Valuing Greenery Up High 6

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Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
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As our cities become increasingly denser, the available area for living outside, whether it be public or private open space, becomes more precious.

We are surrounded by more and more concrete, glass and steel. Ground level green space is also being lost as a consequence of medium and high density developments.

Governments try to counter this through their planning regulations which often dictate that developments provide a required amount of ground level open space. However, overall the result is a nett reduction in green space in our cities.

The planning regulations also try to improve the quality of our urban spaces by mandating a stepping back of buildings from the street frontages. This can contribute to improved streetscapes, but results in a reduction of lettable floor area as the levels go up.

People are intrinsically predisposed to surround themselves with living plants. Biophilia is a well-studied phenomenon that has been demonstrated to improve human well-being. When people move into a new development, they often express this desire by cramming in as many pot plants as they can to fill their outdoor terrace spaces.

1 One Central Park - ASPECT Studios

One Central Park

This is not only the case for many multi-storey residential developments. There is also a growing trend towards including greenery throughout new commercial workplaces and retail spaces.

Unfortunately, unless the building owner and/or tenants are committed to tending these sky gardens, the plants invariably die. Like some on-ground landscapes, greenery at height that is ad hoc and not integrated into the form and fabric of the urban environment, if it is reliant on manual irrigation, is unlikely to survive in the medium to long term, especially given the harsh Australian climate. All too often the living green is replaced with dead brown and the pots eventually get removed.

But what if the development was to integrate these features into the project from the beginning?

Rather than being an afterthought, the terrace garden could be an integral part of the living space. Much like the best of all good architectural design, integration of indoor and outdoor space is possible at height.

The roof terraces resulting from the planning scheme set back requirement, rather than being windblown, hot and hard paved spaces, could be lush garden rooms that increase the property value.

Rather than having a barren balcony terrace around the lunchroom-kitchen of an office development that no one ever visits, it could be a soft and comfortable space that gets used every day.

Creating these living green spaces need not be difficult or expensive and provided they are designed well and integrated into the overall project, they will be relatively low maintenance. As more and more of these projects are successfully realised, the technology and methods of establishing greenery at height improve to ensure success.

The greenery, as well as increasing property value, also provides many other benefits.

Some of these are tangible, such as the reduced temperatures caused by the shading and evapotranspiration effects of plants. Living systems also contribute to management of storm water by retaining water on site and removing contaminants.

5 Kangan Batman Automtoive Central of Excellence - ASPECT Studios

Kangan Automtoive Central of Excellence

Other advantages are less tangible, such as mental health benefits of being close to plants.

The vertical surfaces of buildings can also be integrated with greening to extend these benefits. Green walls that spread plants over substantial vertical surface areas can look spectacular, especially when combined with other roof garden elements.

Facades consisting of front window glazing can also support living things. A green façade is an efficient way of providing extensive areas of vertical greenery at relatively low cost, especially when compared to other feature architectural façade expressions and glazed curtain walls.

There are many climbing plants that will vigorously twine up a cable or mesh structure. Not only does this vertical garden provide exquisite visual interest, it also provides a cooling benefit to the internal spaces, reducing energy costs for summer air conditioning.

Recently in Australia, there has been many advances in the technical understanding and policy develop that encourage more widespread uptake of these approaches.

For example the City of Sydney has recently produced a Green Roofs and Walls policy. Further to this, the group of local councils contributing to the Inner Melbourne Action Plan has produced the Growing Green Guide for which provides the following advice:

 Property developers should consider the importance to them of building sustainability ratings schemes as they commission a design for a green roof, wall or facade. For instance:

  • Public buildings can obtain Green Star points for green roofs, and other buildings have an indirect way of achieving points under the category of ‘land use and ecology’, if the installation is designed with native plant species and a focus on ecological value
  • Under the National Australian Built Environment Rating Scheme, green roofs, walls and facades may be able to contribute to ratings in categories of thermal comfort and acoustic comfort
  • In the green building certification program, ‘The Living Building Challenge’, green roofs, walls and facades may be able to contribute to building thermal performance, energy efficiency, and water re-use objectives
  • NatHERS (Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme) looks at the energy efficiency of new residential developments, and green roofs, walls or facades can be designed to improve efficiency.

Unfortunately, the many benefits of these features although well understood in principle, have not been quantifiably researched to the point where they can be easily worked into a business case for a development.

We know that greenery cools buildings, but we can’t yet definitively include this contribution in a BCA compliance for Section J, or use this cooling function the gain Green Star points.

Furthermore, although we know that a green roof will reduce storm water runoff volumes and improve water quality, we don’t know empirically how much.

Increasingly we are seeing a gain in momentum and uptake of living architecture in the projects we work on, which will undoubtedly continue as we respond the challenges of our urban environments.

http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/vision/towards-2030/sustainability/greening-the-city/green-roofs-and-walls
http://www.growinggreenguide.org/technical-guide/design-and-planning/building-rating-schemes-and-planing-assessment-tools/
https://www.gbca.org.au/gbc_scripts/js/tiny_mce/plugins/filemanager/Living_Wall_and_Green_Roof_Plants_for_Australia_Report_230712.pdf
http://living-future.org.au/
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Discussions
6
  1. Erik van Zuilekom

    An excellent article. With more and more successful and well designed green architecture projects emerging from within the urban sphere (notably Australia's challenging climate), momentum is definitely building for the industry. We need to further fortify the knowledge and experience transfer between architects, landscape architects, green wall/roof/facade providers, policy makers and city planning professionals. I am, from first hand experience, aware of how Warwick is playing a vital role in achieving this. I hope to see more articles on the subject emerging, bringing this specialist knowledge and experience to the wider industry.

  2. Naomi Grunditz

    Rooftop surface area is one of the most underused great land resources in cities! All new buildings and eligible existing ones should be required and/or incentivized to utilize roof space.

  3. Eve Davie

    Yes. We need to include facilities in green rooms and terraces that allow for people to work in these spaces. Consideration for placement of seating so that glare is reduced on screens would be a good start. The Australian elements are strong, our climates are unique – we need to consider this and stop copying overseas designs.

  4. David S

    Absolutely, just requires an open mind

  5. Akire Bubar

    Great article! I think you meant to write "potted plants", not "pot plants", though – ? 😉 I have often thought that rooftop gardens should be common practice – a great way to improve city livability.

  6. Michael Hurley

    Yes , I am sure you can . The medium to longer term issue is for residential buildings that are a Strata plan building is the on going cost further down the years .
    There is some reluctance at present but I am sure that with the costs of maintenance clearly know the issue will resolve itself.