Creating an Urban Oasis in Industrial Modern South Norwalk

South Norwalk Ironworks ProjectWith the current trend toward urbanism, landscape designers are being called upon to create more diversified green spaces in the “concrete jungle”—finding new ways for commercial and residential projects to complement one another. One is right in our own backyard: South Norwalk’s Ironworks (a mixed-use development that includes apartments, retail space and a public fountain area), which recently garnered Eric Rains Landscape Architecture a Merit Award from CT ASLA. “The length along North Water Street provides a pedestrian experience that was not possible before,” says Rains. “The main entry off Washington Street replaced a parking lot, and the courtyard provides an experience like none other.” Here, we dig into the thinking behind the project.

How did you get involved in this project? We were selected by owner/developer Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and the architecture firm, Beinfield Architecture. 

What is your inspiration for the palette?Since we wanted the project to have a sense of permanence, we used clay brick pavers, oil and stone in the main entry drive and reclaimed granite around the fountain. The planting was selected for its durability in urban conditions and ease of maintenance. Street trees along North Water Street were selected for their scale and transparency, so that views to the water were maintained. 

South Norwalk Ironworks Project Roof Top Terrace

Is this the first rooftop garden/space in Norwalk? This is definitely the first to have these views. The goal was to provide an amenity space for resident use that could serve as an extension of their private living spaces. Along with the cooking and gathering spaces, we included planting areas for residents to grow their own vegetables, flowers and herbs. These have been very well received and were immediately planted and maintained by residents. 

What was your biggest challenge for the rooftop terrace? Spacial definition. With a large space like this that serves several uses, the challenge is to provide enough separation (without being isolating) between the uses. We accomplished this by placing planters with grasses. We chose the grasses since they are transparent and look great as they move in the breeze.  

What are some general considerations regarding rooftop plant choices?  Plants have to withstand temperature extremes and grow at manageable rates while meeting the aesthetic goals of the design. Planters need to provide enough soil for the root systems to develop and not overheat in the sun. Other considerations are weight limitations, wind conditions and drainage. If the area is protected from wind, some evergreens perform really well. Grasses and some perennials can be good choices since they are easy to install and are less subject to winter winds. Every site is unique so there really are no plants that will work on every roof. 

What is your go-to material for a rooftop garden?  I look for materials that are not overly reflective and do not get excessively hot (if in full sun). Many renewable resource woods are very durable and easy to maintain.

Do you have other rooftop projects in the works? We recently completed a private roof terrace in downtown Manhattan, a corporate roof for a commercial office building in White Plains, and a dog run on top of a parking garage in New Rochelle. We have a site in New Haven where we are using cargo containers as cabanas that will be cantilevered off two sides of the roof. And we’re working on a 23rd-floor space for a building in Stamford.      

A version of this article appeared in the May 2015 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Raise the Roof.