This morning I had the opportunity to preview the Royal Ontario Museum’s new rooftop garden, known as Liza’s Garden in memory of philanthropist and business person Elizabeth Samuel. Sitting on-top of the original 1914 wing of the building, the garden was designed to be a focal point from inside the ROM’s exclusive C5 restaurant (at the top of the newly opened Michael Lee Chin Crystal).
Designed by Toronto-based firm PLANT Architect Inc., winners of the competition to design Nathan Phillips Square in March, 2007, with Gardens in the Sky, Green Roof Consultant, the garden is a 9,500 square-foot composition of trees, tilted planting beds, and shallow reflecting pools. I can remember the morning of June 3 when I first previewed the ROM during the all night architectural open house, I looked out from the windows in C5, in the hopes of seeing some great views of the city, but somehow I could not get my eyes over the tattered looking roof just beyond the window. It was one of those moments in the Crystal when I questioned how much thought actually went into the design of the addition (and corresponding views and overlooks), and how much of it was just left to chance. After the preview of Liza’s Garden this morning I at least have no doubt about the level of thought and care put into the design of the new rooftop garden.
William Thorsell, CEO of the ROM, speaking at the preview
Although I think it is unfortunate to reserve such good design exclusively for the patrons of C5, a prohibitively expensive restaurant, especially as it sits on top of a publicly funded institution (an issue of accessibility similar to those Spacing’s Leah’s Sandals has explored at the ROM in her posts Should museums be public spaces and the ROM CAN…well, pretend to be accessible), the garden itself is very innovative. Facing numerous design challenges, including heavy wind loads, limited structural capacity from the original 1914 roof, and in turn limited soil depths (because of the potential weight of the soil, soil depth is as shallow as 3 inches in most places), the designers were very selective in choosing plants that would grow in harsh conditions. In addition, as the garden will be visible during all seasons, the designers were careful to incorporate plantings that will bring life to different parts of the garden at different times of the year.
Street-level entrance to the C5 restaurant
People working to finish the garden
One of the biggest challenges was to create a garden as long as this one (160 feet long), that would only be experienced from the south-facing windows of the restaurant, as opposed to one that people could actually wander through (not possible due to technical constraints), or even view from different directions in the restaurant.
Lisa Rapoport, principle of PLANT Architect who spoke at the preview this morning, likened the garden to a diorama, where the sensorial experiences of a space are suggested by a foreshortened perspective of evocative visual elements. As the garden is only visible from the one set of windows, it means that all design considerations have to be visible from one side, difficult to achieve when there is so much length to fill. But the garden is layered meticulously so that as different elements grow in they won’t be cluttered or stand in each other’s way, and the tilted planting boxes have strong lines that guide the eye across the garden from the garden’s main anchor points (different species of trees like sumach or yellow wood, planted over of the column grid of the building below for added structural support). Lighting also adds to the gardens visual layers — designed by Suzanne Powadiuk — using embedded LED lights to pick up on the major design lines, and distinguishing the water ponds from the planting beds. When completed, light will also reflect off a series of thin structural cables that criss-crossing the garden, tied to the trees to provide them additional bracing against the wind, and a place for birds to perch as they fly around the garden.
Conceptual plan of the garden (including intended colour palette)
Plan of the garden at night showing the LED lights (sorry for the poor photo).
Images of different trees and plants
Last but not least, the garden has several environmental benefits, such as increasing storm water retention, reducing the heat island effect and providing clean air to the city. The garden will take several years to mature.
Rendering by PLANT Architect Inc., photos by Matthew Hague