History of Green Roofs & the Urban Heat Island Effect


1810s: A chemist from Britain Luke Howard, discovers the urban heat island effect as he observed the difference in temperatures from London and rural areas near it. He concludes that crowded population and structure of the buildings retained more heat in the city. Howard, however, is not the only person who explored this phenomenon.  (Mills)

1931: United States’ first modern green roof is installed in Rockefeller Center, New York. It is now naturally the oldest commercial building with green roof in America. Developed and built by John R. Todd and Raymond Hood respectively, the Center has a total of five roof gardens that add beautiful greenspace in Midtown Manhattan but also effectively mitigates the city’s heat island effect. (Magill & Midden & Groninger & Therrell)

1961: Reinhard Bornkamm is a researcher at Berlin’s Free University who is internationally known to be the father of modern green roofs. He published his work on green roofs in Germany and marked the beginning of increased further green technology research. Green roofs began to gain attention and popularity throughout Europe. (Metropolismagazine)

1970: GENO Haus is a government sponsored green roof built in Germany that remained functional until 1990. It was made of a Styrofoam base. It is not a surprise it was made in Germany considering that Germany is a leading adapter of green infrastructure. (Metropolismagazine)

1971: Gerda Gollwitzer and Werner Wirsing, early pioneers of green roof technology published Roof Areas Inhabited, Viable and Covered by Vegetation. It outlined the modern green-roof concept. (Solomon)

1975: The German Landscape Research, Development & Construction Society is founded. It “established widely followed green-roof standards” and has remained the basic tool for reliable green roof construction for many years. (Metropolismagazine & Philippi)

1986: Friedensreich Hundertwasser builds a colorful apartment house in Vienna, Austria that has grass, plants, flowers and trees covering its roof as well as its sides and balconies. Some green roofs resemble a forest and interestingly, in one of them, compose toliets from its residents fertilizes the green roof. His green infrastructures are recognized as landmarks, supporting the argument that people find greenspaces esthetically pleasing. (Metropolismagazine)

1989: By the end of 1980s, one million square meters of green roofs are installed in Germany. (Magill & Midden & Groninger & Therrell)

1993: In Dietikon, Switzerland, architect Peter Vetsch builds nine concrete residential homes “buried in earth and grass.” Grass covers the homes entirely except for the entrances. Some home roof tops are used as gardens while others simply as sitting areas. (Metropolismagazine & Greenroofs.org)

1995: Emilio Ambasz, an Argentine born US architect, “transposes a 100,000 square foot park in the city center onto 15 terraces of a new government building” in Fukuoka Japan. The staircase-shaped rooftop garden is a beautiful juxtaposition of nature and the city. (Metropolismagazine)

1995: 700 people in Chicago died from a heat-wave; displayed the seriousness of urban heat. (NYC Department of Design & Construction)

1996: By the end of 1990s, ten million square meters of green roofs are installed in Germany because of government policy and state legislation that encourage eco-friendly green infrastructure. (Magill & Midden & Groninger & Therrell)

1997: William McDonough creates Gap Headquarters in San Bruno, California. It includes a 69,000 square-foot green roof. (Metropolismagazine)

1998: Impressed by green roofs in Germany, Mayor Richard M. Daley “directs municipal funds toward green-roof development” in Chicago, US. (Metropolismagazine)

1998: In Washington, D.C., “the U.S. Green Building Council created the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design rating system: green roofs can contribute toward up to six points on the 69-point system.” (Metropolismagazine)

1999: In Toronto, Canada, Steven W. Peck forms Green Roofs for Healthy Cities designed to promote the application of green roofs in North America by public and private organizations. (Solomon)

2000: June 29: Study showed 5C to 2C decrease in temperature from green roof infrastructure in Toronto. (Bass)

2001: “William McDonough and landscape architects Conservation Design Forum install the country’s first municipal green roof on Chicago’s City hall.” Greatly effective for lowering the city’s overall temperature, 7 degrees lower on average and 30 degrees lower in the summer compared to its neighboring roofs. (Metropolismagazine & Chicagogreenroofs.org)

2002: The final report of New York City Regional Heat Island Initiative included test results demonstrating green roofs, a heat island mitigation strategy, directly lowering surface temperatures of the buildings in NYC. (NYSERDA)

2003: In New York, Rafael Pelli and Diana Balmori designed the first green residential building in North America named the Solaire, which includes two green roofs. (Metropolicmagazine)

2003: Total of 35,000 people, 14,000 in France alone, died from the European heat wave in August. (NYC Department of Design & Construction)

2004: Millennium Park in Chicago is the largest green rooftop garden in the world. “The park extends 24.5 acres over underground parking garages.” (Metropolismagazine)

2006: Research has shown that “green roof infrastructure could reduce average surface temperatures in New York City by as much as 1.4F (0.8C) if 50% of the city’s flat roofs are greened.” (Gaffin & Parshall)

2008: “Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, New York is the first Platinum LEED high-rise office building will include a 4,500 square foot green roof on a connecting building.” This green roof reduces the urban heat island effect in New York City. (Metropolismagazine)

2008: November: A 950 square foot roof on a residential house in Brooklyn Heights, NY was completed. (New York Green Roofs)

2008: June: Staircase-style green roof for a commercial building in Midtown Manhattan that is 10,900 square foot big was completed; built mostly for esthetic purposes.

