All posts by slapp

Green Roofs

Op Het Dak’s rooftop garden and what Raleigh could learn

While we were in the Netherlands, our group had the chance to visit several sites that put their rooftops to use in creative ways. One that I found particularly interesting was Op Het Dak in Rotterdam. Op Het Dak is a rooftop garden with a bistro that overlooks Rotterdam’s city center. Instead of letting their rooftop be a waste of space, they allow it to serve many functions leading to an array of benefits. Increasing green space and decreasing impervious surface on a roof helps the city better manage storm water runoff. This will become even more important as the climate is changing and larger volumes of water fall during a given rainstorm. This specific installation stored rainwater under the initial layer so that plants were able to absorb the water during dry periods. By implementing green roofs, cities can use this space in a way that helps them to be more resilient to the effects of climate change. Rotterdam is even paying half of the cost for green roofs when implemented on private rooftops. They are doing this because they realize that it is cheaper to help subsidize the costs of these projects as opposed to investing in large-scale water/sewage infrastructure. These projects have other environmental implications such as absorbing heat to reduce the city’s urban heat island effect, while making the buildings more energy efficient. These types of installations on roofs are perfect for cities looking to manage their storm water runoff in a way that is cheaper and doesn’t involve large infrastructure investments. Another important aspect of Op Het Dak’s rooftop is its garden. This garden produces produce that is used at the rooftop bistro, as well as providing flowers for local restaurants and businesses. Volunteers are allowed to help work in the garden during special times, which is a good way for citizens to get involved and learn more about the importance of rooftop gardens while establishing connections with those that they are working with. The green roof and the garden incorporate plants that attract pollinators, which make a great home for the beehive located on the roof. This is both important for increasing pollinators and biodiversity in an urban environment, as well as for educating the volunteers and patrons of the bistro about the significance of pollinators. Using the produce from the garden in the bistro allows customers to have access to fresh food while exposing them to how it is grown. This helps create a stronger connection between people and the food that they consume because they can see where it is coming from and the people who help grow it. Op Het Dak provides citizens with a rare oasis of green space in the middle of the city center. This project has, in turn, helped increase the investment in the surrounding area making it more attractive to the city. This site incorporates a creative use of space yet a fairly simple idea, which can be easily replicated. As the population continues to grow, cities will have to use their space more efficiently, and Op Het Dak serves as a good example for how to do so. The variety of functions that a project like this brings are useful for cities trying to revitalize their downtown because it increases the value of the surrounding land, leading to further investment in the area, as well as the project being environmentally conscience, which is necessary for planning sustainable and resilient cities.

The green roof on the building serves as a home for pollinators, while helping manage stormwater runoff and reducing the city’s urban heat island effect.
Flowers on the rooftop garden that are sold for local restaurants to use in their stores. Until picked for an arrangement, they serve as a great home to pollinators and make for a lovely view.
Our group exploring the rooftop garden before eating lunch at the rooftop restaurant. This section of rooftop houses a beehive, produce to be harvested, flowers, and a place to compost.
Op Het Dak is the rooftop bistro and garden located in Rotterdam. Here, they grow fresh produce for their restaurant while providing green space for their patrons to enjoy while they look out over Rotterdam’s city center.

As an urban area like Raleigh continues to grow, they must be foreword thinking in how they use space available to them, while doing so in a way that is good for the environment and green roofs are a perfect way forward. Raleigh could learn from European countries like Germany and the Netherlands, or even a city closer to home like Chicago. Some multifunctional roofs are present in Raleigh, but the city could take this opportunity to be a leader in green roofs in the southeast. Projects like these would be important in lowering the cities energy use, especially since cooling takes up the largest share in electricity usage for buildings. Green roofs would not only have environmental consequences like better storm water management, increasing urban air quality, and decreasing urban heat island effect, but it would also make the city more attractive for future growth. These features can also serve as an opportunity for public education on the importance of such projects. Furthermore, the city could partner with NC State’s engineering and architecture departments to help design green roof plans to take advantage of local knowledge, while giving students real world experience. On top of the economic opportunities Raleigh has to offer, these installations would make the city more appealing for young professionals. This would lead to more companies being drawn to the area, further setting the city apart from its peers. Many companies are looking to settle in areas that have a strong pool of young professionals and that are environmentally friendly. This is a good example of how the built environment plays a role in impacting the economics of a city.

-Stephen Lapp

Introduction to Hamburg

Harbor tour and a walk through St. Pauli

“Welcome to Hell.” This is what we read on signs and graffiti as we exited the Hamburg train station. As we made our way to the hotel, we saw similar signs that all expressed an anti G20 sentiment. In the days leading up to our arrival, thousands were protesting capitalism, climate polices and globalization, among other issues, but some of the protests became violent. Rioters took to the streets smashing windows, looting stores, and starting fires, all of which left the streets littered with a tremendous amount of glass. The initial shock of the past events were eased as we saw citizen after citizen walking along the streets with their children and friends to clean up the glass off of the streets. It was a beautiful to me to see such citizen involvement and participation from the people of Hamburg in order to heal the wounds that were inflicted upon their city.

Our tour guide, Ralph, explaining to our group how the public are involved in the design of developments in Hamburg.

