Eco Design: Musée du Quai Branly

There has been a lot of talk about green roofs and what benefits they have on the building energy savings, heat island effect, reducing the carbon footprint, improving the eco system and actual garden usage.

What about the building facade. Is it possible to cover the building with plants to do the same things that green roofs can accomplish.   Well the Musée du Quai Branly designed by architect Jean Nouvel has done exactly that.

The facade is the work of Patrick Blanc, a 54-year-old botanist whose vertical gardens can also be found at the French Embassy in India and in the inner courtyard of Pershing Hall, a chic hotel in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

Each of his gardens have three components: the metal frame attached to the building, a PVC sheet which keeps the water in and a sheet of rot-proof felt, soaked in water and nutrients, upon which the garden grows.

This building shows what can happen when collaboration between a larger group of designers on a project.  Its time to start expanding our network and work with others on design projects from the start to see how far we can push the envelope and our imagination.  If you are ever in Paris make sure to visit this museum and experiences the beauty of this work.

Eco Thinking: Retrofiting Existing Buildings

One of the seminars at the Urban Green Expo this year was "Recognizing the Benefits of Energy Efficient in Multi-residential Real Estate."  The subject was about a study being done with the coordination of Steven Winters Associates, Living Cities Foundation that is funded by Deutshe Bank and EBC (Environmental Business Council).  In the study they were looking at what would be the optimum retro fitting options for existing building and that would bring the most return on investment.  In the study they looked at all options from water savings, window upgrades, boiler upgrades, energy star appliances and what the ultimate savings would be.  The study is still in progress but the report will be posted on the Living Cities website upon completion at

From the discussion the most cost effective evaluations to date would be as follows:
  1. Change windows to save on energy from heating and cooling the interior environment
  2. Upgrade boiler system of the building would have a fast payback in savings
  3. Change to energy saving light bulbs in all building units and common areas
  4. Upgrade to Energy Star appliances in all units when possible
  5. Educate building occupants on water and energy saving measures they can do everyday
  6. Educate Super and building staff on sustainable practices
Keep moving forward and finding ways to change our built environment for the benefit of all.

Thinking Green: The Hannover Principles

On the first day of the Urban Green Expo the key note speaker was no other then William McDonough.  He is one of the founders of the concept of Cradle to Cradle.  If you ever had the pleasure of hearing him speak, you would find it both educational and inspirational.

You should pick up the book "The Hannover Principles" by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.  They are 9 principles or guidelines that one should live by, design by and work towards. The Cradle to Cradle philosophy was developed from the 6th principle.  The book has a lot of information and insight about Eco design.  It is pocket size and only about 100 pages so an easy read and guide book.  The book states 9 principles the design community should consider plus much more info.  The 9 principles are as follows:

1. Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist
2. Recognize interdependence: understanding that nature and design development are intermingled and that we need to understand those implications as we design.
3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter.
4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design: We all need to recognize that no matter how small a project is it has an impact on our environment and as designers / builders / etc. we need to understand that we are responsible for that impact.
5. Create safe objects of long-term value.
6. Eliminate the concept of wast:  From this theory the concept of "Cradle to Cradle" was developed.
7. Rely on natural energy flows.
8. Understand the limitations of design: understanding that nothing lasts forever and use nature as a model and guide for design inspiration.
9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge.

Pick up the book, its an easy read and very informative.

Food for Thought: Roof Top Vegetable Gardens

As a sustainability designer I always try to see what ways we can transform our built environment for the betterment of all. Living in NY, I am always trying to see what things we can transform and roofs always come to mind. They are usually unused space that only add to the heat island effect of cities.

Green roofs are a great way to change those effects. These can be created by adding native plants to the roof that do not need much care. Others are trying out other things such as creating roof top vegetable gardens.  These types of gardens can do many things, such as: Reduce heat island effect, purify the air and grow food for the local building or community.

There are many out there who are trying and succeeding in creating these roof top farms / vegetable gardens. One example is Brooklyn Grange who is a commercial farm, meaning they grow food and sell it.  They recently planted a roof top farm in Long Island city Queens.
Check out the report from NY1  .  And their website at  These farms are great to reduce heat island effect, conserve energy for the building, feed the community and so much more.  Lets hope more will pop up all over the city, especially in lower income neighborhoods where fresh organic and affordable foods is not easily accesable.  Growing food right in the neighborhood would reduce the cost of organic vegetables as there will be no cost for shipping the products and that savings would go to the families in the area.

There are also publications that will help you find more information in you area.  Check out Edible Communities websites for your borough or location publication.  Here is the link for the Queens publication that has a story on the roof farm
These types of roof top farms are developing all over the country, check out Sky High Harvest who is the first commercial scale roof top farm in the midwest ( ).

Other methods have been developed to create a roof top garden without the use of heavy soil that might not work on some roofs of existing building.  New uses on existing technology like aeroponic / hydroponic systems.  Hydroponic is a technique of growing plants (without soil) in water containing dissolved nutrients. Aeroponic is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium.  A restaurant here in NY is growing vegetables this way for all the food it will serve.  Here is a picture of the roof top with these units.  This roof top not only has these units to grow the vegetables but also was painted white to reflect the suns heat and reduce the heat island effect.

Check out the story reported by the Huffington Post and a video report on CNN.

It is time we took back the unused spaces in our urban environments.  Be a leader, be creative and think outside the box.