These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo / Published by Dwell
A living, breathing roof offers so much more than just a bright, soft, refreshing surface.

Green roof systems can reduce heating and cooling costs, decrease storm water runoff, and help reduce pollution. Composed of a waterproofing layer, root barrier, drainage system, and a growing medium for the vegetation, living roofs give birds, insects, and urban dwellers a little extra green space without taking up any square footage outside of a home's existing footprint. 

A look at the following 10 living roofs may make you want to start researching how to retrofit your own. 

An Australian Architect's Impressive Green Roof

This 500-square-foot home’s green roof—designed by Emilio Fuscaldo of Nest Architects—is much more than just an environmental statement. Water from the roof feeds the toilet and the garden’s watering system, while the garden serves as insulation to keep the gas bills low in the winter.

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 1 of 11 - Emilio Fuscaldo sits in the garden outside the brick house that he designed for himself and his partner, Anna Krien, on a small subdivided lot in Coburg, a suburb north of Melbourne, Australia. 

Emilio Fuscaldo sits in the garden outside the brick house that he designed for himself and his partner, Anna Krien, on a small subdivided lot in Coburg, a suburb north of Melbourne, Australia. 

A Eco-Hideaway in Austin

On a cliff-top lot on the outskirts of Austin, Edgeland House was built by architect Thomas Bercy for lawyer and writer, Chris Brown. The home is topped by a living roof to help it blend smoothly into the landscape. The concrete, steel, and glass house is divided into two distinct public and private halves.

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 2 of 11 - The green roof was conceptualized by John Hart Asher of the Ecosystem Design Group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

The green roof was conceptualized by John Hart Asher of the Ecosystem Design Group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

A Green Roof in Montreal

When Paul Bernier and Joëlle Thibault sought to expand their home in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood of Montreal, they designed two additions: one in the garden and one on the roof. Their objective was to gain some additional space while also making the house lighter and brighter—and keep things green.

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 3 of 11 - A green roof helps make up for lost garden space and creates a beautiful leafy view from the second and third floors. In summer, when the sliding doors are left wide open, indoor and outdoor spaces blend together.

A green roof helps make up for lost garden space and creates a beautiful leafy view from the second and third floors. In summer, when the sliding doors are left wide open, indoor and outdoor spaces blend together.

A Charming Weekend Cottage in Marin County 

When Bay Area landscape designer, Loretta Gargan had the opportunity to finally work on her own home—a weekend cottage in Marin shared with her partner, the artist Catherine Wagner—they "mapped the idiosyncratic plants that had to stay." This included old oaks and a hundred-year-old olive tree intertwined with a vigorous climbing white rose. They also incorporated a green roof, which blooms with poppies, strawberries, and a spectrum of native wildflowers.

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 4 of 11 - A green roof blooms atop the detached garage.

A green roof blooms atop the detached garage.

Green Design in Menlo Park

Feldman Architecture's custom design for this environmentally-conscious modern home exceeded all of the homeowner's expectations. One of the most stunning attributes is the living roof designed by Lauren Schneider of Wonderland Garden.

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 5 of 11 - Rian and Melissa Jorgensen's 2 Bar House in Menlo Park boasts all the usual green design suspects: energy-efficient lighting, good insulation, renewable material finishes, radiant heat, and the roof is pre-wired for future PV panels. Still, one of the homeowner's favorite aspect of  green design is the living roof that's planted with succulents, aloe, viviums, and ice plants. 

Rian and Melissa Jorgensen's 2 Bar House in Menlo Park boasts all the usual green design suspects: energy-efficient lighting, good insulation, renewable material finishes, radiant heat, and the roof is pre-wired for future PV panels. Still, one of the homeowner's favorite aspect of  green design is the living roof that's planted with succulents, aloe, viviums, and ice plants. 

Landscaping Renovation in San Francisco

For the remodel of his family’s home in San Francisco, designer Peter Liang undertook a two-part landscaping renovation. First, he planted a living roof. Then, with the help of landscape architect Andrea Cochran, he redid the backyard. "I wanted to plant a green roof for its thermal mass, but I wanted it to be as natural as possible," Liang says.

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 6 of 11 - Liang's 580-square-foot green roof is like a piece of the hill; its indigenous vegetation—seeded by birds and wind—is irrigated only by seasonal rain and dew. Purple thistles, California poppies, clover, and dandelions have all taken root in the roughly ten-inch-deep, lightweight humus and grape-husk soil. 

Liang's 580-square-foot green roof is like a piece of the hill; its indigenous vegetation—seeded by birds and wind—is irrigated only by seasonal rain and dew. Purple thistles, California poppies, clover, and dandelions have all taken root in the roughly ten-inch-deep, lightweight humus and grape-husk soil. 

Progressive Public Housing Project in Portland 

In this $47 million affordable housing project designed by Holst Architecture in Portland’s Pearl District, Bud Clark Commons incorporates a design sensibility that's usually reserved for luxury lofts—and has enough green features to obtain a LEED Platinum rating. 

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 7 of 11 - A living roof is among the project's many green features.

A living roof is among the project's many green features.

District Greens

One family’s effort to "smuggle a modern house into a historic district" in Washington, DC, resulted in this brightly transformed space that's perfect for urban family living.  

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 8 of 11 - For the green roof, the family received a subsidy administered by DC Greenworks and funded by the DC Department of the Environment. The sedum plantings come from nearby Emory Knoll Farms, the only nursery in North America to focus solely on propagating plants intended for green-roof systems.

For the green roof, the family received a subsidy administered by DC Greenworks and funded by the DC Department of the Environment. The sedum plantings come from nearby Emory Knoll Farms, the only nursery in North America to focus solely on propagating plants intended for green-roof systems.

Hillside Home in Big Sur

Carver & Schicketanz created a low-maintenance green roof using native plants such as California oat and red fescue. The green roof blends into the surrounding two acres of native grasses that the architects planted on the site to replace the more invasive coyote brush that was there before.

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 9 of 11 - Native grasses such as red fescue and California oat dot the landscape surrounding the house.

Native grasses such as red fescue and California oat dot the landscape surrounding the house.

New England Vacation Home 

Emerging gracefully from an overgrown meadow on Chappaquiddick Island near Edgartown, Massachusetts, the smart design of this family vacation home earned Peter Rose + Partners an Honor Award for Design Excellence from the Boston Society of Architects in 2014. 

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 10 of 11 - Natural sea grasses were sourced from the surrounding area to cover the roof of the building, providing thermal insulation while also dampening the noise of rain, improving air quality, and helping to manage rainwater flow.

Natural sea grasses were sourced from the surrounding area to cover the roof of the building, providing thermal insulation while also dampening the noise of rain, improving air quality, and helping to manage rainwater flow.

Two Green Roofs on a Fisher's Island Prefab

For the landscaping of this Fisher Island prefeb, the landscape architects at Reed Hilderbrand planted sedge grass on one of their home’s two green roofs to reflect the texture of the surrounding meadow. A second green roof was planted with sedum. 

These 10 Green Roofs Bring Life—and So Much More—to These Modern Structures - Photo 11 of 11 - A second green roof is planted with sedum and plays host to one of the family’s favorite spots: a hammock. The overhead trellis softens and balances the appearance of the facade.

A second green roof is planted with sedum and plays host to one of the family’s favorite spots: a hammock. The overhead trellis softens and balances the appearance of the facade.