A Green Roof for Beauty, Function, and Education

The green roof atop the new Roux Center for the Environment seems to spill out from under its fence onto the terrace. The visual effect of the garden pushing past its boundaries is lovely, but the design is actually more functional than aesthetic. With the garden underfoot and its plants within reach, students can interact with it, for class or research.

The green roof is 2,820 square feet; 350 square feet of it will be available for experimentation. The soil is six inches deep on the rooftop. The four raised planters have four extra inches of soil. At the moment, the garden is still young; it will take a year or two to get fully established, according to Bowdoin’s Director of Capital Projects Don Borkowski.

But it already has charm. “It’s beautiful and will get more beautiful, and it does contribute to the functioning of the building,” said Professor of Biology Barry Logan, a plant physiological ecologist who plans to incorporate the garden into some of his courses.

 

The roof garden is an important component of the building’s official environmental certification for two main reasons: It helps absorb storm-water runoff and it serves as insulation. Additionally, the native perennials planted in the roof—sweet fern, aster, bunchberry, bearberry, and low-bush blueberries—provide an ecological function, as they should attract pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and beetles.

So going forward students could perhaps study the plants’ pollination biology, physiology, or patterns of growth, comparing them to species growing in nearby native environments. Logan also suggested students might research the green roof’s water use around the year, through rainy and dry periods.

“The roof in effect becomes an additional field site,” he said. “It’s nice to have a green roof here that allows for the building to be a part of the educational mission, and not just a place that houses the educational mission of the College.”

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