Interdisciplinary green roof effort to engage wide variety of students

green roof graphic

Green roof technology mitigates ecological stresses from urban development such as flooding, urban heat islands, air pollution and drought prevention.

Next fall, students from a variety of academic programs at Texas A&M University will begin collaborating on an interdisciplinary, three-year project to install and monitor a green roof and living wall atop a campus building; an initiative aimed at preparing students to become leaders in energy conservation and resource management, said Bruce Dvorak, an assistant professor of landscape architecture who is spearheading the effort.

The project is funded by a $300,000 Texas A&M reallocation grant for enhancing students’ preparation for the workplace and society through high-impact learning experiences.

Green roofs have many benefits, such as reducing the “urban heat island” effect by absorbing light that would otherwise turn into heat energy, absorbing storm water and decreasing runoff, improving air quality and turning an unused space into a potential commercial or recreational space.

“A living wall, said Dvorak, “is a vegetated wall designed to achieve benefits similar to green roofs, but much less is known about its performance.”

Though alternative campus sites for the rooftop project are currently under consideration, once under way, Dvorak said, the effort will engage up to 1000 students in three colleges from at least seven undergraduate programs, including architecture, construction science, environmental geosciences, environmental studies, landscape architecture, horticulture and meteorology.

“Green roof technology evolved in Europe to mitigate ecological stresses from urban development such as flooding, urban heat islands, air pollution, and drought prevention,” said Dvorak. “In North America, green roof research is beginning to demonstrate similar benefits; however, research in southern U.S. climates is lacking behind the northern U.S.”

The project will add to the findings from green roof research Dvorak began in 2009 atop the Langford Architecture Center.

In the project’s first year, he said, students will have learning experiences well beyond a traditional classroom setting, as they build, install and maintain all of the elements of the green roof, including physical structures, standard meteorological and soil monitoring instrumentation, planning and plant maintenance, manual measurement and associated live and stored data processing and display.

An online interface for the project will also be developed, benefiting not only students, but the community at large, said Dvorak. Astrid Volder, assistant professor of horticultural sciences and Don Conlee, instructional associate professor of atmospheric sciences, will also be involved with the project.

After the roof is established, students will install monitoring instrumentation and construct a living wall.

“Future leaders will need hands-on experiences to understand expectations and limitations of ‘green’ technologies because they are becoming encouraged and mandated in North American cities,” Dvorak said.

The project, he added, will also raise awareness of “green” technologies, demonstrate the feasibility of their widespread use of green roofs, and train a new generation of practitioners in the green economy while providing faculty, students and administrators with an opportunity to better understand performance expectations of green roofs and living walls in a safe and controlled setting. The project will also provide opportunities for additional graduate and undergraduate research, he said.

The most famous green roof in the U.S., perhaps, sits on Chicago’s City Hall. The Washington, D.C. headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects sports a green roof, as does a U.S. Post Office building in Manhattan.

posted April 4, 2012