Originally published by the London Ecology Unit, 1993. The London Ecology Unit was abolished in 2000, and absorbed into the Greater London Authority. The text has been reprinted here, but not revised. Some images have been replaced




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Building Green

A guide to using plants on roofs, walls and pavements

May 2004

Jacklyn Johnston & John Newton

Greater London Authority

May 2004


Published by

Greater London Authority

City Hall

The Queen’s Walk

London SE1 2AA

www.london.gov.uk

enquiries 020 7983 4000

minicom 020 7983 4458


ISBN 1 85261 637 7


This document is printed on 75 per cent recycled paper,
25 per cent from sustainable forest management


Originally published by the London Ecology Unit, 1993. The London Ecology Unit was abolished in 2000, and absorbed into the Greater London Authority. The text has been reprinted here, but not revised. Some images have been replaced.


Jacklyn Johnston is a principal ecologist with the London Ecology Unit responsible for project development. Previously, she has been community liaison ecologist for the Greater London Council, worked for a firm of architects and planning consultants, and been a partner in an ecological consultancy. She specialises in the community aspects of urban ecology, and gives advice on establishing nature parks and ecology centres and integrating ecology into the built environment. She has written many popular articles about nature in cities, including a book Nature Areas for City People, published by the London Ecology Unit.


John Newton has worked on environmental issues for over 20 years. He has managed nature reserves in both Norfolk and Suffolk, been Deputy Director of London Wildlife Trust, and Environmental Manager for the property company Rosehaugh. He now runs his own consultancy specialising in ecological and environmental research and assessment.


contents


PREFACE


INTRODUCTION 7


1 THE NATURAL LANDSCAPE OF THE CITY 9

Opportunities for greening the ecological city


2 BENEFITS OF GREENER CITIES 10

Cleaner air

Improved climate

Slowing down stormwater runoff and absorbing pollutants

Provision of wildlife habitats

Good investments

Protection of building surfaces


3 TREES AND BUILDINGS 13

Amenity value

Energy conservation and wind-loading

Improvement of climate

Wildlife benefits

Tree size

Successful planting

Retaining existing trees

Tree management


4 COURTYARDS 23

Forgotten potential

Microclimate – Light, wind, moisture, temperature

Suitable plants


5 BALCONY GARDENS 27

Linking indoors and outdoors

Visual benefits

Opportunities

Choosing suitable plants

Management


6 GREEN WALLS 31

Benefits

Living conditions

Planting techniques

Choosing suitable plants

Management

Alternative green walls

7 BUILDING FOR BIRDS AND BATS 41

Nestboxes

Adapting the building

Using plants

Some urban birds and their nesting requirements


8 GREEN ROOFS 45

Visual appeal

Environmental benefits

Living conditions

Intensive and extensive

Earth sheltering

Technical considerations

Appropriate substrates

Choosing suitable plants

Planting methods

Fauna and flora

Management

Costs


9 GREEN BUILDINGS: A VITAL PART OF SUSTAINABLE CITIES 75

Broader green schemes

Principles of sustainable development

Block 103, Berlin

Torsted West, Denmark


CONCLUSION 81


TECHNICAL INFORMATION 82

Tables of Plants Suitable for Different Situations

Trees for urban areas

Plants for containers on balconies and terraces

Climbers, ramblers and fruits for walls

Plants for extensive green roofs


SUPPLIERS OF EQUIPMENT 95

Tree guards and grilles

Planters

Green walls and fencing

Roof systems

Paving

Bird and bat boxes

Trees

Climbing plants

Alpine/rockery plants

Wildflowers and herbs

Soil conditioners and substrates


USEFUL ORGANISATIONS 99


REFERENCES 103

Please note that numerals in the text refer to numbered
references listed in this section



FURTHER READING 107


INDEX 112


Picture Acknowledgements 120


preface

This book is a significant new departure for the London Ecology Unit. For some years the Unit has been providing an advisory service on ecology and nature conservation in the urban environment. Much of our work has been concerned with protecting important natural habitats, which are increasingly under pressure for development. Local groups regularly campaign to save particular wild areas simply because they are the only places in the neighbourhood where anything resembling the natural world can still be seen, especially in the densely built-up areas of inner cities. We frequently argue for the protection of such places, many of which have developed entirely by chance, not by design.

