institutional), Sugar Loaf, Pennsylvania


Alan Good, landscape supervisor, California Academy of Sciences, 2008 GRHC Award of Excellence (Extensive Institutional), San Francisco, California


Jason Mancini, senior researcher, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, 2006 GRHC Award of Excellence (Intensive Institutional), Mashantucket, Connecticut


Taja Sevelle, founder and Joyce Lapinsky, board co-chair, Urban Farming Food Chain, 2009 GRHC Award of Excellence (Green Wall Design), Los Angeles, California


Q: Why did you decide to implement a green roof or wall into/on your building? How did you justify the initial added costs?

Ron and Joanne: Our goal, dream and passion was to design and build an ecologic wellness center that would be used for alternative wellness practitioners that would have a passion for natural healing. We envisioned that the wellness center would espouse the natural design of the earth for lighting, heating and cooling. We called the architect, Sim Van Der Ryn, in 1998 to ask if he would have an interest in such a project. He came to Pennsylvania from Sausalito, California and spent three days conceptualizing the center. He walked the perimeter of the 16-acre property and sat in a field with watercolors and painted his vision. He suggested that we consider a green roof for the reason that it would respect the ecology of the earth and express our goals and vision. His idea became our dream and reality.
     We knew that Life Expression Wellness Center would be the investment of our lives. We felt that the green roof would express our philosophy of healing and respect for the earth. We justified that the added cost would be justified in the goal that the wellness center would live on beyond our lives, serving others for the future. For that, there is no price. As Sim Van Der Ryn wrote in his book, The Design for Life, “When patients go there today, they enjoy a unique, beautiful space. As one patient said, ‘This place feels so peaceful. Coming here is part of my healing.’”

Alan: From the earliest planning stages of our new facility, the Academy was committed to sustainable principles. The operational efficiencies and ecosystem services that such an approach provided were and are important to us; we also embrace the opportunity to model best practices for our guests and professional colleagues. Along with the thermal and stormwater benefits of a green roof, our native plant palette creates 2.5 acres of bird and insect habitat in the middle of Golden Gate Park, and provides an opportunity to demonstrate the use of native plants within an urban environment.
     The educational and environmental benefits of our green roof are central to our mission as an institution: Explore, Explain and Sustain Life. Frankly, there would have been a need to justify a design that did not include a green roof.

Jason: As the Mashantucket Pequot community considered a design for their tribal museum; they wanted to demonstrate their ongoing reverence for the land. In addition to minimizing the Museum’s environmental footprint, the ethnobotany gardens [on the roof] showcase indigenous plant uses. A variety of educational programs are also held in this location including an annual educational powwow, which invites visitors to learn about and participate in the cultural traditions of Native people.

Taja and Joyce: Urban Farming Edible Walls™ cut down on the urban heat index and rainwater runoff; they help clean the air; and they can cut down on up to 60 percent of heating and cooling costs of the host building, depending on coverage. And appropriate wall space is generally more readily available than rooftops that are easily accessible for maintaining food-producing gardens. Additionally, the walls help people to think outside the box and to get creative with ideas of where and how to plant food. Finally, the walls are beautiful and look like pieces of living art on the wall.

Q: How has your green roof or wall performed since it won a GRHC Award of Excellence? How is it maintained? Have you encountered any challenges? What lessons have you learned?

Ron and Joanne: Our roof has been an incredible learning experience since its completion in 2002. Each year it blooms for approximately ten weeks from May to July. Each year it is a different “chameleon” as the blooms change from yellow to white to pink to fuchsia. There is the maintenance of weeding 3-4 times per year as dandelions and clover and wind seed take hold. It is also naturally fertilized 2 times per. Hawkweed has been our challenge as it takes root.
     It has taught us the diligence and timing of weeding to avoid spread of weed seed. It has taught us the patience of weeding grasses that have grown form weed seed. It continues to teach us the wonder and awe of its presence; and message to clients and travelers of the need to respect the earth and environment with our future construction.

Alan: In cultural terms, the green roof at the Academy of Sciences has met and exceeded our expectations as a valued educational resource for our community and a recognized symbol of sustainable architecture worldwide. In horticultural terms, the roof is a constantly evolving system that is trending towards diversity; over time it has become a more stable and ecologically sound system with few pest problems and a rich native habitat for birds and insects.
     The two-person landscape department at the Academy of Sciences is responsible for the maintenance of the 2.5-acre living roof, as well as the 5 acres of grounds surrounding the building. These two staff members are assisted by a group of volunteers that spend one morning per week on the roof, and two contractor laborers who spend at least four hours per week on the roof. Additional maintenance services such as composting are provided on a semi-annual basis by a hydro-seeding firm and other specialists.
     Some challenges that we’ve encountered include: maintaining a roof with steep slopes (up to 60%) in terms of access and workflow; developing irrigation strategies to compensate for wind patterns; and expanding our species list from a limited palette of 4 perennial species to a broad palette of more than 75 species.
     We have learned many lessons, including: that many small solutions are often more effective than a single large solution (plant diversity enhances stability). Once you have built the roof, it is hard to create new access infrastructure for materials such as compost and plants. Finally, plant palettes can change and evolve on a roof, just as they do in a conventional landscape.

