Climbing to the top of buildings to discover the hidden treasures of the roof and take in an almost-guaranteed magnificent view has long been one of my favorite distractions from my daily routine. In college, I often went with my friends to the top of one of the tallest buildings on our campus to feel the breeze, watch the evening lights of Los Angeles, and relax until the security guard told us to leave. The door to the roof was later locked and a silent security system installed, robbing us of our Wednesday evening fun. I always pictured roofs like this: an ugly, cemented space that hid the buildings’ giant air conditioners, usually had a corner janitorial closet, was always off limits, and yet contained beauty and refreshment unmatched elsewhere.
Outside of bars built on roofs to purposely create a romantic atmosphere, the first city roof I encountered that aligned with my own vision of a delightful and peaceful roof experience was the roof garden at the Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The roof of the building designed by Frank Ghery is a space with areas to sit, shady trees, herbs and edible flowers (used at Patina restaurant), and secret garden enclaves to enjoy in much the same way that you would a park.
Rooftop gardens are not an entirely new phenomenon, but as urban dwellers crave green and peaceful spaces within their city, and as the social, environmental, and economic value of these spaces increases, urban gardens are growing exponentially. This is nowhere more true than in Seoul, home of the CITYNET Secretariat and a capital long known for its grey skies and predictable skyline (skyscrapers and towering apartment buildings as far as the eye can see).
Since 2002, the Seoul City Government has been encouraging building owners to create rooftop gardens as part of its “Green Seoul” initiative. Although rooftop gardens provide a peaceful resting place for building employees and the public, they also bring other benefits by decreasing electricity costs, reducing standing water, creating cleaner air, serving as therapeutic areas in hospital buildings, growing food and herbs, and providing a green space for the public to play, learn, and gather together. These roofs are not without challenges, however. Live plants require water, a gardener, and regular attention. Roof leaks and roots coming through the building have forced some roof top gardens to close.
Nonetheless, as evidenced by their continued development and use, rooftop gardens are an increasingly valuable piece of the Seoul urban landscape and their size, design, and purpose is as diverse as the city is large. Even the roof of CITYNET’s building (The Seoul Global Center) has a garden, solar panels, and open spaces. Below are some of Seoul’s rooftop gardens. What do you think makes an ideal rooftop garden? Which rooftop gardens have you discovered in your city?
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