WASHINGTON — Green roofs provide potential for recreational, aesthetic and ecofriendly space, and as the appeal of sustainable roofing grows, Washington area residents continue to find colorful alternatives to just being green.
At a glance from the sidewalk, it appears Jeff Miller lives in a typical Georgetown row home. But a quick climb up a ladder through the skylight in his bathroom reveals another dimension to his house, where about 240,000 honeybees buzz atop the roof.
Miller bought his first beehive several years ago to provide pollinators for his garden, he said, and later founded D.C. Honeybees to propagate more bees in the city.
It’s this type of innovation that puts a personal spin on eco-friendly city living, said Kat Harrold, assistant green roof designer at Green Roof Service in Bel Air.
“In terms of the overall quality of life in an urban area, it’s one of the best things you can do,” Harrold said. “If you can basically turn your roof into your backyard, whether it be for gardening for just hanging out, I think that would be a tremendous resource.”
And if a roof can be converted to a backyard, why not use it for the Italian lawn game bocce?
Last month, the D.C. Bocce League’s Columbia Heights Division kicked off its fall season on a grassy plot atop the Highland Park apartment complex. That was the league’s first time playing eight stories above the city.
“We needed to run a fall league somewhere, and it’s hard to find space on Saturday,” said John Groth, the league’s co-founder and marketing director for the Highland Park building’s contractor, Donatelli Development.
Harrold said zoning regulations and weight capacities are the main restrictions on rooftop use.
“It’s not as heavy as a lot of people think it is, but the bottom line is (its) structure has to be sound for you to add anything to it or even just hang out on it,” Harrold said.
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission employees are not spending time on the roofs of their Laurel office building, but workers on the upper floors have cubicles with a view. The two lower roofs, totaling 8,600 square feet, portray mirror images of red and gray zigzags — an abstraction of a riverbed, according to Heidi Lippman, the roof’s designer.
From 12 stories up, it’s hard to tell the work of art, “River Run,” is composed of locally quarried gravel, but the design is a roofing option that helps cool the building and requires much less upkeep than the plants that commonly cover newer green roofs.
“This is a way of introducing color without the issue of introducing maintenance, like water,” said Lippman, a public works and studio artist who created two other rooftop designs in the Washington suburbs.
Employees at Artery Plaza in Bethesda enjoy a similar view of “Aerialscape 1,” which covers 9,600 square feet of roof space.
Lippman said she hopes her pieces inspire other sustainable innovations.
“I hope it helps people think about what they can do with their environment that is ingenious and simple and beautiful,” she said.
As development booms, using rooftops for more than just shingle space is an increasingly popular trend, and some city residents create miniature green roofs without even realizing it.
“While they may not necessarily know what a green roof is, it kind of just starts out as a series of potted plants on their roofs,” Harrold said.
Groth said the grass atop Highland Park and its twin turf lawn on the roof of Kenyon Heights condominiums across the street were never intended as bocce courts, but the buildings have become known for the sport, providing a marketing tool for the developer drawing in potential residents.
“We didn’t call them anything before,” Groth said. “We just called it a ‘turf lawn’ or ‘grass lawn,’ and now we refer to them in all our projects as ‘bocce green lawns.'”
Lauren Pinch, manager of D.C. Bocce’s Columbia Heights Division, said it’s only natural for city dwellers to keep moving up in search of new hangouts.
“Roofs in the city are kind of social space,” she said.
Although green space in cities doesn’t come as naturally, the interest in variations on sustainable roofs has blossomed.
Initially, Miller said he was unaware of Washington’s sizeable bee-loving community, and he aimed to place five hives throughout the district. He sold 65 last year, he said, and about 35 of them are within city lines — eight of which happily buzz on Miller’s roof.
“They kinda sold themselves,” Miller said. “In D.C. there’s a keen awareness of sustainability.”