Sky-high gardens and rooftop oases
August 9, 2008 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Rich people's rooftops in NYC offers a fun birds-eye view into a few sky-high secret decks and gardens. Roofs are the new frontier for innovative urban architects, but they aren't exclusive to the wealthy. All kinds of people and organizations are starting rooftop gardens. See the impressive results that two Chicago denizens had growing heirloom vegetables on their roofs (2). posted by madamjujujive (39 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
wowee do I like this stuff. another gem, madam. merci!
posted by Busithoth at 10:27 AM on August 9, 2008

I love pictures of rooftops, and I love pictures of gardens. Consequently, I love this at least twice.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:35 AM on August 9, 2008

Notice that there are no actual people on the rooftops. Yeah, you don't want this. The owners are out doing cocaine at a trading desk for 18 hours a day. Plus, they're assholes.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:24 AM on August 9, 2008

Jimmythefish 1 Rich People 0.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:29 AM on August 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

_That's_ what being rich in the big city gets you for greenery?!

Keep it.
posted by codswallop at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2008

Yeah, it's not like living in the city has any other good qualities, codswallop.
posted by Justinian at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2008

posted by matteo at 12:04 PM on August 9, 2008

Hmm... I have a lovely view from my (ground level) backyard. But a cityscape plus a yard? Nifty.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:29 PM on August 9, 2008

I'm interested in the logistics of this: If measures like this one are pretty, good for the environment, and help save on utility bills (as the Chicago City hall link claims), why isn't this done more often? High start-up costs? Not many people having roof access to their homes? You need a stable, flat roof? Fire hazard if you don't water the grasses?

What's it like to put these things in/what would the upkeep be like?
posted by dinty_moore at 12:39 PM on August 9, 2008

My apartment in nyc was high enough up (32nd floor) that I could look out and see many tricked out penthouses like these all over the lower village and soho. I will admit to some extreme jealousy now and again.

Of course there are rooftops, and then there are rooftops.
posted by vronsky at 12:42 PM on August 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Anyone else thinking, oh shit. I think we have a leak.
posted by notreally at 12:43 PM on August 9, 2008

Of course there are rooftops, and then there are rooftops.
posted by vronsky at 12:42 PM on August 9

Holy fucking Christ. It takes a real effort to not be jealous of that.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:47 PM on August 9, 2008

yes, please!
posted by vronsky at 12:48 PM on August 9, 2008

Ain't it the truth Optimus. I would give my left nut just to spend a weekend there.

"The penthouse located at The Pierre Hotel encompasses the top three floors spanning from 41st to 43rd floors. Spectacular 360-degree views of Manhattan are found in this incomparable property. This French château is located within one of the world's greatest five star hotels. The Pierre Hotel offers every conceivable service twenty-four hours a day. It is the triplex penthouse at The Pierre, a residence that will forever remain without peer in Manhattan. As the New York Times said, it is perhaps "the best in the world". It encompasses 16 grand rooms - including five master bedrooms, 7 full baths and three half-baths, five working fireplaces, oak flooring with mahogany borders throughout, separate guest suites plus staff accommodations. The living room is considered the most magnificent privately owned room in the world. This incredible space was the original ballroom at The Pierre Hotel, with 23 foot high curved ceiling and 20 foot French doors overlooking the park and the city. Four adjoining terraces add to its phenomenal dimensions. This is without question the most important and spectacular penthouse in the world."
posted by vronsky at 12:51 PM on August 9, 2008

I just need a script that automatically favourites whatever mjjj posts. It would be so much simpler.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Of course there are rooftops, and then there are rooftops.

And umm.. anyone got a spare hundred mil sitting around that I could, uhhh, have?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:01 PM on August 9, 2008


Type: Triplex
Penthouse: Yes
Rooms: 16.0
Bedrooms: 5

Laundry in building: Yes

Thank god there's laundry services available. It would get old very quickly if you had to lug your clothes all the way down to the local laundromat.
posted by sleslie at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmm... more green. These things must call for some pretty costly irrigation and drainage upkeep. A FPP showcasing beautiful architecture was panned for it's impractical flat rooftops a while back. But Green is Gold, Awareness is the Mold, if your Mad enough for the Mode.
posted by Student of Man at 3:04 PM on August 9, 2008

Where are the pools? the really good rooftop gardens here have pools!
posted by Maias at 3:11 PM on August 9, 2008

The last link talks about "SIP"s, also known as the EarthBox, one of the best ways to get into gardening for a beginner. It takes 0 skill, almost no labor, little space (porch, roof) and produces amazing results. If you just want the food, and don't care much about the romance (and dirt and labor), EarthBoxes (or home-made SIP's) are the way to go. I have 4 EarthBoxen this year and while the corn didn't work out, the beans, tomatoes and green peppers are a bonanza. Next year I might try adding more with the SIP bucket system described in the link, a lot cheaper.
posted by stbalbach at 3:48 PM on August 9, 2008

Thank god there's laundry services available. It would get old very quickly if you had to lug your clothes all the way down to the local laundromat.
posted by sleslie at 4:28 PM on August 9

pfft. my friend in the east village gets her laundry brought up her 4th floor walkup all the time. the city's got advantages outside of being able to turn a geranium into a deadly object by throwing it over the side.

