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The Rise Of The Rooftop

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 Frank's Bar, Kat Sommers: https://flic.kr/p/6Uq5Ly

Two friends lean on a railing as they chat and look across at London's patchy skyline. Music pounds from speakers above and beers flow from the bar behind. Atop this grey multi-storey car park in the south of the River Thames, 'Frank's' has become one of the city's most popular weekend drinking spots.

Far from the shiny underground clubs that were so popular in the early 2000s, disused or dilapidated rooftops have become some of the city's most sought-after spaces for bars and clubs. But not too far from Frank's on the Isle of Dogs is the development of another much desired – but very different - rooftop space.

Currently under construction, 'City Pride' will be one of Europe's tallest residential towers. At the very top will sit a luxuriously landscaped roof garden for residents and their guests. As agents prepare to market the building's 800 luxury homes, its manicured communal garden will be a unique selling point in the global real estate market.

Singapore's 'Marina Bay Sands', New York City's 'The Strand' and Bangkok's 'Sky Bar' are some of the world's most famous rooftops spaces. Each has undoubtedly helped to brand the building it sits within and promote the city beyond.

But the benefits of rooftops stretch beyond simply making a profit for bar-owners and developers. When designed to maximise public benefit, and not just private gain, rooftop spaces can enhance a city's natural environment, and improve public life.

Built in 2007, the Oslo Opera House serves a dual purpose as both a cultural venue and one of the city's largest public spaces. With huge walkways leading onto its roof, pedestrians – with or without money - are invited to spend time in the space and take in the city views below. While the Oslo Opera House has been a government-funded project, city authorities elsewhere are also learning how to create public spaces within private developments.

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London's Sky Garden, Ian Patterson: https://flic.kr/p/uH7WLT

The City of London's 'Sky Garden' is the outcome of a planning agreement between the developer of 120 Fenchurch Street (or the 'Walkie Talkie' as it's more commonly known) and the local authority. The 'garden' was considered by planners an appropriate public benefit to counteract the harm caused to the city's townscape by its bulging mass.

Since completion it's become clear that public access to the rooftop is over-controlled and ecological benefits are minimal, therefore city planners see this as a starting point to negotiate better public spaces in private buildings. The Sky Garden has been a good start, but there's plenty of room for improvement - particularly for the environment.

Environmentalists have long argued that green roofing can help to counteract the 'urban heat island effect', minimise waterway contamination and provide habitat for plants and animals. With policy finally catching up with campaigning, many cities are now promoting the development of green roofs through amendments to their planning systems or with tax incentives.

With a recent revamp to zoning regulations to encourage green roofs, New York City is now the world leader in rooftop farming – and it's reaping the rewards. The success of projects such as the Brooklyn Grange, which produces over 18 tonnes of organic vegetables per year, is cutting costs for consumers and taking cars and trucks off the roads. From New York to Hong Kong, rooftop farming is now helping to solve some of this centuries most pressing environmental issues.  

Whether the end goal is for social good, or simply to make a buck, developers are making the most of some of their highest and most sought-after spaces. Intelligent policies coupled with creative ideas have the ability for the use of roofs to improve our natural environment, as well as public life within our cities.

The rise of the rooftop has just begun, but with this trend, we may soon see the transformation of cities across the globe.


Featured Image: Singapore Marina Bay Sands, Lady May: https://flic.kr/p/g4UkYG