Thursday, February 23, 2006
Early American pioneers traditionally cut their places out of nature rather than finding their place in it. Western Puritanical thought demanded sharp, delineated lines and borders between man and nature. Today, we’ve cut out so much nature that our urban landscapes are polluted, overheated blights that severely impact the health and well-being of our population and our entire global environment.
Paul Kephart of Carmel Valley’s Rana Creek Restoration Ecology is on the forefront of a design revolution that hopes to change the alienated urban architectural landscape. Central to this idea is the living roof.
Green roofs have been around in Europe for 50 years. They consist of vegetation and soil planted over a waterproofing membrane. Additional layers, such as a root barrier and drainage and irrigation systems, may also be included.
They’ve been proven to keep the buildings cooler, capture rainfall, mitigate pollution, reduce noise, create habitat for birds and other animals and even benefit mental and physical health.
“This is past the trend stage,” Kephart says. “There’s good science, engineering, brilliant architectural design and horticultural techniques behind this. The leading designers in the world are at work on this. People will recognize that when they see a living roof.”
According to Kephart, green roofs have what he calls “heat island effect benefits,” which means that they keep urban centers cooler.
“Green roof surfaces can be 35-80 degrees cooler than traditional roofs,” he says. “This has huge energy conservation benefits.”
Kephart’s green roof designs are also keenly focused on optimizing the capture and storage of rainfall. Not only do green roofs conserve water, they also help curtail groundwater pollution by mitigating storm runoff—a fact that the cities like Pacific Grove and Monterey, which are struggling to manage their storm water run-off, could take note of.
“Many people don’t know that 30 percent of all nitrate and phosphorous pollution is in the form of particulate matter that settles on the roof,” Kephart says. “Within one hour of a storm, most of these pollutants and toxins enter the groundwater. Vegetation on the roof absorbs and purifies the rainfalls by capturing 70 percent of it.”
Kephart is currently designing a green roof for a multi-story apartment building development in San Jose that, in conjunction with a living wall and a bio-swale, or ground-level drainage channel, will capture 100 percent of rainfall.
Up in British Columbia, his design for the Vancouver Convention Center calls for a 6.5 acre roof carpeted with a diverse assemblage of native plants. He says this monumental piece of architecture will create 3 million more gallons of water than it uses.
Yet Kephart is perhaps most famous for the 69,000 square foot extensive green roof he designed and installed at The Gap Headquarters in San Bruno, Calif. back in 1997. Key to Gap’s decision to use green roof technology was the promise of sound attenuation.
“Gap’s headquarters are located right next to 280, 380, the 101 and it’s right by the San Francisco airport,” Kephart says. “The roof attenuates low-frequency noise. Despite everything going on outside the building, we’ve created a very quiet environment.”
Kephart’s firm also designed a roof of peaceful grass fields over the Stanford Medical Center’s parking garage.
“When patients look out their windows they see beautiful meadows and butterflies,” Kephart says. “These pastures are a healing space. Research shows that views of a landscape like this promote quicker healing.”
Kephart says that although most local projects are residential, they exemplify their owners’ responsibility and stewardship.
“It’s about integrity, reverence and spirituality of place. That’s really what we’re getting to—a new spiritual and philosophical connection to nature,” Kephart says. “It’s more than just being eco-chic and green, it’s people’s recognizing our impact on the environment. Recognizing that fresh, clean water is the most precious resource on the planet. Recognizing that the population of California will increase 40 percent in 40 years. Recognizing what is and isn’t sustainable.”
Evidence suggests mainstream America is beginning to embrace the idea of green roofs. Ford Motor Company has installed green roofs on its corporate headquarters; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah installed a 348,480-square-foot extensive and intensive green roof in 2000; contractors recently completed a 30,000-square-foot extensive green roof project on the Montgomery Park Business Center in Baltimore, Maryland; Ducks Unlimited included two green roofs totaling 28,190 square feet on its national headquarters; and private and public interests in the city of Chicago and the city of Portland have installed or are planning to install 43 and 42 green roof projects, respectively.
In addition, Kephart says there are Green Roof initiatives in Los Angeles and San Francisco that provide incentives for developers to integrate living architecture into their plans.
“In those jurisdictions, your plan documents go to the top of the pile if they have green elements, so you get permitted first,” Kephart says. “And what this is leading to is a new economic revival that’s driven by the restoration of our natural world. It means clean air, healthy soil and pure water to our children for generations to come.”
Paul Kephart will give a presentation on “The Living Roof Project” at noon on Sunday at City College of San Francisco. For more information visit ranacreek.com.