I am constantly made aware that if we were to design cities to include nature the picture could be very different. The Ecology Unit has already been successful in creating new habitats, where people can experience wildlife in their local neighbourhood, and this has led us to appreciate the considerable opportunities for creation of new habitats presented by the built environment itself. It is for this reason, therefore, that the Ecology Unit has produced Building Green in an attempt to encourage more widespread use of plant life within the built environment, whether in new developments, or within the existing fabric of the city.

In embarking on this project we were fortunate to establish a partnership with John Newton whilst he worked with Rosehaugh plc, and he was able to bring his considerable experience from the viewpoint of major new developments. We have also capitalised on our links with the European Academy for the Urban Environment in Berlin, a city where the concept of green roofs is now well established, as well as drawing directly on experience from Toronto and several Dutch cities.

I hope that this book will provide a useful starting point and a source of ideas on the greening of the urban environment, not only in our capital city but in towns and cities everywhere.


Dr D A GOODE BSc FLS
DIRECTOR, LONDON ECOLOGY UNIT

introduction

What sort of image does the word ‘city’ conjure up for you? To most people it suggests a hard, abrasive environment. Isolated patches of green space offer welcome relief, but these usually turn out to be sporadic refuges. Cities need not be like that…

Creating more enjoyable cities by greening them is a realistic objective. It is the concern of many politicians, planners, and environmentalists: greener cities would bring immeasurable benefits to the people who live and work in them all over the world.

But however desirable, greening the city is a complex undertaking. It touches upon transport systems, water management, air pollution, energy conservation, the recycling of waste, nature conservation and many other interconnected issues. These issues have been the subject of numerous reports, papers and books, notably the European Commission’s “Green Paper on the Urban Environment” and Friends of the Earth’s “Reviving the City”. They are crucial matters, requiring urgent action, but they are not the subject of this book.

Building Green concentrates on one key aspect of the greening process: the use of plants on and around urban buildings. It goes without saying that this can only be part of any overall greening strategy. However, green buildings and greenspaces together define an integrated approach to plant life in cities that is central to any green programme. At the end of the first pat of this book we examine how green buildings fit into a broader based green approach to urban development and redevelopment.

Now is a particularly appropriate time to be addressing the subject of plants on buildings. Interest in the environment has never been greater. The provision of urban green space is receiving much attention both in Europe and North America. Many local authorities in Britain currently have plans for incorporating nature areas into the urban environment.

However, relatively little attention has been paid to the valuable opportunities represented by buildings and the spaces which relate to them – courtyards, terraces, balconies and so on. This is a great pity, because even in those cities relatively well endowed with green space, many areas can justifiably be regarded as deserts in biological terms. Sealed surfaces of brick, concrete and tarmac are inhospitable to all but the most opportunistic plants. Each new road, car park, office development or housing estate results in a further loss of vegetation. ‘Progress equals development’ is an axiom which shows no sign of being abandoned, and so we cannot pretend that the impetus of urban development is likely to slow down in the foreseeable future. Therefore we need appropriate development which incorporates an ecological approach to building and landscape design. This means replacing land lost beneath buildings and roads with a layer of plants on hard surfaces. By strategically adding ‘green skins’ in this way, it is possible to create a new network of vegetation linking roofs, walls, courtyards, streets and open spaces. This is particularly important in the city centres where vegetation may cover only about one third of the land surface, compared with 75%-95% in the outer suburbs.

It has to be stressed that growing vegetation on hard surfaces should never be viewed as an acceptable alternative to losing valuable areas of green space. Such areas are a precious commodity to be preserved at all costs. Rather, green building should be seen as something which complements a network of greenspaces, a flexible and enjoyable option which is as appropriate to existing structures as it is to new developments and rehabilitation schemes.

This book is intended to be both inspirational and practical. It is aimed primarily at developers, architects, planners, landscapers, designers and ecologists. We believe it will also be of considerable value to everyone with a serious interest in greening their own premises, whether houses, flats, shops or offices.