Jason: The museum’s green roof has performed very well, satisfying the environmental, cultural, and educational needs outlined by the Tribe. Moving forward, we hope to enhance and formalize the ethnobotany gardens. Dancing and other activities at the annual powwow have resulted in pockets of soil compression and dead grass. Regardless, the tribe’s landscaping department has managed this; and the green roof has become a popular wedding location.

Taja and Joyce: It has performed very well. It is maintained by the residents and staff of the organization that own and reside in the building. Yes, like any food-producing garden, it requires continued maintenance. Lessons? Train people so they will have the knowledge to train people, and so on. This will ensure there are always key people responsible for the garden; and it will be a sustainable endeavor. Learn who you’re working with and their particular needs and goals. The more in line the project is with their needs, and the less additional work and time it would require of them, the better the outcome and success for all.

Q: Has the living architecture investment paid off?

Ron and Joanne: That would be difficult to determine, as the property value of the office is located in a rural area. Financially, the roof may never “pay off” but the respect for the health and wellness and the earth has captured the hearts of the clients and has been the intrigue of so many drivers traveling nearby. It will pay its dividends perhaps with its innate teaching of life and respect for the future.
     The history of America began with immigrants who came to this country with the vision for a better life and freedom for their families. Their legacy was to survive and prosper. Our great country’s heritage was built on their vision for a better tomorrow. In today’s age, the average American values someone’s worth by what they own or what they have accomplished. We have lost the vision of tomorrow and the legacy to leave to the children. Adding a green roof to our wellness center has been a great experience and has fit into our ideals for a healthy lifestyle and our own personal respect for healing and the earth.

Alan: The investment has paid off in many ways. As a non-profit institution dedicated to scientific research and education, we regard non-monetized benefits as having great value. Our green roof is a highly visible emblem of commitment to sustainability, thus helping to shape the local and international identity of our institution. The habitat value and ecosystem services provided by the roof are tangible environmental achievements. The ongoing challenge of maintaining and enhancing our roof provides valuable opportunities for teaching and learning.

Jason: It is difficult to assess this question from a property valuation standpoint, as the Museum is located on an Indian Reservation. After fifteen years of operation, there have not been any significant structural or maintenance concerns. Separate from its cultural exhibits, research library, and research division, the Museum will be more aggressively marketing its award-winning green roof to enhance its visibility among architecture, landscape design, and environmental organizations as well as the broader public anticipating that this will add value through increased visitors.

Taja and Joyce: I would think it has. The Urban Farming Edible Wall™ was the first enhancement made to a large outside courtyard that had been unattended and unkempt for many years. The Wall became its focal point and was the springboard that led to a complete renovation of the large outdoor space. The courtyard is now proudly used day-to-day and for events. The residents use the Edible Wall as a tool for their various programs and they enjoy the benefits of learning to work with others, as well as the chefs and cooks using the fresh produce in their kitchen.

Q: What advice would you give to a building owner contemplating a green roof or wall project?

Ron and Joanne: Think of the cost. Consider the time and expense of maintenance. Be respectful—you are honoring the earth and the future children. Conceptualize the legacy—you are making a difference beyond your lifetime.

Alan: Define your goals and design the roof with these goals in mind. Consider wind patterns when designing irrigation systems. Incorporate ongoing maintenance and materials access into the design. Maintenance needs are not entirely predictable, but efficient access for materials, equipment and people will eventually be required. Expect the unexpected.

Jason: The success of our green roof is rooted in its multi-functionality. It minimizes energy consumption while covering 60,000 square feet of world-class exhibits. The roof itself provides an equal amount of space for outdoor programs and events—whether educational or private functions. For a cultural institution, this versatility has been an important component of the museum’s ongoing appeal.

Taja and Joyce: It’s an enhancement, to be sure, and unlike a green wall or rooftop of non-edibles, if there is a healthy, accessible growing environment on a wall or rooftop, aside from the physical needs of water, access to location and sun, there must be an understanding of how it will be utilized and the necessary requirements to maintain the garden and the growing system. If not maintained via the people at the company/organization in the building, they would likely need to hire a landscaping company to manage the maintenance of both the garden and the system. Knowing what types of systems are now available and what would work easily, safely.

Jennifer Foden Wilson is the editor of the Living Architecture Monitor magazine.