If You Plant It, They Will Learn

If You Plant It, They Will Learn

Courtesy Rafael Vinoly Architects

While he was working as the first Research Fellow at Rafael Viñoly Architects in 2005, Joseph Hagerman spent his time devising a more efficient, effective, and affordable green roof. When it came time to test Hagerman’s ideas, the firm considered building a prototype on the 5,000-square-foot roof of its Hudson Square loft. “We decided, why not do something for the community,” Ned Kaufman, Director of Research and Training, told AN. “That’s when we hit upon the idea of a school.”

The school in question is the Adlai Stevenson campus in the Unionport section of the Bronx, an incubator that houses eight boutique high schools. The architects partnered with the Salvadori Center, which embraces education through the built environment and is also located in the Bronx, to choose a school and build a network to help with design, financing, and construction.

Putting a green roof on a public school would be a civic contribution in and of itself, but Viñoly wanted to do even more. “The key thing with this green roof is that it’s not just a green roof, but also a classroom,” Kaufman said. “That’s why we call it a ‘learning landscape.’”

Not only will students be able to tend the plants for botany classes at the environmentally-focused school, but all the data from the monitoring instruments, which are being supplied and installed by Columbia, will be used in math classes and the architecture-themed school will study its construction and function. To jumpstart the process, test boxes were erected on the roof Tuesday to allow students to play—make that learn—in the dirt.

Materials came from Pittsburgh Corning, which provided the Foamglas base, and Tremco, for the sealant. The Gaia Institute helped choose the 30 species of native plants, 20,000 of which will eventually cover the 70,000-square-foot roof. In the crucial area of funding, $800,000 was contributed by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. and Councilmember Annabel Palma. Kaufman estimates another $1 million will be needed to complete the first phase of 25,000 square feet.

Upon its completion, the hope is the city’s School Construction Authority, which oversees the construction and maintenance of schools citywide, will be swayed to complete the project and even spread it to other schools. “It would have been a whole lot easier just putting the thing on our roof, which we considered,” Kaufman said. “Our feeling was that we could show the School Construction Authority that it could be done. Once it’s been done once and is shown to be affordable and effective, then they can replicate it going forward.”

“And when you consider the size of the SCA and everything it controls,” Kaufman added, “that’s a real path to system-level changes.”

Matt Chaban

An aerial view of the existing roof (left) and the proposed green roof.

All images courtesy Rafael viñoly Architects
Students and teachers discuss the fauna to be planted in mock ups of the green roof on June 10.
all phots by Tobias everke
a group of students planting in one of the boxes.

students inspect renderings of the proposed green roof.