Category Archives: Green Rooftops

Special Collections Library Green Rooftop: Observation and Potential Improvements

Everyday, hundreds of students walk across the courtyard on McCormick road in front of Alderman Library and the Library of Special Collections. Brick walkways crisscross between lush, green shapes of grass lawn and upraised sections with planted flowers and groomed shrubbery. Deceivingly, this courtyard is a functioning green-roof, on the top of the special collection library.

The upraised planters include a large rectangular window surrounded by short plants, herbs, and flowers. Plants in these must have short roots and have the ability to thrive in space-limited environments. Each planter has several sprinklers, and includes several species of plants within each cement oval.


Figure 1: A ceiling window from the interior of the library.

The design of the green roof not only offers green space for the public and exterior aesthetics of the building, but also creates an ideal space for studying. The study rooms underground are quiet, with little to no noise from traffic on McCormick road. The grass above actively cools and sound proofs the library below. Natural light from the ceiling windows illuminates the study rooms and reduces dependency for harsh, florescent lights for reading. From our visit last week, the atmosphere of the students was calm and focused, unlike the stress-intensive environment of the study areas in Clemons library just next door. Although the space is underground with limited visual of nature, it is still a considerable “biophilic” space, as the atmosphere is created by the nature growing around (and above) it.



Figure 2: Large shrubbery occupies the area near the entrance of the building.

One improvement to the space could be to label the species in the planters, or offer public participation for planting in the space. In front of the entrance, larger shrubbery and plants requiring mulch occupy the space, with benches for sitting along the edges and adjacent to the sidewalk. One could imagine plaques here that identify shrubs and plants around the benches and the herbs in sights view from the front of the building.

Although weight and plant-specific conditions must be considered, the large planters have the capacity for large plants and flowers, and is a potential area for high biodiversity; an ecological oasis in the middle of monotonous grass fields. A project for an environmental planning class, perhaps, could be to design the ideal courtyard planter that improves the space within the limitations of the roof.



Figure 3: The planters contain an upraised ceiling window as well as several small shrubs and short plants.

The cement planters provide a good environment for an herb garden and could be used for plants that are either aromatically or orally pleasing. Mint and rosemary, for example, could further contribute to a positive, academic environment, emitting soothing aromas. These areas receive plenty of sunlight for herbs, which would require limited maintenance and grow easily in open areas.

Post by Liz Helm

The Green Roof of Commerce School


With the skyline of Charlottesville and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond, I forget that I’m on the rooftop of the McIntire School of Commerce. I can’t believe I’ve never been here before. Nestled on the roof of the Rouss and Robertson Hall, there is a garden. This garden surrounds a courtyard, a space to study, eat, socialize, and relax. Nelson Byrd Woltz, the architect, designed the space as “not just a garden but an ecologically restorative machine with intended longevity. It takes inspiration from the University Grounds and pavilion gardens. Relying on native plants and local building materials, the courtyard space is also designed to enhance teaching, learning, and social interaction” (



The green rooftop is extensive, meaning it’s composed of a shallow substrate, is relatively light, and is low cost and low maintenance. The vegetation found here are trays of sedum, which require little irrigation. It’s the University’s first environmentally “green” roof. Its mission has been to reduce the temperature and heat load on the roof beneath the plant trays of sedum. Furthermore, the green rooftop protects the roof membrane and increases its longevity by shielding it from the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.



One improvement to consider would be to better integrate the garden and courtyard. Currently, they feel like separate entities. They rooftop garden feels shielded from the public. The garden is only accessible to Facilities Management. A student can only admire it from the courtyard. I wish that the courtyard spanned throughout the garden to provide a more harmonious sensation. People would be able to interact more with the nature, rather than just observing it from a close proximity. Having more people exposed to a rooftop garden, would increase the public’s awareness of the importance of them.


Post by Cody Simms


The Benefits of Green Roofs on Grounds

Green roofs have become an increasingly popular design feature throughout the US urban landscape. Architects are now adding them onto the roofs of cities in an attempt to encourage sustainability and mitigate environmental impact. The average green roof provides numerous benefits to the surrounding community. Contrary to popular belief, these benefits are not limited the environment. There are three main areas in which green roofs provide major benefits: environmental, economic and social.

