Book Review: Green Roofs in Sustainable Landscape Design

Green Roofs in Sustainable Landscape Design by Steven L. Cantor, published by W. W. Norton, 2008. Hardcover, 320 pages. (Amazon)

In this large-format book on the increasingly popular practice of green roofs in urban conditions, New York-based landscape architect Steven L. Cantor aims to provide basic information and instill in the reader the vocabulary and technology needed to understand and make decisions about such an undertaking. He splits the book into six chapters, presenting an overview of green roofs, details on plant selection and other technical aspects, green roof precedents in Europe (the book is written for an American audience, but Cantor acknowledges how advanced Europe is with green roof technology and design), case studies, and trends that point the way for future developments. Depending on the reader's knowledge of green roofs, certain chapters are more helpful than others; for example, a landscape architect might only be interested in the case studies and trends, while an owner trying to determine if he or she will install a green roof will find the overview extremely valuable, be baffled by the technical chapter and enjoy the visuals for the precedents and case studies. The varied content allows this book to be worthwhile for a larger and more diverse audience than the title portends.
For this reader the overview helped nail down the terms common in the construction of green roofs, and the case studies presented a diverse range of applications of the different types (intensive vs. extensive, flat vs. sloped, etc.), making the first chapter come to life, if you will. Projects like the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Millennium Park in Chicago and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco are good examples of the range of ideas and outcomes available with green roofs. The first illustrates how green roofs on a building can become an extension of the trees and other green site features, the second shows how green roofs (combine with other infrastructure and building) can activate urban voids created from early industrialization and make an impact on a larger scale, and the third expressive the formal innovation and architectural integration possible with these green surfaces. The book rounds itself out with a bibliography, additional resources, and specifications for the professional. All tolled, the book is a very good overview and reference for architects and other involved in green roofs, not just landscape architects. Future editions would be most welcome, as the United States sees more installations and more research on this important aspect of sustainability.