living roofs

I have a bit of a thing about grassy roofs. Green, herby, living patches of turf adorning the roofs above our heads. Mossy, breathing, soily and elementary – hobbity and understated and modern at once.

It’s the way they cross boundaries, merging living plants and foliagey nature with practical, pragmatic design and real building solutions. 

It’s all part of my slight obsession with Peter Zumthor and his deliciously earthy, enigmatic architectural design.

Like the art of Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Lang or even Anthony Gormley (in particluar, Ironmen at Crosby Beach), Zumthor’s architecture flows from the land, it takes a lead from the crinkles or sweeps of the earth, the local materials and natural watercouses that define and shape the area.

Zumthor’s buildings hum with energy and life, but sit serene and mysterious. His Thermal baths at Vals (with their seasonal living roofs) look and feel as if they have been hewn out of the surrounding mountain rock and water, reflective and flowing, binds it all together.  The brand new building and the prehistoric land merge and fit each other. It draws us in to the landscape and connects us to the space, adding another dimension to the constantly changing transcience of a natural scene.

Back to grass roofs. I hear that the UK’s largest grass roof is being built at Hemel Hempstead. Yards and yards of lovely elevated green grass and I feel strangely unexcited.

The reason? It is crowning an indoor ski slope. I know that we are not blessed with the geographical loveliness of Graubunden, but it’s just so horribly poetic that our largest grass roof will be sitting on top of a few hundred tonnes of atmospherically controlled, energy-intesive, chemically-laden, not at all natural man-made snow. In Hertfordshire.

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