Environmental Benefits

One of the primary benefits of green roofs is that it improves the air quality in the surrounding community. Not only does it sequester carbon, but also often becomes a net carbon sink, which is especially useful in an urban setting. A net carbon sink is a reservoir that absorbs more carbon than it releases into the atmosphere. A secondary benefit of green roofs is that they absorb storm water and then absorbed water is filtered and pollutants are removed. Green roofs can also act as a buffer for acid rain, which is especially useful in areas that suffer from reoccurring acid rain. Another benefit of green roofs is that they can be build out of recycled material, which reduces the communal impact on the environment.

Economic Benefits

            There are a variety of economic benefits that green roofs provide. One primary benefit is insulation to buildings. Green roofs can keep buildings cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, thus lowering cooling and heating bills. A second benefit is that if the green roof is properly installed, it can actually lengthen the life of a roof, thus lowering replacement costs. Green roofs also have the opportunity to create jobs through the installation and maintenance of the roof. If there is a garden on the roof, it also offers potential to grow and sell produce. Green roofs and urban agriculture have also been known to increase property value and marketability, which could attract more potential students to look at the University.

Social Benefits

            Green roofs are known for creating interactive outdoor spaces and can host spaces for people to relax, converse or study. Green roofs have the potential to foster community through communal upkeep and maintenance. Green roofs provide educational opportunities to schools with the potential for classes based on the biodiversity that the green roofs foster. These roofs also improve productivity, which can be very beneficial to a school community. Green roofs provide numerous mental and health benefits, including reductions in asthma due to improve air quality and a reduction in stress.

Green roofs have the opportunity to provide numerous benefits to the UVA community. While UVA does have some green roofs around grounds, they are unexciting and are not harnessing the potential benefits. Many people worry about the costs of implementing more green roofs around grounds but the average green roof has a payback period of around 6.2 years. Not only does it offer numerous environmental, economic and social benefits but it also will beautify the university and ultimately, pay for itself in benefits.


Ruth Caplin Theater Green Roof


Rouss Robertson Hall Green Roof


Ruth Caplin Theater Green Roof


Rouss Robertson Hall Green Roof



Special Collections Library Green Roof


Post by Morgan Klausner, Second Year, Environmental Thought and Practice Major

Ruth Caplin Theater Green Roof Observation


Today our group visited the green rooftop on the newly constructed Ruth Caplin Theatre.  I have always seen this rooftop in passing but I’ve never taken the time to actually explore it. As a whole, I was not very impressed with the rooftop but I think with some very simple alterations and additions it could be greatly improved upon. Part of the reason that it didn’t appear as attractive as I think it could be is just because of the season and the lack of blooming plants. Another reason I think I was a bit unimpressed is just because it’s not what I was expecting. I was expecting an actual green rooftop with grass or at least more plants.

image1 image2

After further research though, I am now able to see some interesting aspects that I did not realize at first. It appears as just a concrete rooftop on top of a building with a bunch of rocks and some shrubs. However, it does appear as if the rocks are to incorporate a drip irrigation of some sort. I would classify this green rooftop as a semi-intensive green roof. According to Green Roof Technology, a semi-intensive green roof can use selected perennials, sedums, ornamental grasses, herbs, and little shrubs. The Ruth Caplin Theatre uses a variety of shrubs and some perennials. One of my favorite parts of the rooftop was the fact that it has a plethora of rosemary bushes in the “garden/ shrub” area. I think this could be expanded upon though and more herbs could be planted. Perhaps the Fine Arts Café could even find a way to incorporate these herbs into their food.


I think the main problem with this green rooftop is that it’s not very usable but that’s a problem that I think could be easily fixed. By simply adding more plants and benches or tables, the rooftop would become much more active. I think the University could really benefit from more outdoor study spaces and this rooftop offers the perfect opportunity because of the accessible open space. Another option to increase its aesthetic appeal could be to make it an artscape. By simply adding some statues or artistic pieces such as marble or mosaic tiles in the concrete, its appeal would be highly heightened.


Post by Caroline MacDonald


Different Types of Green Roofs on Grounds

The University of Virginia and the surrounding Charlottesville area have some stunning examples of green roofs. However, these green roofs can vary considerably. As we prepare to analyze them, we want to talk a little about the general benefits of green roofs and the different green roofs we might encounter.