Later in the day, we went with our guide, Ralph, on a tour of Hamburg’s harbor. Walking to the harbor, we saw multipurpose water barriers. When these water barriers are not in use, they are simply steps and a place for people to walk or watch the water. However, these devices can elongate on rails adjacent to them in order to prevent water from going into the streets. The Port of Hamburg is located on the river Elbe, and it is Germany’s largest port. This busy harbor is home for an array of ships including container carriers, tankers, cruise ships, and many others. The depth of the harbor is an issue that it is currently dealing with. The present depth of the harbor is not deep enough for larger world ships to come through the port, and there is discussion about whether or not it should be dredged in order to accommodate them. Many environmentalists are concerned with the ecological implications of dredging. Also, the city has been struggling with the EU Commission as well as the people living in the surrounding area over these issues.

The boat that took our group around the Port of Hamburg. Our tour guide narrated the harbour tour.

After the harbor tour, we walked through some of the St. Pauli district of Hamburg. In this area, there is a lot of public participation in influencing governmental decisions. For instance, there have been areas where companies have tried to kick out tenants, but locals have occupied the buildings to ensure that there is housing for those of low income. Because of these public actions, the government created a new participation process to increase public engagement and input from the citizens for the architects and planners to use. This plan led to pictures being put up to illustrate what a space could look like, and the public would then, in turn comment, on the proposal. This idea allows designs to put people first while showing that the city belongs to all.

Another strong example of public engagement was seen through the Garten Deck in St. Pauli. The Garten Deck incorporates flowers, beehives, compost, and seating for the public to enjoy. This urban garden was formed as a self-organized space that demonstrated to politicians the desire and need for public space within the city.

-Stephen Lapp

Delta Works

Delta Works flood protection infrastructure

Our day was spent traveling to Deltapark Neeltje Jans to learn about the Delta Works projects. Deltapark Neeltje Jans is both a theme park and a Delta Works educational center. Throughout the Netherlands’ history, they have benefited from being in close proximity to the sea, but the sea has also been a great source of danger. Since a large portion of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the country has had to create innovative systems to protect from flooding. The Delta Works are the largest flood protection system in the world and include storm surge barrier, dikes, dams and sluice gates.

This exhibit was located in the Delta Expo and is an overview of water infrastructure constructed from the Delta Works projects.

After we arrived, we explored the Delta Experience. The Delta Experience is a lively visual that took us back to the night of January 31,1953 where we witnessed the devastation that occurred during the North Sea Flood of 1953. During this flood, seawater breached the dikes destroying homes, roads, telephone lines, and sweeping away many people and livestock. This visual gave us a glimpse at what that night was like for those affected as well as educating us about how the Dutch responded.

A small scale replica of the Eastern storm surge barrier.

After the Delta Experience, our group watched a brief film that provided further information about the systems the Netherlands implemented to protect from flooding. In response to the traumatic flood of 1953, the government initiated the Delta projects to provide security from the water. We learned that they began construction with smaller dams first in order to get a better understanding of the building process and to gain the experience to construct the larger projects. Some of the techniques used during construction were borrowed from the military such as the use of caissons, which had been used for quick formation of artificial harbors. They also created new techniques such as using mats to protect the seafloor from being eroded.

The location we were visiting was the Easter Scheldt, and it was considered to be a complex area of the Delta Works projects due to the large amount of water flowing in and out with the tide. Because this area is an estuary, it provides habitat and resources for numerous species. Debate began over whether or not the Eastern Scheldt would be sealed off or remain tidal, but they finally decided on a storm surge barrier that would allow water to flow in and out. I thought this was very interesting because the health of the environment was considered during this project, and many times decisions are made without thinking about how it could cause adverse effects in other areas.

Sea level markers located on the storm surge barrier. The bottom marker is 3m above average sea level and the gates will close when water is predicted reach this mark or higher. The top mark is where the water levels were during the Flood of 1953.

One of the most exciting parts of our day was actually getting to visit the storm surge barrier. I had seen images of the barrier, but it was impressive to see in person. The storm surge barrier was completed in 1986. The barrier closes whenever sea level are predicted to be 3 meters or higher. Water level forecasts are determined from a constant supply of data coming from weather and water monitoring systems on land and out at sea. This data is then used in computer simulations to predict tide levels 10 hours in advance. Decision makers can make the call to close the gates when they receive these predictions, but the gates are also capable of closing by themselves incase of an emergency. They had a museum in the interior of the storm surge barrier that provided us with information as we moved through the facility.

Students walking through the storm surge barrier. The black gate on the left closes when sea levels are expected to be 3m or higher.

This was the second piece of large-scale flood protection infrastructure that we had visited on our trip in the Netherlands; several days before, our group visited the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier. They have taken aggressive steps to combat flooding and have done so in a proactive way, which is important because this issue will only continue to worsen as sea level continues to rise. This is very important as the rest of the world turns to the Netherlands to learn how to implement water management infrastructure. The United States has already felt the affects of climate change with storms like Hurricane Sandy or with urban flooding in Miami. As the climate continues to warm, sea level will rise and storms will become more unpredictable and cities need to be prepared to manage the water that will accompany.

Water flowing through the storm surge barrier. This is important to ensure that water can flow through the gate to preserve the ecology of the area.

-Stephen Lapp