Thursday, August 5, 2010

CH2's Rooftop Garden: Success or Failure?

Standing at the corner of Little Collins and Swanston Street, Council House 2 (CH2) is one of the most inspiring, environmentally friendly buildings in Melbourne. It is described as the "Eco-Office Block of the Future" and has been awarded a 6 Green Star Rating (as discussed in a previous post.) So, when I learnt that CH2 was opening up its rooftop garden to the public during Melbourne Open House 2010, I was intrigued! Given the strong environmental focus of the building, I expected an exemplary rooftop garden that would be the project's crowning glory! 

Despite my enthusiasm for the rest of the building, I was very disappointed by the rooftop garden. The City of Melbourne's website claims that the rooftop garden "...blurs the boundaries between art and horticulture." There was not very much horticulture (the plants visible in these photos are about the extent of it), and I could not see much of the so-called art! In the photo below, you can see the rock wall feature, whereby a number of rocks have been stuck onto the lurid yellow walls. Artistically, this seems quite naïve, and looks more like a tacky rock-climbing wall than a blending of art and horticulture!  

Secondly, according to the official website and our tour leader, the garden aims to transcend its urban environment and reflect the Bush. This clichéd theme has already been done to death by every tourism campaign, national airline company, and pretty much anyone else in need of a 'safe' theme for a garden, foyer, parade or exhibition! Unfortunately, CH2 lacks the creativity that could have led to a fresh and interesting reinterpretation of this theme. I also think it is a shame that CH2 did not consider adopting a more original theme altogether. Melbourne has plenty of iconic characteristics that could have inspired a better result. Meanwhile, if one looks overseas for inspiration, there are plenty of rooftop gardens which have reflected the unique characteristics of their location in an original, artistic and environmentally friendly way. In the USA, for example, the grassy, undulating rooftop of the Californian Academy of Sciences building reflects the iconic, hilly topography of San Francisco (photo below). This clever design also contributes to the 'greenness' of the entire building. Using the natural process of cooling air as it flows downhill, the cool air is then sucked down towards the glass ceiling which is opened at night to allow for natural ventilation and cooling of the whole building.

While the Californian Academy of Sciences had a much larger space (and budget) with which to work, there are examples of rooftop gardens in Melbourne that show the exciting possibilities that are achievable here. One of my favourites is the ultra-stylish Origin Energy rooftop garden at 278 Flinders Lane. Instead of rehashing old, clichéd themes, it uses its own brand as inspiration and emphasises innovation and sustainability. The garden is seamlessly segmented into different sections - high and low, public and private, sunlit and shaded. The video below gives a sense of how expertly this space has been used with regard to practicality, aesthetics and the environment (and yes the landscape designer interviewed is Jamie Durie..)

Origin Energy Rooftop Garden (278 Flinders Lane)
Photo Credit: Linking Landmark Email Newsletter #39 (from

Although I do not believe that the CH2 rooftop garden is reaching its potential, I am still excited by the possibility for its improvement and hope that more rooftop gardens will spring up around the city! Australia has been very slow in creating rooftop gardens compared to the rest of the world. Other countries have made foliage mandatory on any new, flat-roof buildings (in Germany, this has been encouraged since the 1960s and became law in 1989). The benefits of 'green roofs' are numerous: they reduce energy consumption by lowering heat absorption of buildings; reduce stormwater run-offs; provide carbon offset; beautify urban areas; and, when made into gardens, can be used for recreation by city inhabitants/workers. Here are some magnificent examples of  green rooftops and gardens  from around the world! 

Chicago's City Hall  
Photo Credit: National Geographic

419 Lafayette Street, Lower Manhattan, New York City

Near the Arc de Triomphe, Paris 

Mountain Equipment Co-Op Building, Toronto, Canada (1998)

 ACROS Fukuoka Building, Japan (1995)

With inspiration from around the world, I would love to see lots of original, exciting rooftop gardens spring up in Melbourne. As the director of the International Green Roof Association, Wolfgang Ansel, says, "if we steal the ground for a building we can give it back to nature on the roof!" What do you think about CH2's rooftop garden - is it currently a success or a failure? Have you seen any other interesting rooftop gardens around Melbourne (or anywhere else in the world?)


City of Melbourne Website:
Green Building Council of Australia Website:
Melbourne Open House 2010 Official Brochure 
Tour guide talks 
Californian Academy of Sciences Website:
Origin Energy Website: 
National Geographic Website:

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