Green stuff sprouting on the roof of a building usually would be cause for alarm, but that’s not the case for the newly opened Student Success Building.
A 9,433-square-foot, sedum-covered portion of the SSB rooftop is one of many sustainability features engineered into the building to achieve the Gold LEED rating, which recognizes environmentally conscious design. The succulent plant with fat leaves and shallow roots mitigates an environmental effect known as “urban heat island” and is also part of the building’s elaborate water collection and storage system.
“The plant absorbs some of the heat. Part of adding green roofs is to help absorb heat by building structures, paving, sidewalks and all the hard surfaces that hold heat,” says Sarah Moll, a senior landscape architect for RNL, which led the eight-firm design consulting group on the Student Success Building.
Moll estimates there are about 40,000 individual plants covering the roof section. The ground cover only grows to be a few inches tall and requires minimal maintenance—mostly weeding pesky intruders such as dandelions, Moll says.
And while the greenery may tempt some to plan leisure activities on lunch breaks, it’s a people-free zone.
“The roof was talked about being for full use, but it was ultimately designed for more visual and environmental function rather than fun,” Moll says.
The environmental function does more than help cool the area around the building. Under the four inches of soil the plants are rooted in are three additional layers of high tech materials to collect water, some of which is absorbed in the soil to feed the plants.
The water that isn’t used by the sedum “never hits the city’s water system,” Moll says. “There is a drain system that is built into the green roof in case it gets a ton of water, so water isn’t just sitting on top.”
City of Denver building codes require new construction to retain as much water as possible, minimizing runoff from rain or snow. The SSB’s roof drainage system funnels excess water down gutters to flower beds and subterranean ponds in front of the west side of the building that help nourish the landscape.
The SSB’s design recognizes that the landscape is an integral part of a structure. Indeed, Moll says, her job is about “trying to engineer the ecosystem around a new building.”
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