The Ultimate Green Roof Laboratory (Randall’s Island, Manhattan)

Twenty-nine thousand square feet.  That’s how large an area is planted on top of the Parks Department’s Five Borough Administration Building on Randall’s Island, just east of Harlem and well in sight of the Triborough Bridge.  This unique green roof laboratory began in 2007 with 7,000 square feet of plantings and a hefty donation from a green roof installation company.

photo by Ari Burling

There were 12 distinct green roof systems planted side by side to observe what roof planting methods work best.   With the effusive enthusiasm of Artie Rollins, our tour guide and head of the Parks Department’s Tech Services Division, the green part of the roof has  been expanding each year with plans to continue, presumably until they run out of roof space.   They are currently up to 21 distinct systems of roof planting, including farming in soil and hydroponic farming.  Other than mouth-watering edibles, they have a gorgeous flowering field of “sedum,” a tough ground cover-like variety of little plants, plus several beds with “natives” (often thought of as weeds), plants that grow on their own  and thus are well suited to the local conditions.

The Parks Department is reclaiming rain water run off in three enormous tanks situated on another elevation of this large roof.  This rain water is saved to keep the roof plants well hydrated when there is no rain.  Bee hives filled with Italian honey bees pollinate the plants, which significantly increases production of edibles plus provides delicious Randall’s Island roof honey.

photo by Ari Burling

This Randall’s Island roof is a true laboratory with side-by-side planting systems being compared, and with sophisticated measuring equipment collecting data on everything from temperature differences between the green parts of the roof and the black and white areas.  Other inspirational benefits of this sky lab include storm water run off collection and reuse, as well as energy savings on heating the building below in the winter and cooling it in the summer.  The green roof far extends the length of time before a new roof is needed.  This living roof encourages biodiversity in animals and insects, plus it creates a beautiful park-like setting for bipeds (I mean us) to spend time enjoying the views of the East River, the Triborough Bridge, and the unique vistas only available from this working laboratory in the middle of the East River and up in the sky.

LOOK UP Artie Rollins (212/410-8905) and make an appointment to see this spectacular green roof lab.  He loves to show off all they have accomplished, and I can’t blame him for being proud of this deeply interesting, inspirational, unique and beyond-beautiful roof.


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