Facebook’s Green Roof is in Sync with Nature. It is 9 acres and is planted to blend with nature. It absorbs rainwater and protects nearby salt flats and marsh. “It’s entirely inspired by the regional landscape,” says Rayna deNiord, lead designer.
Facebook’s Green Roof is in Sync with Nature
by Julie Chai
Facebook’s new building in Menlo Park, known as MPK 20, has garnered a lot of attention for its Frank Gehry design. But, one of its most beautiful features starts about 50 feet above the ground: the expansive rooftop garden. At a sprawling 9 acres, it’s perhaps the most ambitious corporate garden in the country. And that extends to the scope as well as the scale.
It’s not your typical corporate landscape with masses of manicured lawn and carefully clipped hedges. Instead, the goal was to reflect and complement the environment, and sustainability helped drive its design.
The design team integrated the landscape with the building from the outset, giving it much more complex planting — from low-growing perennials to mature trees — than is typical of roof gardens, and included spaces that serve as an extension of Facebook’s offices.
“It’s entirely inspired by the regional landscape,” says Rayna deNiord, lead designer and project manager for CMG Landscape Architecture, who created the overall plan. “We looked to the adjacent salt flats for context.”
With planting berms and contours that mimic the marshland just across the street, the plot is packed with plants that are grouped by the types of Northern California environments in which they grow. It’s meant, in part, to represent some of what you might see while hiking along the San Francisco Bay or in the nearby foothills.
While other companies have green roofs, many offer no access at all, and those that do are much simpler and dramatically smaller in size. “You’re really in the landscape versus just looking at a green roof,” says Chris Guillard, CMG principal and landscape architect.
The team worked with local groups such as the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the California Native Plant Society and the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge to make sure that what they created wouldn’t harm existing plants or wildlife.
“We started by looking to Bay Area plant communities and certain ecotypes that would be suited to roof-type conditions,” says Guillard. That largely meant plants, such as those from coastal areas, which could grow in well-draining soil and handle heat, wind and fog.
Bands of trees are mainly broadleaf evergreens punctuated by deciduous trees that offer fall color as well as spring bloom, and create a subtle transition as you move through the garden. They connect with the trees planted on the ground level and office-level terraces, binding the building with the landscape.
Two groves of mostly coast live oaks, one underplanted with assorted manzanita and the other with ceanothus, anchor either end of the roof. Ornamental grasses provide texture throughout, and the central meadow is packed with perennials that have colorful blooms through the year.
Ninety percent of the understory plants — those beneath the trees, and in most beds — are California native, mostly common to the Bay Area. Coastal sage scrub plants, including native artemisia, California blackberry, coffeeberry, coyote bush and lupine, make up the largest overall planting area and wrap around the perimeter, blurring the roof’s edge.
Instead of being clipped back, plants are left to grow naturally and soften path edges. “Over time, it will be a lot like walking in the hills around the Peninsula and on the coast,” says Guillard.
The landscape also serves as flexible work space. A half-mile loop paved with decomposed granite is used for walking meetings. Secondary paths break off from the main walkway and lead to seating areas, some perching along the perimeter to take in the views, others enclosed by layers of plants. None of the furniture is permanently in place — it’s all meant to be moved around as needed to support Facebook’s ethos of flexibility and reinvention.
Growing produce on the roof was never considered, but Facebook is planning to add a raised herb bed on one of the office-level terraces outside of the cafe so it’s accessible to the chefs.
Employees have asked how they can use the rooftop plantings in their own gardens, says Lauren Swezey, Facebook’s sustainability and community outreach manager, who oversaw the project. “We hope this inspires employees in both work and life, provides an area where they can decompress and enjoy the out of doors.”
- Native plants attract and provide habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife, including the millions of migratory birds that pass through on the Pacific Flyway.
- The landscape’s nearly 400 trees help provide oxygen and clean the air.
- A diverse palette of 110,000 mostly drought-tolerant plants creates natural resistance to pests and diseases.
- The garden is maintained organically without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
- Rooftop soil absorbs rainwater, filters it naturally, and lessens runoff that might contaminate water supplies.
- The green roof insulates the building and reduces the need for heating and cooling.
Natives to grow
Many of the native plants on Facebook’s roof fit well into home gardens. Chris Guillard recommends a few of his favorites.
- To attract butterflies and other pollinators: Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), coyote bush(Baccharis pilularis) and milkweed (Asclepias) support larvae and adult butterflies.
- In perennial beds: Tidy tips (Layia platyglossa) and seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus) prefer sunny spots, while scarlet monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis) can take sun or light shade.
- To create a grassy look: Carex and juncus are grasslike, but unlike many grasses, don’t need to be cut back every year.
- For mass planting: Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) is adaptable to sun and part shade and provides habitat for migratory songbirds.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 2015