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Column: Fears holding back green roof construction

In urban design illustrations, roofs are typically green, streets are spacious, and residents enjoy sauntering around the city. Green roofs have emerged as one solution for creating more congenial and inviting urban living spaces. As a consequence, green roofs have been commercialised. For example, ready-to-install sedum roofs are now available on the market.
2 min
Anna Heikkinen

The reality is often much blander than the architects’ images. The perceived risks associated with green roofs are a major barrier to their widespread implementation. It is feared they are more expensive to install and maintain compared to conventional roofs, and the growing season is shorter in Finland than further south. Indoor air quality is also a common concern. As green roofs capture rainfall, they may conjure up images of dampness penetrating the building and rot setting in.

Green roofs are landscaped roofs deliberately planted with vegetation, such as mosses, grasses, shrubs and trees. They not only provide benefits for urban dwellers, but also help mitigate climate change.

They can also be designed as recreational and leisure spaces for people to enjoy while also helping to reduce the impact of extreme weather events, such as the torrential rains, droughts and heat waves that are becoming more frequent. Planted surfaces can also reduce traffic noise and purify the air.

Fears about green roofs may be exaggerated because the concept is still relatively new in Finland. More information is needed about the functionality of green roofs and the different options available.

Campus Nature is a demo project carried out at Tampere University to test an open and inclusive approach to designing urban green spaces. The project brings together researchers, students, staff and other campus users to construct a green roof, plant two meadows and design a rooftop garden on campus. 

Instead of specifying the expected goals, participants and results in advance, they are being reshaped as the project progresses. The project seeks to break down barriers between companies, researchers, residents and campus users, as well as to raise awareness of green roofs and biodiversity. As campus users take part in creating and maintaining the green spaces, the project will enhance their well-being, promote a sense of inclusion, help raise awareness and encourage them to take action and advocate for green cities and campuses.

Anna Heikkinen is an adjunct professor and university lecturer who specialises in management and organisations. She is also one of the researchers involved in the Campus nature project at Tampere University.Photo: Jonne Renvall, Tampereen yliopisto