Saturday, September 17, 2011

Florida Green Roofs, Lines, Curves and Biodiversart. A boring Green Roof commentary about boring design.

Lines or curves on a green roof?  This is a question some green roof designers, as well as ground level landscapers ask on a frequent basis.

Most of us like to compartmentalize.  The theory behind compartmentalization arises in our culture's indoctrination of classical Greek logic.  Thank you Aristotle.  There must be a right and wrong.  Everything is black or white.  Straight lines are what we seek out with our straight driveways, straight roads, pin stripe shirts and square or rectangular houses, each perfectly compartmentalized.  Wearing a tie with diagonally lined stripes is pushing it.

Linear Design - Boring and Boring

Curves in a landscape or on a green roof?  I think so.  Why?  Read on.

Design by lines

Working with engineers for much of my life in the real estate development field, I've come to quickly tire of square parking lots, linear roads and especially square stormwater ponds.  So when green roof designs come along where stormwater becomes an integral function and engineers are involved I usually see more of the same square plots of the same plants, lines of the same species and not a curve in sight.

The Pensacola one-stop permitting center Green Roof, the largest in Florida is all compartmentalized by plant species.

There are a group of innovative designers, engineers and landscape people who use curves quite effectively though and I am always more attracted to flowing their flowing designs.

We can learn from nature though as to whether a linear design with compartmentalization or a curvaceously random planting approach is more appropriate for a green roof design, and why.

 Nature shows and tells us plants do not like to be contained in boundaries.  We edge our driveways and sidewalks because the St. Augustine grass does not stop growing upon reaching the boundary of the concrete, disturbing us in unexplainable ways.  Moral standing is many times based upon a family's lawn lines.

But as much as we fight nature, she ignores us and keeps growing circles around us, across our linear boundaries.

The Florida native groundcover, creeping mimosa, Mimosa strigillosa,  certainly has not minded the linear green roof edging installed here on a recent project we completed, spilling about in her own random, curvy fashion.
Green Roof plants that won't stay in the box

I propose we should move away from linear thought and linear green roof design and adapt the more random cuves we see in natures designs.

Whenever we start using random curves, our green roofs seem to function better.

Even those ultra-boring but equally beautiful sedum roofs I argue against never always look curvaceous, with their stunning flowing textures and colors.

All we really need to do is look and listen.  A bee visiting the green roof doesn't fly in straight lines, neither do butterflies, dragonflies or birds.  A green roof tree frog doesn't hop in straight lines and I can't think of a single plant who grows perfectly straight (though pine trees come close as does Scouring rush or horsetail, Equisetum hymale).  I've never heard a song bird screech out a monotone call and there are few if any one genus ecosystems around.

The greatest invention our fascination with liner design, compartmentalization and oneness was produced is either the parking space or the cubicle, both usually despised by those who live in them.

But curvaceous design does not need to lack formality.

I have seen some beautifully formal, yet radon curves in nature.

Here is why I propose we should try and strive for those complicated, random curves in our green roof plantings and designs.

First of all, for most normal plant ecosystems to survive long term, pollinators must be attracted so plant sex can happen. Then seeds are produced and more baby plants come along to fill in around the mother plants.

I categorize pollinators into two oversimplified categories.   The first are the clumsy and inefficient pollinators who end up knocking most of the pollen to the ground.  The second are the hairy, native pollinators who are very efficient at their jobs.

The clumsy, inefficient pollinators will get what they can take, plant design wise.

The effective, maybe magnitudes smarter pollinators are choosy and go for the curvy, more nature-like plant designs on green roofs.

In the end, the curvaceous, randomly planted green roof design will last longer, look better and survive where the linear designs wont.

While the linear green roof designs are being weed wacked, mowed or hit with Round Up, the green roofs all about curves will be posing for best design awards.

Just a thought.

Think of natures ultimate beauty creations - the nautilus, the helical strand or RNA, a long winding river.

Read this excellent article posted in the Guardian about the beauty and science of curves.

Make sure your next green roof contains many curves in plant layout and design.

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