By Elise Simons
A Green Roof is a layer of vegetation added to the roof of a building. Green roofs absorb and filter rainwater, improving water quality and reducing the risk of flooding. They also improve air quality, lower building heating and cooling costs by mitigating the urban heat island effect, provide valuable green space in densely developed areas, and serve as a habitat for birds and other species. Because of its many environmental and energy-savings benefits, a green roof can be an important component of a green building’s LEED certification.
Green roofs come in all shapes and sizes, and can be found on commercial buildings, residential homes, parking garages, and university rooftops. Some are private gardens or workplace retreats; others are museum showpieces or urban farms. Some are planted with thin, lightweight plants and are intended to improve a building’s energy efficiency while being enjoyed from afar. Others are built like parks with trees and benches, and are meant to be enjoyed up close.
Because of the many environmental, social, and economic benefits of adding vegetation to rooftops, green roofs (also called living roofs or roof gardens) have risen in popularity over the past several years. Here are 10 of the best green roofs in Massachusetts.
10: The Burnham Building, Downtown Crossing, Boston
The half-acre roof of the Burnham Building provides environmental benefits for the neighbors and visitors in the streets below. (Source:Recover Green Roofs)
As part of the new Millennium Tower development at Downtown Crossing, the historic Burnham Building was retrofitted with a half-acre, multi-level sedum rooftop. Designed by renowned 20th-century architect Daniel Burnham, this former site of the Filene’s department store was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The green roof and other building efficiency improvements were therefore incorporated into the building with great care. Besides creating an enjoyable view for nearby offices and apartments, these green rooftops decrease wind speeds and reduce flooding and water polluting during rain storms, creating a more enjoyable outdoor experience for Downtown Crossing shoppers, commuters, and sunny-day-strollers below.
9: Twin Rooftop Patios: Residential Getaways in Cambridge
Two Cambridge homeowners prove you can have your green backyard and your city view too. (Source: Recover Green Roofs.)
It can be a tough call for city-dwellers: keep your city apartment with easy access to all the urban amenities, or retreat to that green suburban oasis and enjoy your own private backyard? Green roofs ask a different question: why choose? Thanks to a new zoning code easing restrictions on building developments, Cambridge is leading the charge on residential green roof patios. These two homeowners were the first in Cambridge to build green roofs on their homes for personal use. The two roofs include playspace for the kids, a vegetable garden, relaxing patio areas, and of course an excellent view of the city. Building a green roof as your own private city oasis in the city is the newest trend in green building development.
8: Avigilon Offices at 450 Artisan Way, Assembly Row, Somerville
An Office Oasis overlooks the Mystic River at Assembly Square’s new transit-oriented development. (Source: Recover Green Roofs/Patrick Rogers Photography.)
Green roofs are good for the environment, improving water quality and reducing energy costs, but they are also good for people, improving health and morale: some green roofs, like this one, are able to accomplish both. Formerly a brownfield site, Assembly Row in Somerville is quickly developing into a booming mixed-use development featuring shops, offices, and apartments, alongside the Orange Line and the Mystic River. 450 Artisan Way, the first LEED Gold office building in Somerville, is one of three rooftops in Assembly Row topped with energy-saving green roof technology. This green roof filters rainwater and contributes to the currently-underway clean-up and revitalization of the historically polluted Mystic River. Pedestrian paths and benches give visitors and office workers a place to relax and enjoy the view. Designed by Copley Wolf Design Group and built by Recover Green Roofs, this rooftop green space features shade and wind-tolerant plants and an excellent view of the river.
7: North Shore Community College Green Roof, Danvers
The green roof on the Health Professions & Student Services Building at North Shore Community College is one of many green roofs used as educational tools at Massachusetts schools. (Source: Recover Green Roofs.)
Colleges and Universities are excellent locations for green roof installations. Their large institutional buildings offer ample roof space for greenery, and energy efficient buildings with rooftop gardens make for an attractive and enjoyable campus environment. Most importantly, green roofs in educational spaces serve as research and educational tools for students and raise awareness about the technology in the general campus population. The North Shore Community College Health Professions and Student Services Building, the first state-owned zero-net energy building in Massachusetts, was built with a green roof not only to qualify for LEED Gold Certification but also to act as a teaching tool for students. Designed by Copley Wolff Design Group and maintained by Recover Green Roofs, the building’s green rooftop features modular trays with different green roof species plantings. These trays are intended to serve as teaching and research tools for students in biology and plant science courses. Other Massachusetts universities and colleges that have installed green roofs for educational and research purposes and general student and faculty enjoyment include Smith College, Tufts University, Simmons College, MIT, Harvard University (see #3), and many more.
Honorable Mention: Holyoke Community College Kittredge Center, the first public green roof in the state.
6. Atlantic Wharf
Atlantic Wharf’s Green Roof Terrace overlooks Fort Point Channel. (Source: Halvorson Design/Ed Wonsek.)
Situated on the Boston Harborwalk, Atlantic Wharf is the first skyscraper in Boston to achieve LEED Platinum Certification. With help from a green roof terrace on the 8th floor, Atlantic Wharf uses 33% less energy and 69% less water than other downtown office towers. The green roof terrace tops the historic Tufts building, which was restored and incorporated into the Atlantic Wharf complex. Not only do the rooftop plants provide an enjoyable view for building visitors and office workers, but the roof also features crushed stone paths to welcome visitors right on the roof.
Honorable Mention: The Prudential Center Roof Garden provides residential and retail access in an urban center.