Green roofs are impermeable surfaces that can filter rainwater and reduce storm runoff. Plants on the roof filter not only pollutants from the water, but also pollutants from the air. Green roofs can also provide insulation for the building, saving both energy and money during hotter days. Currently UVA has about 10 green roofs, with hopes of increasing that number in coming years. These green roofs can be classified as intensive, extensive, or somewhere in between. Each type has their own benefits and drawbacks, and a mix of these different types can be found on grounds.

An extensive green roof has a shallow substrate, is relatively light, and is low cost and low maintenance. They are typically composed of mosses or sedums and require little to no irrigation. Examples of this type of green roof at UVA include the Medical Research Building and Garret Hall.

Extensive Green Roof on Garret Hall

An intensive green roof has a very thick substrate. It is very heavy, more expensive, and is more difficult to maintain than an extensive green roof. It also requires irrigation. The substrate is deep enough to support large shrubs or trees, so it can be used for more human-centered purposes, such as gardens or parks.  Examples of this type of green roof on grounds include the Carter Harrison building as well as the Special Collections Library.

The Carter Harrison building featured to the left; The Special Collections Library featured to the right 

These are just a few examples of the green roofs on grounds, and we will go into more detail about specific green roofs and how they were constructed in later posts. Throughout the rest of the semester we hope to visit as many as we can in order to analyze their beauty, use, benefits, and possible improvements. We will also be on the look out for places of future green roofs and how they could be more accessible for student study spaces.

Post by Amanda Demmerle, Second Year, Environmental Science and Environmental Thought & Practice

Photos retrieved from


Green Rooftops Results – part 2!

Our second week of sampling proved to be slightly more exciting than the first! One morning we went onto the hospital roof, our control roof, and found 28 gnats and one fly in our brightly colored bee bowls filled with soapy water. This was the first time we collected any insects so we were very pleased with this result. This was definitely an interesting discovery because these were all found on the one non-green roof we were sampling. One theory that may explain this is that the hospital roof was actually warmer than the green roofs we studied due to the vents along the exterior walls.



On the very last day of sampling we found two more gnats, another fly, and a yellow jacket on the Rouss-Robertson roof. These were our first and only insects collected on the green roofs we were sampling this semester.



It is interesting to note that all of these insects were also found in the bee bowls. Throughout the entirety of our project, we did not collect any insects in the malaise trap or sweep nets. As the plants were still in a more dormant stage and temperatures were pretty low, there were not very many insects just flying around on the rooftops and it makes sense that we did not catch anything in the sweep nets. Using sweep nets in the summer would probably prove to be more effective as I think the warmer weather and fully-grown plants would attract more insects.



Throughout the second half of our sampling, we continued to find the Malaise trap collapsed after somewhat windy nights. It is not surprising that we kept finding it collapsed on the roof as it is relatively flimsy tent and unprotected against the wind at least three stories above the ground. Other groups monitoring green roofs have had success using the Malaise trap, so we may need to reevaluate how we secure it. For this sampling period we were using the stakes that came with the tent and two bricks to secure the tent. Perhaps in the future we should try to secure it differently.

Unfortunately, we were unable to secure a list of all the plants on the green roofs we studied before the end of our project. It could be interesting to take a look at the various species used to see if they are native or non-native. If they are non-native, perhaps that is part of the reason they were not attracting the insects we were hoping to see?

Despite the aforementioned issues that we encountered, we believe this has been a great learning opportunity that should be continued over the summer and next semester as well. With the chilly spring weather we had anticipated lower catch rates, but had clearly underestimated the lack of insects this time of year. Summertime sampling should not be an issue in this way. As for the Malaise Trap, weighing it down was not our issue. Each time it blew over, the stakes and bricks were still anchoring the bottom edges of the tent to the roof. A tall stake placed inside the tent vertically (anchored into the ground but reaching all the way to the top of the tent to hold it up) is one potential solution to safeguard the trap against wind. Now that the logistics of getting permission and safety harnesses has been taken care of, next spring’s class could start making a sampling schedule with UVA Facilities Management earlier in the semester. This way, a tentative schedule with everyone’s availability could be drafted then changed according to when warm days are in the forecast. The summer’s sampling team will have to report how much better weather improved results and reevaluate any further improvements to our methods from there.

groofs5-5 groofs5-4

Post by Jennifer White and Amanda Askew, Fourth-Years, Environmental Science

Green Rooftops Tour

The BioGrounds Green Rooftops team had an exciting start to field work with a tour of all the possible green rooftops around UVa which we could use to conduct our analysis on. With the help of Facilities Management at UVa, we had a chance to actually visit rooftops and explore all the different options we had for our BioGrounds research.