2008: A 400 square foot green roof atop a residential building in Brooklyn Heights, NY was completed. (New York Green Roofs)

2009: In Lower East side of Manhattan lays a 2,950 square foot green roof and this “commercial residence project features a prevegetated extensive green roof system installed within an abstract paving grid to create a striking contemporary design.” (New York Green Roofs)

2009: November: Green roof on one of Columbia University’s residential buildings in the Upper West Side was completed. It is 11,600 square foot with vegetated green roof mats. (New York Green Roofs)

2010: Mayor Bloomberg announced his PlaNYC initiative to increase green roofs in New York City to decrease storm water runoff and meet the plan’s goal of making “90 percent of City waterways suitable for recreation” by reducing storm water overflow with green technologies. (PlaNYC)

2010: November: One of the biggest green roofs in New York City. 19,000 square foot green roof was completed on top of Beth Israel Hospital near Union Square. This green space is exclusive and only accessible to “tenants of four surrounding residential towers”. Its deep soil is effective for mitigating storm water runoff, a problem the city needs to address. (New York Green Roofs)

2010: NYC Green Roof Property Tax Abatement Program is established to encourage environmentally friendly buildings. Benefits of a one-year Tax Abatement include $4.5 per square foot of green roof and as much as $100,000. There are nine requirements for a green roof to qualify for an abatement including a drainage layer, insulation layer, and a vegetation layer. This program is the city’s effort to encourage building owners to install green roofs to mitigate the increasing temperature in urban areas. (nyc.gov/buildings & Rosenberg)

2011: September: A small project for residents in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan was completed. Only about 150 square foot built for “mental well-being” of the people. (New York Green Roofs)

2011: November: Installation for green roof on top of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s new Visitor Center was completed. (New York Green Roofs)

2012: New roof top outdoor venue was created for Brooklyn Academy of Music located in Brooklyn, NY. (New York Green Roofs)

2012: May: A green roof project in Midtown. It is about 7,000 square foot big and truly a beautiful combination of grass and flowers right next to the living room’s door. Also decorated with comfortable chairs and small tables. (New York Green Roofs)


1. Rosenberg, Tina. “Green Roofs in Big Cities Bring Relief From Above.” The New York Times. 23 May 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013 <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/in-urban-jungles-green-roofs-bring-relief-from-above/>

2. “NYC Green Roof Property Tax Abatement Program.” Nyc.gov/buildings. Jan. 2010. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.<http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/downloads/pdf/green_roof_tax_abatement_info.pdf>.

3. Mills, Gerald. “Luke Howard and the Climate of London.” RMetS 63.6 (2008): 153-57. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1002/wea.195/asset/195_ftp.pdf;jsessionid=218882249241785F150BE7135F815EBA.d04t01?v=1&t=hefzrwjn&s=01196a83d750a5789d0816f3f1cbf28abf08c143>.

4. Magill, John D.; Midden, Karen; Groninger, John; and Therrell, Matthew, “A History and Definition of Green Roof Technology with Recommendations for Future Research” (2011).Research Papers.Paper 91.

5. Bass, Brad. “Mitigrating the Urban Heat Island with Green Roof Infrastructure” Accessed February 19, 2013. http://www.cleanairpartnership.org/pdf/finalpaper_bass.pdf.

6. Rosenzweig, Cynthia; Gaffin, Stuart; Parshall, Lily. “Green Roofs in the New York Metropolitan Region” Accessed February 19, 2013. http://www.statisticstutors.com/articles/debrat-green-roofs.pdf.

7. Rosenzweig, Cynthia; Solecki, William; Parshall, Lily; Gaffin, Stuart; Lynn, Barry; Goldberg, Richard’ Cox, Jennifer; Hodges, Sara. “Mitigrating New York City’s Heat Island with Urban Forestry, Living Roofs, and Light Surfaces” Accessed February 19, 2013. http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20060130/103341.pdf.

8. Rosenzweig, Cynthia; Solecki, William D.; Slosberg, Ronald B. “Mitigrating New York City’s Heat Island with Urban Forestry, Living Roofs, and Light Surfaces” Accessed February 19, 2013. http://www.fs.fed.us/ccrc/topics/urban-forests/docs/NYSERDA_heat_island.pdf.

9. Solomon, Nancy B. “Vegitation Systems Atop Buildings Yield Multiple Environmental Benefits.” Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <http://classes.uofk.edu/file.php/274/Reading_4-green_roof_03-2003-01.pdf>.

10. Philippi, Peter M. “Introduction to the German FLL-Guideline for the Planning, Execution and Upkeep of Green-roof Sites.” Epa.gov. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <http://www.epa.gov/region8/greenroof/pdf/IntroductiontotheGermanFLL2.pdf>

11. “New York Green Roofs- Projects.” New York Green Roofs. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <http://newyorkgreenroofs.com/projects>

12. “DDC Cool & Green Roofing Manual.” Nyc.gov. New York City Department of Design & Construction, Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/downloads/pdf/cool_green_roof_man.pdf>.


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