Redefining the 17th floor of the historic Western Publishing Building, this 6,500 square-foot living roof design establishes a biophilic transformation of the office environment and daily employee experience. Originally designed by Emery Roth and Sons in 1963, the building’s structure was not constructed to support additional weight on the roof and required additional reinforcement
The terrace design synthesizes strict structural, code and budgetary restraints with contemporary green roof and horticultural practices to develop a sustainable retrofit of the fifty year-old building. A lush, sculpted garden wraps the building and visually merges interior office spaces with a serene meadow landscape, layered in contrast to its dense urban context. The entire roof garden required careful engineering to knit with building infrastructure to meet structural load restrictions, withstand potential wind code compliance to prevent potential storm uplift and harmonize with the restrained simplicity of the historic modernist architecture.
ROLE OF THE ENTRANT:
The landscape architect led the roof garden terrace design vision from concept through construction administration, which included all surface materials, green roof and planting infrastructure, custom seating and planter elements, and strict coordination with the architect and structural engineer. The landscape architect also established supporting lighting design concepts and coordination with the lighting design consultant. Post construction landscape management practices were established by the landscape architect with the landscape contractor to ensure plant establishment, sustainable growing conditions and maintenance procedures to uphold aesthetic intentions.
The roof garden is designed to visually expand and embed various office work environments into a sculpted meadow landscape floating in the dense city skyline. Wrapping and unifying the terrace, the garden forms an elongated meadow undulating across the narrow roof surface as a rolling topographic relief in contrast to the building’s restrained architectural geometries. The topographic surface is manipulated to accentuate depth of view from interior spaces through the landscape and highlight the vegetated horizon line against the urban backdrop.
The office interior links with the exterior via a series of wooden platforms embedded in the landscape creating flexible “break-out” meeting spaces and places of respite for office employees. The intimate garden rooms connect with a perimeter path system bordered by a transparent protection fence and wind screen which visually frame and integrate the landscape with building architecture.
On the northwestern side of the building, linking with an employee break room, an additional isolated roof space is transformed into an outdoor golf putting green providing a whimsical gaming retreat instantly popular with staff.
The garden composition weaves seasonal colors and textures providing a dynamic tapestry with year-round visual interest. Growing in within a shallow 6” growing medium profile, the bold planting design emphasizes the rolling surface form with varied plant heights, color and texture. The braided collections are composed of inter-planted grasses, perennials and spring bulbs accented by sculptural flowering trees in specific structural locations.
The unique "gardenesque" meadow design is comprised mostly of native and regionally adapted plants. The sophisticated, multi-seasonal plant palette expands the horticultural range typically associated with extensive green roof applications and establishes a painterly composition of tough, drought tolerant plant species able to endure the extreme growing conditions on the roof.
BIOPHILIC DESIGN IN THE WORKSPACE: Who would expect to experience an undulating wildflower meadow suspended 17 floors above Midtown Manhattan? Staff feedback on the impact of the garden’s presence in their daily work experience includes measurable improvements in productivity, creative thinking and improved sense of well-being. Some employees report they feel fortunate to work in an office environment with a roof garden and their clients are always impressed to have a meeting in the garden. While other employees relay that outdoor lunches with colleagues improve morale. The most frequent compliments we hear pertain to garden’s dramatic changes through each season, movement in the wind and the rare ability to observe local wildlife (bees, butterflies, birds and lady bugs, in particular) going about their business in the city. Most employees have also commented that they are now more aware of urban green space, native flowers and living roofs since experiencing what life is like when working among a garden.