Our tour started on rainy morning at the UVa Hospital lobby where Mr. John Rainey, the director of the Health System Physical Plant for Facilities Management led us on a tour of the UVa Hospital rooftop, one of the only non-green roofs in our projects. Before our tour, our team learned that Facilities Management plans to turn the Hospital roof into a green roof in around a year, opening up the perfect opportunity for our team to conduct a “before-and-after” analysis of effects of biodiversity on regular vs. revamped green rooftops. During our tour we learned about Facilities Management’s plans to plant Sedum and install insulated glass skylight pyramids along the currently gravel lined rooftop. This would help with water drainage issues, as we could see by the rain collecting on the roof, and add greenery to the view for patients at the hospital.

Our tour on the non-green Hospital rooftop. Photo by Radhika Pavgi.
Our tour on the non-green Hospital rooftop.
Photo by Radhika Pavgi.

Following this, our team, led by Helen Wilson and Rich Hopkins from UVa Facilities Management, visited the MR5 green rooftop, which is a ground level rooftop that lies over a basement of the Biomedical Engineering Research building. Despite being ground level, this area is considered a green rooftop, and is installed with a LiveRoof brand modular green roof which includes trays of vegetation planted into the ground, which provide an easier to install and lower maintenance form of vegetation. Many of the plants in these trays were reddish/brown due to harsh winter conditions, and showed some invasive species of plants intermixed in the trays. In the same area, we visited the MR5/MR6 courtyard which was a very large intensive green roof made of grass and brick pathways, again, over a below-ground portion of the building. We were informed that it was one of the larger green rooftops, and even had to be mowed!

Continuing on this tour, we visited the Nau/Gibson Hall rooftop which proved to be an adventure to access. Nau/Gibson has four identical green roofs which are all accessed through upper floor public restrooms in the buildings. Our team had the opportunity to climb up a ladder in a restroom, and through a hatch and peek out on to the intensive, tray-less green roof. This roof contained many more species of plants and also seemed to have better water drainage than the other roofs. Due to safety reasons, we weren’t allowed on the roof without a harness, but we were informed that when we started data collection we would be allowed to walk up onto the roof and conduct our research.

A team member climbing up to the Nau/Gibson green rooftop. Photo by Amanda Askew.
A team member climbing up to the Nau/Gibson green rooftop.
Photo by Amanda Askew.

The next green roof we visited was on top of the recently renovated Commerce School building, Rouss/Robertson Hall. This roof again needed harnesses to access; however, our team had the chance to go up to a terrace on the building and look across a courtyard at the green roof. Similar to the other green roofs around Grounds, this was made up of trays, and again, many of the plants were suffering from colder conditions. The roof though, contained a lot of green space, and enough room to conduct research.

Looking out on to the tray-lined green rooftop of Rouss/Robertson Hall. Photo by Radhika Pavgi.
Looking out on to the tray-lined green rooftop of Rouss/Robertson Hall.
Photo by Radhika Pavgi.

Our tour ended on the patio level green roof of Garrett Hall which is accessible to the public, where Sedum trays are embedded into the patio. This roof is also close to ground level like that of MR5, and showed invasive moss species growing alongside the Sedum.

After this exciting tour, the Green Rooftops team narrowed down the options for data collection to the Hospital rooftop, in order to conduct a before and after analysis, the Nau/Gibson rooftop, and the Commerce School Rouss/Robertson roof. These roofs, which are all located at higher elevations, would allow our team to explore and analyze biodiversity that exists up on rooftops that aren’t in contact with the ground.

More to come in our next post about field work on the rooftops!

*A special thanks to John Rainey, Helen Wilson and Rich Hopkins from UVa Facilities Management for their help in taking us on the tour of the rooftops.