We outline the many human, social and natural benefits that come from using plants on buildings. There is specific, practical advice on introducing vegetation to walls, terraces, courtyards and roofs. Detailed specifications for the use of plants on buildings do not generally appear in the text, but comprehensive sources are listed in the technical information at the end of the book.

Our intention throughout has been to identify ways and means of breathing life back into our cities by re-introducing vegetation. Neither a fashionable gesture nor a cosmetic exercise, the greening of urban buildings is simply a highly rational thing to do. Building Green is an idea whose time has come. The task now is to make it happen.


1 the natural landscape of the city

Cities can be viewed from an entirely new, ecological perspective. Buildings offer surfaces akin to natural landforms and these can be planted following clues from nature. The skin of the city can be transformed into a living landscape.

Green Spaces alone can never be a panacea for urban society’s ills, but they are clearly a very precious resource. Most city dwellers offered a choice of views would choose green areas rather than concrete piazzas and brick walls.

Green vistas are further enhanced by the natural sounds associated with them – birdsong and wind in the trees – and the result is a sense of being re-connected with the natural world.

Unfortunately, only a small number of city users have such a choice. Many cities possess too few greenspaces – and those are usually arbitrarily located. Green areas – parks, gardens and nature reserves – become relegated to isolated pockets, sometimes linked by linear walkways or derelict railway routes, but more often than not marooned in expanses of brick, concrete and tarmac.

It is clear that the fundamental structure of cities will remain unchanged for many years to come. So in the meantime, what opportunities are there for enhancing the amount of greenery in the city?

The most rewarding option is to create a network of green buildings, so introducing vegetation and its many related benefits into the actual fabric of the city. This option demands a coherent, well-researched strategy if it is to deliver the fullest benefits. In this respect, the German landscape planner Hermann Barges has suggested a valuable metaphor. He commends us to look at the city from a new perspective [1]: urban areas are likened to concrete mountains with streets like valleys; roofs of buildings correspond to alpine meadows and pastures and the walls to slopes and terraces; open spaces are like steppes and deserts; and shady courtyards resemble ravines.

Looking at the city in this way has a practical purpose in suggesting types of plants which are most suited to each aspect of the built environment. The aim is not to create a replica of nature in the city, but to gain clues as to how best to deploy vegetation on and around urban buildings.

The skin of the city – its roofs, walls, streets and other hard spaces – can be transformed into a living landscape. Ecologically dead areas come alive again, becoming environmental assets in themselves as well as helping to put existing greenspaces into a framework. The sum total of all these benefits is so great that it can come as a pleasant surprise to even the most enthusiastic advocate of environmentally friendly building.

2 benefits of green cities

Quite apart from the significant psychological advantages, there are numerous other benefits that come from growing vegetation on and around buildings. Plants have a beneficial effect on city air and water and are good investments too.

Plants help to cleanse the air of both particulate and gaseous air pollutants

Leaves account for most of the captured particles, with conifer trees performing particularly well. Research shows that trees in a parkland setting can filter out up to 85% of suspended particles. The percentage is reduced to approximately 40% in the absence of foliage on deciduous trees in winter [2]. The leaves of climbing plants provide a large surface area capable of filtering out dust, pollutants and possibly even viruses [3].

Plants improve the climate

Cities act as ‘heat islands’, being generally a few degrees warmer than surrounding countryside. Buildings, roads and other sealed surfaces absorb and store heat from the sun. Most hard materials conduct heat faster than wet, sandy soil [3]. Barren walls, roofs and streets also act as reflectors, absorbing some energy and redirecting a proportion to other hard surfaces [4]. Green roofs and other greenspaces contribute to the vertical mixing of air, as the temperature above them tends to be lower than that of surrounding built areas. Warmer air above hard surfaces rises and is replaced by this cooler air thus reducing the heat island effect.

Often the design of the built environment inhibits ventilation by reducing wind speed and therefore the amount of heat carried away. Meanwhile local turbulence – for instance around the base of tall buildings – is increased. The result is that pockets of air are trapped, and pollutants can remain suspended for several days. Green areas are generally cooler and windier, so introducing fresh air into the city.

The air near greenspace tends to be more humid too, as plants take in water through their roots and through the process of transpiration slowly introduce water into the surrounding air.

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