Rooftop Garden

The rooftop garden combines aesthetic, sustainable and historic design principles to reflect the outdoor living needs of a retired couple. Downsizing from their large suburban home, their goal was to create a sustainable and livable apartment within the context of a historically registered circa 1929 condominium building. Known as Moreland Courts, the building was designed by famed Chicago architect Alfred Harris. Adjacent to their new fifth floor home, the 3000 square-foot garden includes a green roof, portable urban “farm”, food preparation area and gathering space oriented to capture sunsets and views exemplifying urban living in the 21st-century.

Conceived to be a “shakkei” inspired space, the rooftop is a place where treetops and sky play a role. Shakkei is the Japanese term for “borrowed landscape”. Taking inspiration from the green rolling hills and valleys of the Chardon Highlands, varying planting depths and heights in the green roof intersect with mature oaks beyond creating an illusion. The garden seems to go as far as the eye can see.

Material palettes and shapes were informed by both immediate historical context and the desire to create a sweeping landscape – even at a small scale. Existing brick chimneys and elevator penthouse became organizing elements for the garden composition. Intimate outdoor space is enclosed by the arbour to reflect forms and proportions found in the historically registered building while framing views. I beams and mechanical connections express the technology of the day with a nod to local industry of this Rust Belt city.

A “river” of pebble integrates the natural landscape into the green roof in a manner that conceals it’s true identity five stories up. Agricultural field patterns are reflected in the patterns of the green roof plantings in colour, form and texture of plants.

Elements became multi-purpose: the green roof handles rainwater by delivering far less to the existing stormwater drains. An FSC wood screen by the barbeque doubles as a mechanical wall on the other side. Recycled aluminum planters create intensive planting beds for larger specimens to screen adjacent views, control winds and define accessible spaces. A nature inspired sculptural screen by a local artist conceals mechanical equipment from master bedroom, while acting as a guard for the outdoor kitchen. The screen uses natural forms and shapes with attention to biophilic principles. The arbour defines and shades dining spaces while visually connecting disparate architectural elements. A retractable awning integrated into the arbour provides sun protection and privacy from the neighbours above.

Detailing of the steel work on top of posts visually lightens the overhead structure while capturing glimpses of sky. Furniture choices marry reflective steel finishes with natural wood and plantings. Visual preservation of heritage finials and wall crenellations was accomplished by a horizontal railing transparent from both street below and adjacent garden.

Strategically placed boulders were hand selected from the owner’s quarry reinforcing “Genius Loci” and connecting the rooftop garden to the owner’s origins in northeast Ohio. The borrowed landscape of towering trees and historic building fashion this artful composition uniting natural and built form.