Post by Radhika Pavgi, Second-Year, Civil Engineering

Results…Or Lack Thereof

It can be a little anticlimactic when extensive planning efforts in an experimental study yield little to no results. Methods were researched and meticulously planned, equipment was researched and purchased, and scheduling was arranged between seven students and a very flexible facilities management staff at UVA. Unfortunately, we could not help the spring weather. With temperatures averaging around 60°, boughts of rain, and an especially windy night it is not too surprising that no bees were collected, no bugs were trapped, and the only bird we saw while surveying was a dead bird on the bare hospital roof.

How could this whole spring weather issue be handled for better sampling luck in the future? Summertime sampling looks much more promising! As for spring classes, hope for warmer weather?

Our sampling process began on Wednesday April 9th at Gibson Hall. At 8am we met with Jacob, a member of facilities management, to gain access to the roof. Equipped with harnesses we were tethered to the center of the roof and able to set up the malaise trap within ten minutes. At 8am the next morning, two team members met with Jacob to remove the malaise trap from Gibson. Unfortunately, we found the trap completely empty. We then travelled to the Rouss-Robertson roof to set up the malaise trap. This roof also requires that we wear the harnesses for safety purposes. When we arrived at Rouss-Robertson the following morning, we found that the malaise trap had blown over sometime within the last 24 hours (corners were weighed down with bricks but the center of this tent- structure had completely collapsed). Again, the trap was completely empty. We then packed up the equipment for the weekend. The following Tuesday we intended to set up the malaise trap and bee bowls on the hospital roof, but rain caused us to postpone that trip until Wednesday morning.

Though our lack of findings so far is disappointing, there are still a few sampling days to come! Our next blog post will hopefully be more eventful!

Above left, a deceased bird found on the UVA Hospital rooftop beneath a series of patients’ windows. Above right, two team members wearing harnesses while on top of the South Lawn rooftop (Gibson), along with the Hospital rooftop (bottom left in the photo collage), and the rooftop patio on top of Garrett Hall (top right in the photo collage).
Above left, a deceased bird found on the UVA Hospital rooftop beneath a series of patients’ windows. Above right, two team members wearing harnesses while on top of the South Lawn rooftop (Gibson), along with the Hospital rooftop (bottom left in the photo collage), and the rooftop patio on top of Garrett Hall (top right in the photo collage).
Empty collection bottle that attaches to the top of the Malaise trap.
Empty collection bottle that attaches to the top of the Malaise trap.
The collapsed Malaise trap found on top of Rouss- Robertson after a windy night.
The collapsed Malaise trap found on top of Rouss- Robertson after a windy night.

Post by Amanda Askew and Jennifer White

Green Rooftops: lobby-worthy or common sense?

Last week our group visited several green rooftops around Grounds: Nau/Gibson Hall, Garrett Hall, the Commerce School, and the hospital (including the site for the hospital’s next green rooftop construction project). As we begin to study the ecology of these unique architectural features, we cannot help but wonder what incentivizes them in the first place. In an ideal world, every building would be LEED Gold certified and topped with lush greenery. Yet cost, convenience, and simple consideration seem to impede this goal. In addition to learning about these roofs on the micro-level, it is important for us to consider what incentives spark the implementation of green rooftops.

Upon speaking with the Facilities Management Staff of the UVa hospital, we were able to gain a different perspective on the rooftops. John Rainey led us through the air duct room of the hospital and onto the hospital’s next green rooftop site. On a rainy Friday morning, it was easy to see one of the roof’s main concerns: water. Mr. Rainey explained to us the challenge of storm water management on flat rooftops, noting that even though architects implemented patterned drainage measures under the impermeable plastic-like roofing material, it was to little avail. Even in a light drizzle, puddles dotted the rooftop. After mentioning the water retention issues, Mr. Rainey gestured across the street, mentioning plans for a completely new building fitted with a green rooftop. This building’s roof aims to simulate a natural landscape, complete with rolling “hills” and varying flora. He mentioned that as the roof we were standing on had low visibility to patient rooms, the new building would provide calming views to a much larger proportion of the hospital’s residents.

