Landscape Architecture Firm Surfacedesign Creates Urban-Art Faux Green Roof
Green roofs are en vogue thanks to their sustainability benefits―rooftop gardens absorb carbon dioxide and minimize radiant heat, adding natural insulation to buildings. San Francisco landscape architecture firm Surfacedesign includes green roofs in its portfolio of projects, notably an expansive creation for the Museum of Steel in Monterrey, Mexico.
Management at San Francisco’s historic Warfield Theatre, a popular music venue built in 1922, envisioned a green roof as part of an overall sustainability plan that included minimizing the building’s energy and water consumption. The Warfield Theatre’s roof is visible from the building’s upper offices and several adjacent structures, and theatre management asked Surfacedesign to create a green roof. When an engineering analysis concluded that the old building wasn’t strong enough to support a rooftop garden, Surfacedesign proposed a painted green roof as an alternative.
Gardens intended to be viewed from above were researched. Versailles’ famous Orangerie emerged as a primary inspiration, a garden designed to be appreciated from the three-story palace. To ground the 17th-century French design with a local reference, Surfacedesign substituted Coastal Redwood leaves in place of Versailles’ grass sections among the paths in the parterre pattern. “While the redwoods are a quick drive from San Francisco, the trees’ scale prevents most people from experiencing their leaves’ intriguing structures,” says Surfacedesign Principal and Warfield project designer Nick Gotthardt, ASLA. “High leaves are tight and spiky; lower ones are flatter and more symmetrical. We thought it would be fun to showcase that variation through this roof mural.” Surfacedesign created digital files of the redwood leaves and had a local shop laser-cut 24x48-inch stencils.
To execute the faux green roof, Surfacedesign partnered with community art collective Precita Eyes. This San Francisco non-profit creates opportunities for local artists and specializes in painting uplifting urban murals. The 40-year-old organization also provides art classes for the city’s youths.
Precita Eyes was brought in during the project’s mock-up phase to help optimize scale and colors. The muralists then took Surfacedesign’s layout and stencils to the Warfield’s roof, and created the faux green roof with Benjamin Moore paint. “The mural surpassed our vision and exceeded Warfield management’s expectations,” says Surfacedesign Co-Founding Partner and project lead Roderick Wyllie, ASLA. “The contrasting greens made it more 3D than we thought possible. Response from people in neighboring high-rises was overwhelmingly positive, saying that the mural gives them a sense of serenity and joy.”