Rice University
Rice Magazine| The Magazine of Rice University | No. 1 | 2008

Taking the Heat

Most roofs are built to keep water out, but the green roof slated for several new Rice buildings will actually drink it in. That’s because the roof — which recently debuted over the South Plant’s electrical room and will also be added to Duncan College, the Collaborative Research Center and the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen — is actually a garden.
The roof employs low-maintenance vegetation that is planted in a special growing medium, which sits on layers of drainage and aeration material, insulation, roofing membrane and structural support. The vegetated roof’s exceptional insulating powers will help reduce the buildings’ energy consumption, minimize storm-water runoff, limit damage from hailstorms and provide a habitat for songbirds and other native animals and insects.

“As vegetated green roofs cover our buildings, we’ll reduce our energy consumption, our flooding and even the outdoor temperatures in summertime,” said Director of Sustainability Richard Johnson. “At the same time, we’ll have helped restore ecosystems disrupted by human development. That’s a future I think we can all get excited about.”

The landscape of today’s green roofs varies from utilitarian stretches of grass to elaborate elevated parks, and Rice is experimenting with different plant species to determine which perform best in Houston’s scorching rooftop environment. The lessons learned atop Rice’s newest buildings will help others in the Houston area choose optimal plantings for their vegetated roofs, which is exactly what Johnson is anticipating.

“My hope is that when someone flies over Houston in an airplane 10 years from now, they’ll be able to look down at all the native landscape on our rooftops and wonder where all the buildings went.”