What made the hospital consider installing a green rooftop on the low-visibility roof? Was it motivated by the storm water problem, benefits to the few patients who could see it, future cost considerations, or a combination? What about the new building? Was it assumed that a new building would implement green technology or did it require lobbying? While the advantages are obvious to the environmentally-minded students of Cities+Nature, how much consideration does the general public give them?

The answers to these questions likely vary across different projects; evident by the diversity in the projects themselves. Some projects may be implemented for necessity (storm water retention on the hospital), some for aesthetic appeal (Garrett Hall’s green “rooftop” sits above the basement and doubles as a patio), and the list goes on. The key here, however, is using policy to effectively encompass these reasons and incentivize them. Federal legislation under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides tax credit for green rooftops of up to $1.80, LEED Gold certification is necessary for all new federal building construction projects, and the EPA has proposed storm water regulations that encourage green roof design. City governments offer market incentives (subsidies, tax credits, etc.) and regulatory measures (permits, building ordinances, etc.) to encourage lush building tops.

The study of green rooftops doesn’t limit itself to bee bowls or malaise traps. Throughout our documentation of the roofs around Grounds, it is important to remember that someone lobbied for their implementation. Whether Facilities Management can better manage the roof’s drainage, energy bills decrease, or the environmental sciences department can sleep well at night, green rooftops include a host of stakeholders. Effective policymaking will highlight the benefits and mitigate the costs of these features to increase their prevalence.

Post by Mary Kathryn Fisher, Second-Year, Urban and Environmental Planning

Our Meeting with Facilities Management

On March 21st, our BioGrounds team met with Facilities Management to discuss our project and talk to them about the feasibility of actually accessing various green and non-green roofs around Grounds. Prior to the meeting, we put together a comprehensive project plan to give to the Facilities Management team so they could get a better idea of what we were planning to do. Professor Beatley also joined us and was extremely helpful facilitating our discussion.

As excited as we were about this Green Rooftops project, Facilities Management seemed to be even more so. After seeing our project plan, they were extremely interested in our project and willing to help us. They told us about the many current green roofs around Grounds as well as the plans they have in place for various future green rooftops. I think our team was under the impression that the only green rooftops were on Culbreth Theater, the Roberston/Rouss building, Newcomb Hall, and Garrett Hall. However, we soon discovered that there are green roofs on many more buildings. We were excited to learn there were so many more possible test sites for our research!

Facilities Management discussed each roof with us, warning us that access to all these roofs is not always easy. Some roofs, like on Nau/Gibson Hall, are complicated to access and require being “tied-off”, wearing safety gear, and/or being chaperoned by a Facilities Management roof expert. These roofs are considered to have fall risk and, therefore, would make the University liable in the event of a student injury or fall. These safety precautions may make our research more difficult, but they also seem to be found on roofs that would be the most effective study sites.

Our resources at Facilities Management listed the most available roofs for this kind of research: Special Collections, the annex to Garrett Hall, MR5, MR6, Thrust Theater, the Commerce School, South Lawn, and the UVa Hospital. They also recommended that we take a tour of these roofs, so that we can have a better idea of how each would fit into our project.

The UVa Hospital was an interesting suggestion, considering it is not a green roof. Facilities Management and Professor Beatley suggested we use this roof as a control so that we can compare green roofs against non-green roofs. What is even more interesting is that this roof is scheduled to be re-furbished as a green roof in the coming years. By studying this site, our team has the opportunity to set up a long-term study of the Hospital roof. We hope that future BioGrounds teams will continue our study and continue conducting research on the biophilia of the Hospital roof. It will be enlightening to see how biophilic elements change as the roof is converted from its current non-green state into its future green rooftop state.

It seems to me that UVa is making progress on becoming a more green University. Facilities Management made it clear that more green roofs were on the horizon and that their popularity is growing among University members. As the meeting closed, I asked if UVa would ever consider constructing green roofs that could remain completely accessible to students for leisure, recreational, and educational activities. While Facilities Management seemed interested in this concept, they had their doubts about it. However, they stated it could be a potential, especially in the Hospital area and on new buildings in the future. As we have learned in class, exposure to nature has healing power and I would be happy to see green roofs be utilized as a means for providing more natural environments for students to take advantage of.

Look out for our next blog post about our UVa green rooftop tour!

Post by Maddie Swartzwelder, Third-Year, Environmental Thought & Practice