Eco-Architecture | Creating Green Space in Urban Centres

Posted by under Ask the Pros

If you ever fly over Toronto during the day, you might notice that many of the roofs are covered in greenery.

In May 2009, Toronto City Council passed a bylaw stating that all new commercial buildings with a certain square footage must have at least a partial green roof. Other buildings, like the TD Centre’s banking pavilion, have also adopted the green-top initiative.

What is a green roof?

Essentially, a green roof is one that incorporates plants into its plan. Normally, green roofs can be explored, as sanctuaries on the top of skyscrapers, to get people away from the urban jungle and into a real one.

Typically, new developments create an oasis for residents, including benches, full-grown trees, picnic areas with barbecues, and even ponds and pools. Essentially, if you don’t have a park nearby, you might have one right above you.

Greenery in urban centres, especially large ones like Toronto and Montreal, can be hard to find. As environmental sustainability becomes a top priority for more Canadians, cities are realizing that air quality is a serious concern for city dwellers. With no room to drop in a park, architects are being more creative.

And not only do they offer actual environmental benefits, but psychological ones as well. Studies show that people like being close to nature—even the most urban people. Seeing greenery around the city, or even knowing that there is greenery nearby or on top of their buildings, entices people to buy and live in certain buildings and neighbourhoods.

The rise of sustainable buildings

Some designers are going one step further, pushing for buildings that embrace total sustainability.


The Bank of America Tower in New York City was the first high-rise building to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum-certified. Completed in 2009, this skyscraper stands 55 storeys tall and cost over $1 billion to build.

The tower is unique in that it has sustainability literally at its core: at night, excess electrical production from the building’s co-generation plant goes directly to cylindrical water tanks to provide cooling to the entire building during the day, alleviating the structure’s overall electrical need. The building also has waterless urinals, a greywater system that catches rainwater for reuse, and was partially developed with slag, a byproduct of blast furnaces.

The building’s lead architect, Serge Appel, says building green is not a trend, in an interview with “The idea of building green really is about building smarter, higher-performing buildings which are considerate of the people who live or work in them.” He and many other architects are converting more typical projects into buildings that future generations will be proud of, rather than buildings that will need to be converted and updated.

Other elements of sustainable skyscrapers include wind turbines, inclusion of more natural light, monitoring heating and lighting, solar panelling, low-energy products, and building with low-footprint materials.

Living with nature

Other architects are incorporating sustainable design with nature, embracing greenery in many more ways than a rooftop garden.


The Sustainability Treehouse, for example, is a one-of-a-kind educational and event space in the forests of West Virginia, and was one of the American Institute of Architect’s 2014 Top Ten Green Projects.

Not only does the multi-level Treehouse provide an exceptional vantage point into every part of the canopy, the centre has an arsenal of sustainable components: wind turbines, solar panels, and a water cleansing system. The centre teaches visitors young and old about the environment while immersing them in the forest.

Buildings like the Treehouse are becoming more and more common, as city dwellers want nature in their everyday lives, rather than having to escape the city on the weekends. Entire organizations, like the Canada Green Building Council, are dedicated to promoting and encouraging sustainable development. It’s only a matter of time until the majority of large urban projects embrace the environment, changing our cities forever.

Have an example of a great green building? Let us know in the comments!

InHabitat | Flickr: John McStravick

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