Lambeth’s green roofs

Footprint joined Ann Bodkin, Sustainability + Architecture and founder of The Onion Shed, for a Green Sky Thinking walking tour of green roofs of a variety of scales in Lambeth. The group of around twenty included a mix of local councillors, architects, permaculturists, ecologists, and students.

A small green roof over a bike shed at Roots and Shoots

Starting at environmental training centre Roots and Shoots (in itself an interesting building), the tour began with the smallest of the roofs we were to see; just 2m2. It was constructed by Ann and Dusty Gedge of Living Roofs, to demonstrate how easy green roofs are to achieve. Located above a DIY cycle shed, it took just a few hours to build, during a weekend of live demonstrations as part of Roots and Shoots Spring Science Open Day. It is planted with strawberries, chives and sedum.

A brown roof at Roots and Shoots

The second roof we looked at was a brown roof above a meeting room at Roots and Shoots. Its aim was to improve local biodiversity.  The roof has a substrate of brown rubble, and very little was actually planted; most of the green that can be seen on the roof has self seeded.

The sedum roof at Roots and Shoots

Also on the Roots and Shoots building, the third roof was a sedum roof. Originally it was planted with eight different varieties of sedum. However, these died very soon after planting, and when called back the contractor replaced them with just one species. The roof substrate is just three inches deep in some places and this is very limiting to what they can grow.

Green roofs at the Ethelred Estate

We then left the confines of the beautiful gardens at Roots and Shoots and headed towards the Ethelred Estate.

When installed in 2006, the Ethelred Estate’s green roofs were the UK’s largest green roof renewal project: 4000m2 of roof space was transformed on ten buildings. The green roofs were part of the local authority’s energy efficiency program, and they provide visual amenity for local residents who overlook them, forming part of a sustainable urban drainage strategy and helping to combat the urban heat island effect.

The council were persuaded by the value for money of green roofs. The British Board of Agrement recognises green roofs as having a sixty year life, so despite costing up to thirty percent more than standard roofs, the value is in their longevity.  The green roofs at the Ethelred Estate have now been in place for five years. They feature seven different varieties of sedum and have become a place for social activity on the estate.

These tower blocks now have brown roofs

Since carrying out the green roof renewal project at Ethelred, the local council have also added another 1000m2 of green roofs to the area, including brown roofs on local tower blocks.

The green roof structure at Beaconsfield

Tomato plants on the green roof at Beaconsfield

We then visited Beaconsfield, a local art gallery. SpaceShip Earth Living Roof is part of an art installation, created by artist Dafna Talmor with Mark Pavey and Michael Shaw. It started out as an idea for a freestanding structure that could remain permanently on site. The structure spans over the top of an existing store, and was constructed entirely from found and salvaged materials. The aim was to show that you don’t need money, people, or resources to get a project done; even the plants on the roof were found or donated.

A green roof over garages at Arden House

The final project was a green roof at Arden House. They were inspired by Malmo, Sweden, where the roofs of all ‘low risk’ buildings are greened. The Onion Shed had recently retrofitted a living roof above five existing garages. The roof was made from locally reclaimed materials and features heritage plants.

This tour gave a fantastic overview of a variety of green roof types and highlighted their community benefits. By starting with small scale projects like the garage and the art gallery, it is possible to empower people. By demystifying green roofs through small scale installations, it is then possible to tackle much larger projects like the Ethelred Estate. For much more on green roofs, see

by Laura Mark, AJ sustainability intern

Subscribe to Footprint by email.

Leave a Reply