Green roofs and streetscapes make a cool change for the city
FROM his own patch of turf in Coburg, Emilio Fuscaldo can see south all the way to the skyscrapers. The grass is on his roof.
It’s one of only a few residential green roofs in Melbourne.
Mr Fuscaldo is the founder of Nest Architects; his motives were both private and public. “It’s incumbent on architects to practice what we preach. I wanted to show that you can devote a large percentage of your budget to sustainability,” he says. “You can compromise on other things, such as kitchens, cupboards and tiles, and still achieve a beautiful result.”
Before the soil was installed, Mr Fuscaldo and his partner lived in their home for a summer and most of winter. The difference was immediately clear: with the slab of earth overhead, their heating bill halved. In the summer, the temperature is now always tolerable without air conditioning.
“You cool and heat when you hit the extremes and we’re not hitting the extremes,” he says.
Mr Fuscaldo estimates that the green roof added between $20,000 and $30,000 to the cost of the home (the biggest expense is waterproofing). “This wasn’t an exercise in affordability. It’s about assigning your budget the right way,” he says.
The couple bought the back of someone else’s block, and designed an elegant, two-bedroom house to fit the space. But although the backyard has gone, the living roof means the bugs and birds sill have a place to be.
The rainwater in their tank gets filtered through the vegetation and the roof also reduces stormwater runoff during heavy rain. Most of their plants are ornamental, but this autumn, their rooftop plot delivered a zucchini as large as their infant son.
There’s another, less tangible, benefit too. “It feels amazing to be in the house and know that between you and the world is this amount of land,” Mr Fuscaldo says. “It’s like being in a cave. It really adds to your experience of dwelling.”
If you’d like to follow suit, there’s a heavy catch. Existing roofs aren’t strong enough to bear the load without expensive retrofitting.
With that snag in mind, Melbourne resident Shelley Meagher founded ‘Do It On The Roof’, a campaign to put green roofs on the places that can already cope best: commercial buildings.
Together with several other volunteers, Dr Meagher is calling for a public green roof in Melbourne’s CBD.
The City of Melbourne’s open space plan, released last year, showed that in the heart of the city – around Elizabeth and Bourke Streets – there’s no public open space within a walkable distance.
“Thermal imaging studies of Melbourne show that the hottest part of the city is around Hardware Lane,” Dr Meagher says. “Having buildings surrounded by concrete leads to increases in temperatures – that’s the urban heat island effect, and green roofs help reduce it.”
Climate scientist and adaptation expert Professor Roger Jones, from Victoria University, says it’s crucial we build cool, reflective or permeable streetscapes, as well as green roofs. They’ll not only help us cope with a hotter climate, but also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
“The difference between an urban forest and an adjoining suburb can be as much as 5 degrees,” he says. “We need cool spots for people on hot days, so we’re not all indoors by an air conditioner. We have to design places people want to be.”