I see that Pierre penthouse and think, 'gods, even given that for free I couldn't swing the maintenance fees alone' (@$32,000/month). definitely worth breaking into, though. bring a parachute and who knows? you might not get caught.

the neighbor in front of me had a hot tub on his roof, and tons of plants. neither of our buildings are tall (mine's 4 stories, his two), but with a view.
I would smile and wave and wish horrible things upon him in the winter, it looked like such a nice place to be with snow falling down around you. I cannot look at a hottub without thinking about his setup.

oh, and EricB, that porch link is supremely cool. thanks.
posted by Busithoth at 4:05 PM on August 9, 2008

for comparison, some middle-class roofs. or is it 'rooves?'
posted by jonmc at 4:40 PM on August 9, 2008

Ya know, why don't we just build our houses underground? Then the default is a green roof, your yard above your head. Doesn't the ground insulate pretty well, so wouldn't a buried home require less in terms of heating and cooling? I guess it costs more to put your home under the ground, but meh, how bad could it be, just need a backhoe and such for a couple of days, which you'd more or less need for laying a normal foundation anyway.

Seriously, it seems like building underground is an excellent way to combine efficient dwelling areas with more space for plants and stuff. Big cities could be simply large prairies of vegetables and whatnot filled with hobbit holes leading to homes underground.

What's the flaw? Cost?
posted by jamstigator at 5:05 PM on August 9, 2008

What's the flaw? Cost?

No sunlight. No ventilation.
posted by jonmc at 5:27 PM on August 9, 2008

for comparison, some middle-class roofs. or is it 'rooves?'

Of course, you can just as easily grow things on middle class roofs as rich people's.

why isn't this done more often? High start-up costs? Not many people having roof access to their homes? You need a stable, flat roof? Fire hazard if you don't water the grasses?

Cost, drainage, and weight, generally speaking. Wet soil is extremely heavy. A cubic yard of soil can weigh around a ton (and only covers a 50 foot square area at 6" deep), so roof top garden builders are constantly experimenting with lightweight blends. You must also engineer roofing systems that won't leak even though they may be constantly wet, using plants that do OK in shallow soils in full sun and high winds.

I live a few blocks from (and right in between) two pioneering rooftop gardens, the Kaiser Center Roof Garden and the Oakland Museum Roof Garden. They're both very cool, and both have significant engineering problems that have had to be remedied. The Kaiser Garden has all the trees, which can weigh as much as 3 tons, placed directly over the columns supporting the parking structure. special lightweight concrete and soils were used, with styrofoam blocks used to build up mounds of soil. Trees were specifically chosen to have fibrous root systems, instead of large structural roots that would infiltrate and tear up the substrate. A lot of soil shrinkage has occurred since the garden was put in as organic matter decomposed, and now has some issues with poor drainage. However, considering the garden was highly experimental when it was built, it's done pretty well.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:44 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hasn't anyone noticed that these are not real photos of real rooftops? The comments on the first photo say it all:

"It looks like it's straight out of SimCity 4."
"yeah, these look like railroad models"

and on the third, we find:

"This is so obviously fake. Not that a rooftop like this couldn't exist, they could and do, just that this is a 3d image. Look at the textures, kids."
posted by yclipse at 6:10 PM on August 9, 2008

yclipse, you can post pictures of just about anything and people will yell "photoshop". That doesn't make it so.

