what can we learn from a green roof designed to support rare native plant communities?


The green roof at the SUNY ESF Gateway Center is a truly unique place. The 9,400-square foot, intensive green roof brings together two distinctive plant communities within a welcoming public space. The green roof also serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory allowing faculty and students to have unique access to rare, native New York plant communities and to study how design can impact our environment. Several of us have graduated from SUNY ESF, so working on this groundbreaking project with students and faculty was an amazing experience.

Virtually every aspect of the green roof is influenced by these two rare plant communities. The central circulation spine acts as an organizing framework for the planting. Its scale swells from north to south with each ‘knuckle’ denoting a slightly larger room, providing imbedded flexibility for different user groups and events. The final planting plan included separation of the plant communities into distinct areas to highlight their unique habitats.

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In nature, the hardy alvar grassland plant communities grow on exposed limestone bedrock in thin, infertile soil. The Lake Ontario Dune plant communities are adapted to thrive in the harsh, unstable, and ever-shifting sandy landscapes at the edge of the Great Lakes. At the SUNY ESF Gateway Center, the dune community was placed in a continuous band around the perimeter of the green roof, coinciding with a dune-fence inspired safety barrier. The alvar plantings were placed along the building wall and within an interior island space.


  • Location: Syracuse, NY 
  • Size: 28,000 SF Site / 9,400 SF Green Roof
  • Role: Landscape Architect of Record
  • Services: Research, Sustainable Site Design, Green Roof Design, Construction Documentation and Observation



  • 2016 Land Ethics Merit Award from Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve
  • 2014 AIA COTE Top Ten Green Building Project from the AIA Committee on the Environment
  • 2014 ASLA NY Merit Award from ASLA NY
  • 2014 SCUP Honor Award in Architecture from the Society for College and University Planning
  • 2014 Honor Award from the Boston Society of Architects