architecture design

The many uses of a rooftop

An unusual month-long event closed in Rotterdam this week – one that I didn’t get to visit, but that I think raises some interesting ideas. The event is called Rooftop Walk, and it is a series of events and exhibitions held on rooftops around the city, with walkways and bridges that make them accessible. (Great picture of the route here) It’s part of an ongoing programme of events that aims to highlight the fact that in most cities, rooftops are under-used space.

Rotterdam has 18 square kilometres of unused roof space, say the organisers, while pressure for land continues to be a problem. People need more space for housing. Everyone benefits from more green space and parks. Business start-ups need affordable space. Is there room for more of these things if we look up?

As well as the walk, regular Rooftop Days aim to show people what is possible, and encourage more creative use of rooftops. Past events have included parties, discussions, sports and arts events of various kinds. The project has also produced The Rooftop Catalogue, which is exactly what it sounds like – a catalogue of uses for a rooftop. There are 130 in the book, all of them with real world examples. The catalogue is produced by architecture firm MDRDV and the City of Rotterdam, with every intention of making some of those uses reality in the city. The city already offers subsidies for creating green roofs, and encourages residents to put them on their sheds and garages.

While I’m focusing on Rotterdam here, their work is a part of a wider National Rooftop Plan to use roofs in the Netherlands for biodiversity and climate adaptation.

So, what can you do on a rooftop, exactly? Every building will have its own challenges in terms of access, and what kind of weight it can take. Not every roof can support, say, a rooftop swimming pool. But the list of possible uses is long and includes:

  • Energy generation, including solar panels or small wind turbines
  • rainwater collection and water management for flood protection
  • playgrounds and skate parks
  • sports facilities such as gyms, basketball courts or table-tennis
  • green space, either as private gardens or for the public
  • urban farming and allotments
  • drone deliveries
  • art and sculpture
  • performance spaces, either permanent or pop-up
  • new housing or upward extensions

Hearing about the project has immediately made me think of Luton’s roofscape and what could be done with it. What could we do with the under-used roofs of the mall, the university, and the offices in the town centre? What could be done to improve biodiversity and air quality, make space for art, culture and recreation? Maybe we could draw inspiration from the Dutch and develop a Luton Rooftop Plan.

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