A new University of Malta project will see the introduction of the first green roof to Malta. Vince Lloyd Morris, from the Life+Med Green Roof Project, writes about it.
Research being undertaken at the University of Malta could make a big difference to countless Maltese homes, and also to the way many of us currently live.
The Faculty for the Built Environment is currently in the process of kicking off a four-year project that will see the installation of a green roof on its building.
The roof ‘garden’ will offer a clear example of how green roofs should be constructed, while illustrating their potential benefits to the residents. The space will be made accessible to the public, including groups of schoolchildren, students and other interested parties during the life of the project.
Unfortunately, little information is available on green roofs in Malta and this has meant that the development of a home-grown technology has lingered behind that of other countries. The project, which is partly funded by the EU via its Life+ funding programme, aims to change this state of affairs.
Increasingly, living space in many new homes in Malta is now at a premium, rooms are getting smaller and quality outdoor spaces such as gardens and terraces are becoming rare.
The team at the University of Malta is investigating an innovative way of potentially increasing the useful, outdoor spaces available to a greater numbers of urban residents. They are examining the feasibility of creating green roofs on homes and other buildings in Malta in collaboration with other Mediterranean partners.
So what is a green roof? It is certainly more than a few pots or planters placed on a roof. Basically, it involves the spreading of a specially formulated soil over all, or a significant area of, a roof and planting a covering of selected vegetation. Although usually placed on the roof, it is also possible to ‘green out’ our terraces.
Green roof technology is well-established in northern Europe and other continents. However, very little is known about creating this type of roof in the Mediterranean region. In Malta, green roofs are much less understood due to a combination of a lack of information and misconceptions. On the positive side, the Maltese tradition of building flat roofs on houses provides ideal opportunities for installing such roofs.
Green roofs involve the spreading of a specially formulated soil over all, or a significant area of, a roof and planting a covering of selected vegetation
What, then, are the potential benefits of installing green roofs? Looking at results found in other countries, it is fair to assume that benefits obtained in northern Europe are also likely to be obtainable in the Mediterranean region.
The current trend of garden grabbing, that is the building over of gardens to maximise the number of units in one given plot, has resulted in the reduction of nature within the urban environment. Nature is very important to our well-being even though we may frequently forget this. Urban dwellers often overlook, or are not aware of, the benefits obtained from nature and many disassociate themselves from natural processes. Green roofs are a way of reintroducing nature to our immediate environment.
The effect of setting up a green roof is the same as bringing in the countryside closer to our living spaces. Plants are very attractive and if native species are utilised, as they should be, then they are of course adapted to the special climate of the island. This means that they would establish themselves better, with the result that the green roof requires less maintenance.
Our roofs and terraces will be transformed from bare, exposed concrete to green spaces that will not be just visually attractive but could also provide a variety of sensory experiences, dependent on the types of plants grown. Imagine the scent produced by the orange blossom at this time of year, or that of jasmine. These sensory experiences will make our homes more convivial and stimulating, and this kind of environment is particularly important to children and the elderly.
It is an accepted fact amongst researchers that nature and greenery have a positive effect on people. One need not be in direct contact with nature to enjoy its benefits. Studies have shown that merely being able to view nature has a calming effect on the individual.
Green roofs and terraces serve as recreational space for children. Little ones can be taught to plant their own vegetables and grow their own flowers.
These spaces also become ideal venues to share some quality time with friends and family.
Green roofs have other practical uses. Today, although homes are becoming smaller, the cost of heating or cooling always seems to be increasing.
The installation of green roofs helps maintain a comfortable temperature indoors, through the layers that form the structure of the green roof itself. This is likely to offer savings on energy costs involved in heating and cooling the building.
It is hoped that the project will encourage local designers, developers and home owners to consider installing green roofs in the future.