CAROL STEINFELD The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine
AT THE RITZ-CARLTON ON AVERY STREET, CUSTOMERS AT THE WINDOWS OF THE CLUB LOUNGE SIP DRINKS AND LOOK OUT AT A LANDSCAPE OF ROUND RIVER STONE, WAVING ORNAMENTAL GRASSES, PURPLE AND RED FLOWERS, AND SHRUBS.IT'S NOT THE NEARBY BOSTON COMMON BUT RATHER THE RITZ COMPLEX'S OWN ROOFS. Such landscapes are finding new ground above our heads in so-called green roofs.
Gardens such as the three at the Ritz, and others on houses and buildings worldwide, are not only aesthetic attractions; they reduce runoff by absorbing precipitation, and they help insulate the buildings.
The roofscapes are planted in light layers of soil atop strata of plastic textiles and rubber membranes. Michael Weintraub, general manager of the Ritz complex, says that with more conventional rooftop gardens, "you have to worry about waterproofing and the weight of the soil and planters. Not with this." For the Ritz, the decision to install green roofs was mostly aesthetic.
Millennium also owns and manages an office building at 10 St. James
Place that features green roofs. A law firm uses one as a putting green.
The largest green roof at the Ritz complex is the half-acre atop the
Sports Club/LA, a fitness facility and spa. Besides the 193-room Ritz-Carlton
Hotel, the complex is home to a 19-screen Loews theater, the sports
club, 304 condominiums, 63 extended-stay apartments, a parking garage,
and 50,000 square feet of retail space. The project was a finalist for
an Urban Land Institute award.
Weintraub says that maintenance is the same as for any landscape: "Twice
a week, a crew sweeps, pulls out dead flowers, and checks on the spray-irrigation
system. During rainy periods, the roof needs no watering."
The architect for the building, David Hancock of CBT/Childs Bertman
Tseckares, says he chose the system to fully cover the roofs. "With
the green roof, you get full coverage with shallow soil, so the garden
is not too weighty for the strength of the building.
"Green roofs are the fifth elevation," he says. "You have the four sides
of a building, and then there's the view down from tall buildings. That's
where we design the fifth elevation."
According to Hancock, the planted roof radiates less heat to nearby
windows than a black rubber roof would.
The Ritz system, by Chicago-based American Hydrotech Garden Roof, is
a lasagna of insulation, roofing membrane, and filter fabric, some components
of which are made from recycled plastic. Other companies use recycled
According to American Hydrotech's local rep re senta tive, Ed Morris,
a variety of typical landscape and garden plants is suitable for a Garden
Roof. Perennial plants with shallow root systems and re sist ance to
direct sun and to wind are most often used, but a larger variety of
choices is available for more intensive roofscapes, including lawns,
perennial flowers, shrubs, even small trees.
Other buildings with green roofs include the American Express Headquarters
in Minnesota, Chase Plaza in New York, and the Ford Motor Co. Rouge
River facility in Michigan. They are also appearing on homes.
Green roofs will likely be more common as cities work to comply with
new federal mandates banning the drainage of storm water to wastewater
treatment plants. To prevent flash floods during rains, urban planners
are seeking to utilize such strategies as pervious pavement that allows
seepage of water into the earth, storm-water-absorbing green strips,
and green roofs.
Hancock's firm has proposed a Garden Roof as part of a South End air-rights
park that will straddle the Mass. Pike.
Anthony Pangaro, a principal of Millennium Partners, which owns and manages the buildings, says his company did not want condominium residents on the upper stories to look down on drab black roofs. "There were other benefits, too," Pangaro says, "such as the ability to retain water, so we don't overtax the city's storm drains." The green roof "acts like a holding pond to retain water and let it evaporate gradually and get used up by plants, as in most landscapes."
"They bring green space back to urban areas," says Hancock, "and should be considered for their many benefits, not the least of which is to the eyes of the people who live and work on higher floors. Today, in cities, that's more and more people."
AVERY STREET, CUSTOMERS AT THE WINDOWS OF THE CLUB LOUNGE SIP DRINKS
AND LOOK OUT AT A LANDSCAPE OF ROUND RIVER STONE, WAVING ORNAMENTAL
GRASSES, PURPLE AND RED FLOWERS, AND SHRUBS. IT'S NOT THE NEARBY BOSTON
COMMON BUT RATHER THE RITZ COMPLEX'S OWN ROOFS.