Re-thinking Urban Rooftops

Hidden in plain sight, an untapped environment has lay dormant, gathering dust, housing ariels and vents. But with the density of urban environments ever growing and environmental concerns rife, these hidden havens are being reimagined. Rooftops, making up to 25% of many cities’ total land area, are a largely unutilised resource. These underused spaces have remained largely inaccessible and are long overdue consideration.

Top-level living

The multitude of uses for these towering spaces is extensive and can provide benefits both socially and environmentally. Installing green roof systems and urban farming spaces not only helps to improve our air quality, allow for a level of self-sufficiency and capture rainwater, but they also preserve biodiversity. A positive impact can be seen with many of these living roofs creating habitats for creatures such as bees and birds and other pollinating insects. Rooftops can also be used for energy production. The installation of solar panels can help to reduce the carbon footprint of individual buildings and also cut the costs of the energy they will use.

Socially, these spaces provide an alternative environment for workers, residents or customers to utilise and use as leisure areas or workspaces. With hybrid and remote working contracts emerging after the pandemic, many search for the perfect balance of having the social benefits of a shared workspace, yet the relaxed ambience found outside of the office. Companies taking the initiative to convert these previously wasted spaces have found that workers have embraced having an outdoor venue and have been more productive as a result.

Photo: Vox build to rent scheme in Manchester

With office and residential property owners quickly realising the potential rooftop renovations can bring, these refurbished spaces are rapidly becoming renowned as some of the best places to live and work. WeWork, The Monument has created an abundance of outdoor space using roof terraces and balconies to host sports, lunches and meetings in the sunshine. Many others have designed these exclusive areas to attract new clients or enticed workers back into the workspace. Making these changes show businesses are evolving – aware they need to adapt to the new expectations and lifestyles of employees.

Ahead of the game

For many countries, the use of roof space has been something of a regularity for some time. In Copenhagen, the installation of green roofs on new builds has been mandatory since 2010. Likewise, in France, since 2015, new builds require either solar panels or a living roof. With many others already following suit, it shows positive steps towards meeting net zero targets and reducing carbon in the environment.

Health benefits

The reasons for employees reporting that they felt more productive after having access to an outdoor space seem obvious. With access to fresh air, sunshine, a variety of environments and more informal social settings, people feel more positive and stimulated. Not only does this improve their physical health, but also their mental health and outlook to work life. With the focus on the employee’s well-being and happiness being integral to current businesses, this approach to embedding the rooftop as an extended workspace could make a real difference to the quality of the working environment.

Think outside the box

Transforming urban rooftops creates a multilevel landscape that provides both environmental and logistical solutions to these dense environments. But the transformations are not always straightforward– they need to be easily accessible from the interior of the building, they may require infrastructure upgrades and health and safety regulations must be followed. Thinking of innovative ways to design the given rooftop can also be a challenge – however the design team at Urban Scale Interventions, who are part of a project to reinvent unused rooftops across 10 cities, state, “It’s about losing the mindset that roofs are off limits and embracing their challenges as opportunities.” [1]

With some creative thinking, and seeing past limitations the opportunities can be endless. From galleries, to show venues, to restaurants and thriving garden spaces and in the case of CopenHill – even a ski slope, these rooftop transformations are changing the way we live, and we can’t wait to see more.

For ideas on how to transform your unused rooftop and create a new sustainable alternative to expanding your current space please contact us at here or read more of our related articles at on our magazine. 


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