Tales From the Field: Up on the Roof

Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared different “Tales from the Field,” each of which included a lesson I’ve learned while on the job. This week, in the fourth installment of this five-part series, I’m going to use an increasingly popular trend to illustrate a very valuable point: if you’re going to do something, do it right.

Lately more and more companies – from boutique firms to multinational corporations – are embracing rooftop terraces. However, utilizing your roof space is hardly a new trend. In fact, roof terraces began coming into favor four to five years ago, starting mainly with major, iconic buildings such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. Fast forward to 2014 and things have changed. Roof terraces are now being frequently incorporated as a design “must” by tenants of all sizes, as well as landlords who are using them as a feature to attract tenants.

Their popularity is undeniable; I am asked about roof terraces on a nearly daily basis. A couple of weeks ago, I had a walk-through with a landlord client in Long Island City and we discussed taking advantage of his building’s 360-degree views of Manhattan and Long Island by creating an enormous rooftop terrace. I also recently worked with an established hedge fund client who enthusiastically collaborated with us to create a green lounge to enhance the work environment and build some stress relief in for his employees.

The options with these terraces are many – a space to lease out to individual tenants, a recreational area for playing bocce ball or volleyball, a common space for relaxed gatherings or even a place to grow food, as Brooklyn Grange has successfully done with its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. While there can be a “green” sustainable element to rooftop spaces, they are also taking on different lives, becoming parks in the sky, destinations unto themselves (think the Chelsea High Line) or a pleasant focal point for office workers to congregate in. They can be public or private – one size need not fit all.

As beautiful as they are, rooftop terraces have their potential pitfalls (and may not be a fit for everyone). For instance, in the past couple of weeks, the Javits Center has made news headlines over its green roof initiative. When completed later this year, the 6.75-acre, nearly half-million dollar green roof will be the second largest one in the country. Unfortunately, what’s making news is the fact that the Javits Center’s roof has been leaking.

If you’re thinking about a green roof, I highly recommend consulting not only a landscape designer, but also a qualified architect. There is much more to a roof space than putting a few plants and chairs on top of a building. One must carefully consider watering and drainage, wind gusts and elements, the choice of furniture and its weather resistance and the types of plant used before forging forward. That’s not to say it’s all negative: we’ve had the pleasure of guiding many clients successfully through the process of creating and implementing them.

In this ever-growing city, with its limited space and enormous popularity, using every inch of space – even on the top of a building – can be helpful. Rooftop spaces are a wonderful, modern amenity and, when done right, can add tremendous value. Here’s to getting it right…the first time.

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