Is there some reason you think they are fake besides a couple random comments by anonymous commenters on Flickr? 'Cause that's pretty weak sauce. Some of them are real beyond a shadow of a doubt and, given that, I have no reason to doubt the few where the angle prevents getting enough perspective and other detail to make a good judgment.
posted by Justinian at 8:44 PM on August 9, 2008

I have a flat roof and I am so going to have a green roof once my other renovations are done. Prices are dropping and technologies are advancing: I am very confident that I'll be able to take my urban home largely off the electrical grid and off the food grid over the next decade. And will be able to tread lightly on the water and natural gas grids.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:16 PM on August 9, 2008

yclipse, I can see why you might think that, but if you read all the comments you will see that several NYers are familiar with these building and identify where they are - some people who comment say they live or work in these buildings, and two said they had attended parties in the next to the last one in the set. One roof is the Soho Grand, one is the penthouse at Thor, the balconies are in Tribeca (another person contributes an alternate view), and some are identifying the one with the mirrored windows as belonging to Mariah Carey. So I am pretty sure they are real.

vronsky, if each of us chips in about $3500 each (plus $2 a month upkeep) we could buy that penthouse as the mefi world domination headquaters.

stbalbach, thanks for sharing your experience - apparently those earthboxes "... double the yield of a conventional garden-with less fertilizer, less water and virtually no effort." Sounds like something many urban people could deal with on a balcony or in a small space.

oneirodynia, thanks for your links and commentary. The most excellent article that ericb posted talks about some of the engineering hurdles that had to be overcome. Their garden is growing in about seven inches of a lightweight soil. The owner said he learned a lot about how to do it by going to a seminar sponsored by earth pledge.

fff, that is a worthy goal and would be very cool. Meetup on your roof in 10 yrs, then?
posted by madamjujujive at 11:06 PM on August 9, 2008

That'd be a helluva thing, madamjujujive!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:30 PM on August 9, 2008

So nice to combine urban life with nature.

I've always wanted a porch, a contemplative place to sit outside with flowering vines. But it would be nice in NYC.

Poorer persons' versions of the fancy and amazing rooftop garden: fire escape garden in the Village, Brooklyn, Saratoga, Brooklyn, Columbus, San Francisco.

Looking for fire escape photos I found this one from 1943 of a man sleeping.
posted by nickyskye at 11:34 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had my own version of an "earthbox" while I lived in a 3rd-floor condo. I built planters, 2' high, with a bottom only 1' down from top. Installed a drip system by tapping my kitchen sink feed, which overlooked the deck. Filled with peat and bagged manure. Used the same siding as had been used on the condo, so it was virtually invisible to the eye from below. Wasn't attached to the building, further skirting the issue of having things on the deck that weren't explicity approved (yet not explicitly disapproved).

Man, did we get great crops from that thing. Peppers, chives, strawberries, carrots. Had cherry tomatoes in large tubs, got endless baskets off them. And next to no bugs! Got a hornworm infection once; that was easily (if disgustingly) resolved. Had aphids once; soaped 'em dead. No racoons, deer, catshit, or other harm.

Easy to do, too. Easy to build the planter, easy to grow stuff, easy all around.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:36 PM on August 9, 2008

Where was that fff?
posted by nickyskye at 12:04 AM on August 10, 2008

Nice post, love rooftop gardens! I was actually at a party at the Kensington Roof Gardens just last week. Pretty amazing since those gardens are mature, having been there for 70 odd years, and come complete with a bubbling brook and pink flamingos wandering around!
posted by Onanist at 4:45 AM on August 10, 2008

This is very neat.
yclipse: you are an idiot. check here and you will see the steps to the right hand side of the first slide.
We have a large roof terrace but concentrate on vegetables in plastic troughs about 1.5m x 40 cm x 60cm. At present 4 of them and many smaller pots. I was thinking of raised troughs on tables originally but the work and expense dissuaded me. My wife is the gardener I just carry things up there and eat the results.
This year we have 4 different types of tomatoes, some lettuce, cucumber, aubergines, peppers, green beans also many herbs. Mites and pests are a pain as in any other garden, This year is worse than usual because of the very wet June.
Not so into decorative plants and such because the extreme summer heat is viscious - mid 30 centigrade for 3 months of the year. It's way too hot to sit out in the sun except in spring and fall when its gorgeous; and of course barbque summer nights
I'm concerned about weight on the terrace otherwise I'm tempted to put a tub up there.
Having said that I have large pots with olive, papaya and lemon and grapefruit trees.
The lemon has fruit.
Cat shit (bless their little hearts) can be a problem but cunning horizontal trellis work and net sidings keeps the buggers out.
If any one has more link pages for ideas or photos I would love to see them.
posted by adamvasco at 4:52 AM on August 10, 2008

Here in the Okanagan, nickyskye. South-facing exposure. While temperatures on that deck could easily high 45°C, the plants loved it up there.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:38 AM on August 10, 2008

adamvasco, these sites might be resources:
Inside Urban Green
City Farmer's Urban Agricultural Notes

nickyskye, loved your fire escape pics. Here is someone who has a pretty good yield. Also on the "urban greenery" theme, the 2008 winners of The Greenest Block in Brooklyn.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2008

Thanks fff.
posted by nickyskye at 8:55 AM on August 10, 2008

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