Green Roofs, Cold Winters, and Dealing with Drought: Vancouver Olympic Village green roof

Photo courtesy Vitaroofs
Photo courtesy Vitaroofs

Beyond being a symbol of excellence, the Olympics is also one of unity. On this project, that ideology was mirrored by the number of people that managed to come together, operate as one and push the creative limits, until as a collective they managed to realize a single, grand vision together.

The Olympic motto, “faster, higher, stronger,” refers to multi-pronged excellence. It is with this spirit and enthusiasm the design team approached the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village green roofs, targeting nothing less than excellence in five distinct categories.

Durante Kreuk, landscape architects for the Olympic Village development, created a playful design of figurine motifs of Olympic athletes competing in hockey, curling, and luge across the roofscape. Inspired by this grand vision for the project, Joy Schmidt, green roof consultant, manufactured giant ‘cookie cutters’ to perform as a metal border and establish a clear outline of these shapes. To create a striking contrast with the otherwise green background, it was decided the figures should be red. Sedum voodoo was combined with other red perennials and red lava to deliver a colour vibrant enough to deliver impact at a distance.

The vegetated roofing containing the colourful motifs of athletic figures across the Vancouver’s Olympic Village measures 5200 m2 (56,000 sf) and spans more than eight city blocks. Discounting impact, speed, longevity, and climate considerations, its scale alone does the project justice in pageantry and excitement.

The Olympics presents a hard deadline like no other. The combined challenge of scale, design complexity, and a no-nonsense schedule rendered out of the box thinking about logistics a necessity.

Three independent landscape contractors were hired to generate a large enough workforce. Operations were managed with great care to ensure constant productivity, despite the number of people working side-by-side on what was surely becoming a tight site space. The design team also planned ahead to ensure the pre-grown mats would be ready in time by having the foresight to secure and oversee an unusually long-term commitment (1.5 years) from the landscape and general contractors.

With over 160 rainy days—1154.7 mm (45 ½ in.)—a year, Vancouver is Canada’s third most rainy city. Thus, reasonably, the official development plan for the Olympic Village included a design requirement to capture and use the rainwater naturally falling on the site to avoid irrigation with potable water.

By capturing and storing rainwater in their soils, the green roofs slow the rain down with soil percolation, minimizing wasted water on rainy days and avoiding the need for watering on dry ones. This green roof stormwater system was also supplemented with basement cisterns that collect water for flushing and irrigation.

The Olympic Village green roofs were designed to last with calculated selection of roofing membranes and sedums that not only met with design parameters, but were also able to sustain extreme, local climate conditions. The rooftops provide interest to neighbouring buildings and continue to be enjoyed by the new residents of Southeast False Creek—a mixed-use community with approximately 1100 residential units, area parks, and a growing number of retail and service outlets. With its careful planning for longevity, the Olympic Village has been positioned to continue to serve the city as a legacy to its prestigious moment as host of the Winter Games.

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