The U.S. Postal Service celebrated another example of its environmental leadership as it dedicated its first and New York City’s largest green roof high atop the Morgan mail processing facility.
At nearly 2.5 acres, and safely perched seven stories above the city, the Morgan green roof offers a spectacular panoramic view of midtown Manhattan and the northern New Jersey shore. Its 14 orange-hued Ipe Brazilian wood benches are made from lumber certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council. Native plants and trees include Calamagrostis, a lush, maintenance-free grass.
Damian Holmes of World Landscape Architect interviewed Elizabeth J Kennedy, Principal of EKLA about the US Postal Morgan Processing Facility Green Roof to get more of insight into the project.
WLA: When did the project start?
Elizabeth: The roof project is part of a larger facility modernization scope. We began design work for the green roof in late 2007; it is fair to say that, in comparison to other public sector work, it was fast-tracked.
WLA: Did you employ any sub-consultants for soil or other aspects of the design such as planting selection? How did they assist?
Elizabeth: We did not retain an agronomist or soils expert; however, we first worked very closely with the technical departments of several roofing manufacturers with green roof divisions to compare the properties of their respective proprietary lightweight growing mixes, and then extrapolated and researched the available data to determine the basis of the various commercial specifications.
WLA: Besides the green areas is there any other sustainable elements used in the design of the green roof landscape?
Elizabeth: We used concrete utility pavers and roof ballast aggregate which have high Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) values; The benches were made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified dense tropical hardwood that requires no staining or sealant, eliminating the VOCs from entering stormwater systems and the light poles and bollards meet cutoff standards for light pollution.
WLA: Do you think your green roof project is the tipping point for green roofs or are they now seen as essential in city living?
Elizabeth: The project is a tipping point in terms of its actual size – big roof areas provide the opportunity to differently inspire the imagination. Typically, to justify the added cost of this type of installation, a green roof should be “useful,” sufficiently (and significantly) offsetting stormwater runoff, or mitigating heat island effect, or adding to the R value of insulation to reduce heating and cooling costs, to eventually offset the investment; in another context a roof of this size could be a productive urban farm – an idea that is no longer far-fetched in the general public’s mind. Except for farming idea, the Morgan P&D Center project was conceived in part to do all those things; however, in its vastness it is also poetic.
It’s hard to get public agencies to fund poetics. By the USPS’s account the Morgan P&D Center project was a pilot project – an experiment that happened in part because the building had the structural capacity for a roof overburden load. Any programmatic use derived from the structural opportunity and desired operations benefit, not the other way around. In this sense the project was almost McHargian, with a touch of Norberg-Schulz.
I cannot stress enough the critical role the strict budget limit played in getting to a workable scheme and good result – and I deliberately use the word, “limit,” instead of “constraint.” Over the course of several iterations EKLA and URS Corp pared the concept to a simple, elegant solution that could be completed on time and within budget without sacrificing the essentials of good design – that was just right.
WLA: Are you currently designing any other green roof projects?
Elizabeth: This was one of seven projects commissioned in the past two years, including two for hospitals under modernization, and two providing open space for affordable housing; each one has been entirely different from the others. The 2+ acre roof of Morgan P&D Center is the largest in our portfolio; when completed, the green roofs of the WE ACT Environmental Justice Center, will be the smallest in size, at 350 square feet.