North America's Largest Green Roof: Thriving on its 10th Anniversary

William McDonough's Breakthrough Project for Ford Continues to Inspire

Nov 14, 2013, 19:44 ET from William McDonough + Partners

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Nov. 14, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- In 2003, William McDonough + Partners designed what was then the largest green roof in the world at the Ford Motor Company's historic River Rouge facility. The ambitious plan involved pioneering strategies and technologies for brownfield redevelopment, sustainable industry, corporate citizenship, and environmental regeneration.

This month marks the 10 year anniversary of the River Rouge project, which is still the largest living roof still standing in North America. The bold project was also a vast collaboration, with significant contributions from an integrated team that included Arcadis Giffels, Xeroflor, Nelson Byrd Woltz, D.I.R.T. Studio, and others.

When William McDonough + Partners and the consultant team designed the living roof plan, there were fewer than 50 living roofs in the U.S. Now, living roofs are a ubiquitous aspect of architectural design; over 10,000 living roofs today provide advantages such as contributing to LEED certification and providing environmental remediation and financial incentives. Living roofs now exist on prestigious buildings such as the FedEx facility at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, the Nintendo headquarters in Richmond, WA, and the Empire State Building.

The longevity of the River Rouge roof is a testament to its design, intended to last twice as long as conventional roofs. The roof is made from drought resistant sedum, spanning 10.4 acres (about 8 football fields) and sustaining a dynamic ecosystem of over 35 insect, spider, and bird species and 11 plant species. Within five days of the living roof being installed, local killdeer had nested and laid eggs in the sedum. As William McDonough likes to say, "It's for the birds."

Ford's living roof represented a progressive ecological innovation, and ten years after completion, the benefits are even more readily apparent. All original plant species have survived, largely on rainwater, and after over a decade of operation no replacements have been necessary. When asked about revisiting the site, William McDonough says, "The building serves a number of human purposes, while looking quite beautiful and being relatively simple to maintain. This has been a great roof to go back and see, because it just gets better and better."

About William McDonough + Partners
William McDonough + Partners is an architecture and urban design firm with offices in Charlottesville, Virginia, and San Francisco. The firm applies a positive, principled design philosophy based on Cradle to Cradle® thinking, which takes its cues from living systems and seeks to expand on enduring standards of quality. Cradle to Cradle® is a registered trademark of MBDC. To learn more visit and or follow him on Twitter @billmcdonough.

SOURCE William McDonough + Partners