The stark, gray rooftop of the Langford Architecture Building on the campus of Texas A&M University will turn green in the months and years to come as students and professors from three academic disciplines come together to create a “green roof.”
Green roofs are roofs that are either partially or completely covered with vegetation. “Green roofs help cool rooftops, conserve energy, prevent urban flooding, provide wildlife habitat and create urban green space,” says Bruce Dvorak, a professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, and one of three faculty members leading students in the rooftop planting project.
In addition to Landscape Architecture, students from the Department of Horticultural Sciences, led by Professor Astrid Volder, and the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, led by Professor Don Conlee, are participating in the project, “designing, constructing, installing and maintaining all elements of the green roof including physical structures, instrumentation, planting and plant maintenance, and associated data processing and display,” Dvorak explains.
The first phase of the project began last fall when 20-30 students started to propagate plants and assemble the rooftop equipment. This spring, about 15 students have been working to complete the planting and design a modular “living wall,” a vertical planting system that will result in a vegetation-covered wall.
“The living roof/wall industry is relatively young in the United States and very young in Texas,” says Kirk Laminack, a horticulture graduate student who is helping to manage the Langford green roof project. “Showing that such projects can be carried out successfully in Texas adds to a maturing industry and helps it expand and gain momentum.”
With the project being carried out mostly by students, Laminack says he and the other student participants are being exposed to experiences that go beyond traditional classroom learning. “I’m gaining experience in management and construction, data collection, and in researching the many types of green roofs and walls, and investigating how to adapt ours to work in our area.”
This multifaceted project uses the three disciplines of architecture, horticulture and atmospheric sciences in conjunction with one another. “Students from all disciplines cross over into each other’s expertise and get a chance to develop well-rounded skill sets,” says Dvorak, whose areas of interest include sustainable design, planning and construction.
“Architecture supports the structural and design background for design and implementation,” he adds.
“Landscape architecture and horticulture work together to provide the plant and ecological knowledge to create a functioning ecosystem with plants that can thrive under harsh growing conditions such as very high light, extreme temperatures, high wind and very little precipitation,” explains Volder, who specializes in horticultural landscape ecology.
And since weather is such an important factor, “atmospheric sciences contributes by developing environmental monitoring systems that help document the roof and wall effects on wind speed, air temperature and humidity,” notes Conlee, a specialist in weather forecasting. He says the monitoring system also documents the factors that determine plant success such as precipitation, solar radiation, soil water availability and soil temperature.
The group will continue to design and plant this summer and fall and hope to present their findings at student and other scientific meetings later this year.
The public will be able to experience the Langford green roof project via Internet, says Conlee, once their web program becomes active this summer. “We will have a web-accessible interface that monitors environmental conditions on the roof to show the effect of the green roof and wall on the environment,” he says.
The group hopes the project will raise awareness of green technologies and demonstrate the feasibility of widespread implementation. “We’re training a new generation of practitioners in the green economy,” Dvorak notes.
There’s only one drawback to this green roof project, says Volder, who like any horticulturalist, appreciates the beauty of plants: “Once we’ve done the planting and it all grows, it will be so beautiful, but unfortunately, most people won’t even see it way up here on the roof!”
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