5. Whole Foods Farm, Lynnfield
Produce grown on the roof of this Lynnfield Whole Foods Market is sold directly in the store below. (Source: Recover Green Roofs/Maureen White Photography.)
There is nothing quite like the sensation of buying food right where it was grown. With urban agriculture on the rise, many rooftops are now seen as prime real estate for food growing ventures. While some rooftop farms (see item #1) grow food in raised beds and nutrient-dense soil media, the Whole Foods Farm in Lynnfield, MA features crops grown directly in the soil on a 17,000-square-foot parcel of the grocery store’s roof. Designed and installed by Recover Green Roofs and farmed by Green City Growers, this rooftop farm uses locally sourced compost and soils to grow 10,000 pounds of produce each year. Amazingly, this “hyper-local” produce is sold in-store year-round (thanks to a solar tunnel) and at about the same price as other in-store vegetables.
4. 101 Seaport Roof Terrace, Seaport District
90 planting segments cover a 15,640 sq. ft roof terrace on top of Boston’s 101 Seaport Boulevard LEED Platinum Office Tower. (Source: Apex Green Roofs)
Green Roofs should be recognized not only for their environmental benefits, but also for the benefits they provide to human health and quality of life. In dense urban pockets where green space is hard to find, green roofs provide a much-needed respite from the urban lifestyle. Designed by Apex Green Roofs and Copley Wolff Design Group, the Roof Terrace at 101 Seaport Boulevard is one of many living roof decks in downtown Boston (see #8) that raises morale for the workers in the office buildings below. Office workers can spend their lunch breaks enjoying the view alongside two-dozen species of native plants adorning one third of their office building’s rooftop. This green roof is planted in single-species blocks unique to Apex Green Roofs’ design style, and has provided an opportunity for green roof designers to test which plant species are most suited to sky-high living conditions.
Honorable mention: Office rooftop at 75 State Street, Boston.
3. Harvard Business School Innovation Lab, Cambridge
Batten Hall Green Roof at Harvard Business School, Cambridge. Installed by Apex Green Roofs in 2014. (Source: Apex Green Roofs)
Originally the site of the WGBH-TV studio, Harvard University’s Batten Hall re-opened in 2011 retrofitted with a new green roof crown and a LEED gold certification. It is part of a larger Harvard green roof network that provides environmental benefits and cost savings while providing pleasant views for students from their dorms and classrooms. Of the five vegetated roofs at Harvard Business School, only Batten Hall’s roof is “intensive,” meaning it is built with enough soil depth to support multiple, deep-rooting plant species. What was once a plain, gravel-covered roof now boasts 19 wild plant species and plays host to several beehives. In addition to water savings, the roof insulates the building from the sun, reducing energy and money spent on building heating and cooling costs. With nearby solar panels providing the Innovation Lab with all its energy needs, it is no wonder that Harvard refers to Batten Hall as Harvard’s Greenest Roof.
Honorable Mention: The Harvard Business School McArthur/McCollum Building by Recover Green Roofs and Omni Ecosystems. Its unique design involving ultra-light soils and diverse native plantings is intended to mimic a natural meadow.
2. Norman B. Leventhal Park, Post Office Square
Norman B. Leventhal Park, a street level green roof on top of a parking garage, is enjoyed by patrons of Post Office Square. (Source: Halvorson Design, Ed Wonsek.)
OK, we know what you’re thinking: a park at ground level is hardly a roof. In fact, the centerpiece of Post Office Square was a parking garage until the 1990s, when Norman B. Leventhal and several community groups organized around the idea of moving the parking garage underground and topping it with a street-level park. With its flowing fountain, trellised benches, and glass café, this garage-roof park brings together tourists, commuters, city-dwellers, and office workers on their lunch breaks. The park even provides yoga classes, free sitting cushions, and a mobile library. The park also reduces air and noise pollution, and the bathrooms in the parking garage below run on recycled water. Good for the environment and good for the community – and you still have a place to park in the building below.
Honorable mention: the Rose Kennedy Greenway, an innovative tunnel-top park that runs through Boston, was the perfect green topping for the Big Dig project to move I-93 underground, and it makes a nice change from the busy highway that is now housed beneath it.
1. Fenway Farms: the Fenway Park Rooftop Garden
A 7,000-sq. ft organic farm overlooking Yawkey Way. Organic produce is available to Fenway Park patrons. (Source: Recover Green Roofs)
What better place to celebrate urban green space than atop Boston’s greenest landmark? What was once a boring, sweltering-hot black roof overlooking Yawkey Way is now a riot of plants and organic vegetables. Installed by Recover Green Roofs and tended by Green City Growers, the Farm at Fenway Park makes for a pleasant and delicious view for fans catching the game. Since it opened in 2015, Fenway Farms has improved air and water quality for the neighborhood, conserved energy for the Red Sox front offices, and provided 4,000 lbs. of organic produce each year for hungry fans at EMC Club and in the ballpark. All leftover produce is donated to the community group Lovin’ Spoonfuls. Next time you go to catch a game, don’t forget to check out this garden in the sky.
Honorable Mention: Boston Medical Center Rooftop Farm, a brand new 2017 installation by Recover Green Roofs, provides morale-boosting green views for hospital patrons.
These are ten of our favorite green roofs in the Commonwealth – but what are yours? Tell us about the great green roofs we may have missed or that you wish had been included in the comments below.
Additional information provided by Sadie Ide, Apex Green Roofs, and Serena Galleshaw, Recover Green Roofs