Unseen, unused, unusual: roofscapes

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Think how much, in terms of sheer square metreage, of a city’s space is taken up by roofs. For such an essential building element – the sine qua non of even the most basic shelter – roofs are often unseen and unappreciated. In this post, I take a look at some unusual and appealing roof designs… and finish off with a fairytale for good measure.

Dutch roofscape

One of the more spectacular uses of a roofspace is to place a great, big infinity pool on top of it. This is what the septuagenarian architect and urban designer Moshe Safdie did on the Marina Bay Sands opulent hotel and casino in Singapore. The project is, apparently, the most expensive integrated resort property ever built.

The SkyPark pool, Marina Bay Sands (image by Eduardo MC on Flickr)

On a more modest scale, the Urban Sketchers blog “features sketches and often equally colorful stories behind the scenes by 100 invited artists/correspondents in more than 30 countries around the world. Some are architects and illustrators, others are graphic designers, web developers, painters or educators, all sharing the same passion for drawing on location.”

Beauty is sometimes hidden in unusual places. But if you look for it, it will definitely come up where you would not expect it to be. City roofs are a perfect setting for these findings.

In a previous post, we have summarised different types of green roofs as another way to make the roofspace work harder. Turf has been a traditional roof covering in Norway for thousands of years, and this Inhabitat post shows some good examples.

It was not unusual to keep livestock grazing on the roof either – serving the dual purpose of keeping the grass short and the animals fed. Occasionally, you can still see goats on green rooftops in Norway, as well as on the Old Country Market in Coombs, British Columbia, which makes a good trade from this curiosity.

From Hardanger, Norway (image by janticom on Flickr)

The practice was not without its dangers, though, as this old folk tale shows:

The husband who was to mind the house

Once upon a time, there was a man who was so bad-tempered and cross that he never thought his wife did anything right in the house. One evening, in the haymaking season, he came home, scolding and swearing. “Dear love, don’t be so angry” said his wife, “tomorrow let’s change jobs. I’ll go out and mow, and you can mind the house.” Yes, the husband thought that would do very well. So early the next morning, his wife took a scythe and went out into the hayfield with the mowers, whilst the man was to mind the house and do the work at home.

First of all he wanted to churn the butter (…) When he had churned a bit, he remembered that their milk cow was still shut up in the barn and hadn’t had a bit to eat or a drop to drink all morning, although the sun was high. It was too far to take her down to the meadow, so he thought he’d just get her up onto the roof, for it was a sod roof, and a fine crop of grass was growing there (…)

Now it was nearly dinner time, and he hadn’t even finished the butter yet, so he thought he’d best boil the porridge. He filled the pot with water and hung it over the fire. When he had done that, it occurred to him that the cow might fall off the roof and break her neck, so he climbed up onto the house to tie her up.

He tied one end of the rope around the cow’s neck, slipped the other end down the chimney, and tied it around his own leg. Then he had to hurry, for the water was boiling, and he still had to grind the oatmeal. He began to grind away; but while he was hard at it, the cow fell off the roof, dragging the man up the chimney by the rope. There he stuck fast. As for the cow, she hung halfway down the wall, swinging between heaven and earth, for she could neither get down nor up…

Don’t try this at home

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2 Responses to “Unseen, unused, unusual: roofscapes”

  1. Niki, unifiedspace Says:

    Great collection of images although the roof pool gives me vertigo just looking at it!

  2. Benedikte Ranum Says:

    Thanks for commenting, Niki! I know what you mean – I’ve made that picture my desktop background, but keep thinking “surely there must be an invisible barrier somewhere?” Scary stuff…

    I’ve had a look at your blog and have subscribed; it looks really interesting! Looking forward to new posts.

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