Photo: James Bombales
Toronto’s concrete jungle is getting a little greener, bit by bit, but you might not be able to tell at ground level. According to the city, there are 444 green roofs across Toronto with 260 of them installed between February 2010 and March 2015. That adds up to about 196,000 square metres or (2.1 million square feet) of green roof area.
Adding greenery to a rooftop has countless benefits including absorbing rainwater and insulating buildings, keeping them much cooler during the summer months. They also help combat the “urban heat island” effect common among big cities. Conventional roofs absorb and re-radiate the sun’s energy as heat, turning up the temperature and worsening air quality.
Green roofs can act as their own elevated eco-systems, attracting birds, bees and butterflies as well as providing a space to grow food locally.
We took to the top of libraries, hotels and office buildings to see a few of these specimens ourselves. Check out our tour below. All photos by James Bombales unless otherwise specified.
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
Location: 100 Front Street West
Details: The historic hotel, built in 1929, is home to an early example of vertical farming in the city. The 4,000 square foot space on the 14th floor is home to 17 beds of plant life: there are tomatoes and edible flowers, but the bulk of the growing space is used to produce herbs such as organic basil, parsley, sage, tarragon, chocolate mint, peppermint, spearmint and chives.
The edibles are used in the restaurants at the Fairmont Royal York hotel while the honey from the roof-top apiaries is used to help brew the hotel’s beer. The so-called bee hotels were installed in 2008 in partnership with Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative and FoodShare as a way to combat Colony Collapse Disorder. At the height of summer, some 350,000 honeybees reside in six beehives to produce an average of up to 450 pounds of honey per year. The Royal York was the first of the Fairmont hotels to install a rooftop apiary and now there are 20 honeybee apiaries and eight pollinator bee hotels on its properties across the globe.
Toronto Central Grosvenor St. YMCA Centre
Location: 20 Grosvenor Street
Details: Built in 2009 thanks to the generosity of donors, volunteers and help from companies such as TD Canada Trust, Rona and Trex, this green roof is one of the largest of its kind in Toronto. Created by Natvik Ecological, it’s volunteer-run with about 5,227 square feet devoted to wildflowers, grasses and sedums, a type of succulent that sprouts flowers. The roof also features programming space that, with the green space, takes up roughly 10,000 square feet. During the summer months, members can enjoy the roof’s running track, or take part in yoga workshops or Tai Chi classes.
Toronto Dominion Centre
Photos: Daniel Banko
Location: 66 Wellington Street West
Details: The glass, steel and concrete of the Financial District is a surprising contrast to the green roof of the modernist building. The “Living Roof” takes up nearly the entire Toronto-Dominion Centre pavilion, which spans nearly 22,000-square feet, and features of Creek Sedge Grass, a hardy evergreen plant that can handle the shade from neighbouring towers. Though not publicly accessible, the green roof is visible to office workers. TD Bank Group and Cadillac Fairview Corporation completed the roof in 2009.
The Robertson Building
Location: 215 Spadina Avenue
Details: Over half of the roof of the Robertson Building, a restored brick-and-beam warehouse, is devoted to green space. The 4,000 square foot green roof launched in 2004 and was designed and installed by Gardens in the Sky. The roof of the five-storey structure also features a greenhouse and cedar viewing deck for tenants to enjoy the hum of bees and birds and the impressive views of the Toronto skyline.
The Robertson building has more foliage incorporated in the building design: the first floor lobby is home to a 250 square foot bio-wall, designed by Air Quality Solutions (now Nedlaw Living Walls). The plant wall is made of a variety of native and exotic green and flowering plants.
Location: 100 Queen Street West
Details: The three-acre upper-level garden on the top of the podium roof at City Hall is believed to be the largest publicly accessible green roof in Canada. Opened to the public in 2010, the garden is part of the Nathan Philip’s Square revitalization. A competition for the best design was won by a team made up of PLANT Architect Inc, Shore Tilbe Irwin & Partners, furniture designer Adrian Blackwell and landscape architect Peter Schaudt.
