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FAIRE 2022

Rooftop gardens—heritage and foresight of a singular construction


Relatively unexplored, the little-known history of rooftop gardens resonates with the urban and environmental issues of today and questions the capacity of a building to nurture its own landscape.

Relatively unexplored, the little-known history of rooftop gardens resonates with the urban and environmental issues of today and questions the capacity of a building to nurture its own landscape.


“Operating at the juncture between various disciplines—architecture, landscape, history, technicality, humanities—rooftop gardens are located on the roof terrace of a building and host plants by being both above and beneath, using the underlying architecture as a new ground surface. They extend like a blanket of vegetation, while also sheltering a living area. Whether set up due to a religious motive, a desire for representation, the practicality of providing food, or simply as the result of spatial constraints related to the high-density environment, these gardens are unusual and fragile, and their existence would have been impossible without human intervention. More complex to build, they nevertheless seem to have always existed.

Plants have been installed on roofs throughout the history of architecture. As unique as the examples of rooftop gardens might be, they are always the result of an extraordinary determination that defies technical and geographical complexities and is probably driven by the idea that a rooftop garden isn’t like other gardens, both in how it is perceived and in the perception that it offers over the horizon.

Rooftop gardens first appeared in the Middle East, before spreading into Europe during Antiquity, firstly in Italy, where major rooftop gardens were built during the Renaissance, and later in France, notably in the Parisian hôtel particulier mansions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Probably due to the complexity of construction and the limited means of the times, rooftop gardens remain exceptional creations, unique and isolated pieces of architecture. They were frequently created as a performance, perhaps as an expression of religious, political, or economic power. Whether landscaped gardens, formal French gardens, kitchen gardens, groves, or luxurious meadows, having a planted area on a rooftop creates conditions that exist nowhere else.

Given our social and environmental concerns, rooftops gardens challenge the distinction that is made by most urban designs, which aim to separate the stone world of the city from the world of the living. Rooftop gardens are the very figure of the reunion of these entities. They are of particular interest to us because they might be a key component of the resilient city, enabling humans to reconnect with their environment without pitting the city against nature; but also because they provide an opportunity to question the architectural project, the cityscape, and its relationship to the landscape. Indeed, the boundary that typically defines a garden is called into question by a more abstract border related to its height. In other terms, rooftop gardens appear to extend beyond their enclosure questioning the very notion of the hortus conclusus.”

Since its creation in 2008 by Frédéric Chartier and Pascale Dalix, ChartierDalix has delivered over twenty buildings, and a dozen projects are under construction. Awarded numerous prizes, including the Équerre d'argent award, category "Activity" in 2022 for the new AP-HP headquarters in Paris (12th), and "Le Soufaché" prize in 2017 awarded by the french Académie d'architecture for the whole of its work, the office won several international competitions: for the metamorphosis of the Montparnasse Tower with Nouvelle AOM (ChartierDalix, Franklin Azzi, Hardel & Le Bihan), for the reconstruction of the Bockmühle school campus in Essen (Germany), for the restructuring of a block in Warsaw.

For several years, ChartierDalix has initiated a research work on the integration of life and biodiversity in architecture, that takes the form of experiments (realization of prototypes with different materials and monitoring of the development of fauna and flora) and the direct application for new or existing buildings. These first researches are gathered in a book entitled "Hosting Life, architecture as an ecosystem", published in 2019 by ParkBooks.

The variety of different projects undertaken by the office on the hosting of life nourishes the architectural thought and is concretized in a very different way in most of the projects: open-air gardens, biodiverse walls*, rooftop gardens.

The office is made up of 8 cross-disciplinary and support skill divisions covering all activities related to a project. This organization facilitates and nourishes exchanges and the application of research from the Research and Landscape divisions to projects under study and construction.

* The research work on the design of biodiverse walls is currently explored by Delphine Lewandowski, PhD student hosted by the office since 2019. Biodiverse wall / ChartierDalix in partnership with the Museum of Natural History (CESCO laboratory) and the Paris Malaquais School of Architecture (GSA laboratory).