The roof features landscaped gardens, courtyards, terraces, seating areas, walkways and its own state-of-the-art irrigation system. A diverse range of plants grow on the podium, from sedums to grasses to flowering perennials.
Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto – St. George
Location: 105 St George Street
Details: As part of the business school’s expansion, a new building designed by KPMB Architects opened its doors in 2012. The structure, which was built with a target of LEED Silver, went on to win an Ontario Association of Architects’ Design Excellence award. The green roof is located on the fifth floor and is right by a patio, allowing students to enjoy the view of the campus.
Other green roofs at the University of Toronto includes St. Hilda’s Residence at Trinity College and the Sky Garden at the Galbraith Building.
The Big Carrot
Location: 348 Danforth Avenue
Details: Carrot Common on the Danforth is home to 11 stores, including the well-loved natural food market, The Big Carrot. The mini-mall is big on community events and the rooftop is accessible to the public, home to gardening workshops and even movie nights in the summer.
Parklane helped in the design and construction of the rooftop getaway and the garden has been monitored by the University of Guelph as a test plot for new species of sedum.
Photos: Urbanspace Property Group
Location: 401 Richmond Street West
Details: The rooftop of the former warehouse is home to about 3,000 square feet of sedum plants plus a 6,500 square foot cedar deck, which features plenty of planters with flowers, vines and bushes. The outdoor space with a view of the CN Tower has steadily expanded over the years and in 2000, a 40 foot greenhouse was installed to provide winter shelter for large tropical plants and to act as a nursery. The space is only open to tenants of the office building.
Fort York Library
Location: 190 Fort York Boulevard
Details: Toronto’s 99th public library is an interesting animal: opened in May 2014, the KPMB-designed building features a tilting roof and views of Fort York, a national historic site that dates all the way back to 1812. The structure has been described by the Globe and Mail as “an airy jewel box,” and the roof is covered in small shrubs.
The building is right beside Library District Condos, also designed by KPMB Architects. The site features pedestrian pathways to better public access to the nearby park and historic Fort York.
Native Child and Family Services
Location: 30 College Street
Details: The design for the structure in Downtown Toronto had a mandate in mind. According to Levitt Goodman Architects, they envisioned “a place that would reconnect urban aboriginals with nature in the heart of the city and project a bold visual presence for the First Nations community – which was difficult to conceive for a community that is comprised of distinctive bands with their own identities and customs.”
The result? A rooftop garden with a fire pit, circular sweat lodge, green “teaching hills” and space for ceremonies. There’s an abundance of plant life, including traditional Anishnaabe (aka Ojibway and Algonquin) medicines such as cedar, sweet grass and sage, as well as a garden of corn, beans and squash.
Bloor Gladstone Library
Location: 1101 Bloor Street West
Details: The century-old building underwent a restoration, renovation and expansion in 2006 at the hands of Rounthwaite, Dick and Hadley Architects Inc. in association with Shoalts and Zaback Architects Ltd. and ERA Architects Inc. It re-opened in 2009 with the distinction of being the first branch of the Toronto Public Library to have a green roof. Now, any new construction or major expansion project requires a green roof since the library follows the Toronto Green Standard, which applies to city-owned buildings.
The library went on to win a number of honours, including a Design Excellence award from the Ontario Association of Architects as well as Governor General’s medal in architecture.
Cooper Koo Family Cherry Street YMCA
Photos: YMCA of Greater Toronto
Location: Front Street and Cherry Street
Details: This 82,000 square foot facility was built for use during the Pan Am and Para Pan Am Games and will be converted into a new YMCA following the games. This expansive structure will features a pool, gym, fitness centre as well as community facilities.
Built to LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) green building standards, the rooftop will feature 20,000 square feet of meadow and 10,000 square feet of programmable space. Volunteers have been an integral part of the green roof: it was designed by community members who worked with the YMCA and Mathis Natvik of Natvik Design and Restoration Gardens worked with community volunteers to build the green roof.