GREEN ROOFS - A SUSTAINABLE TOOL OF HEALTHIER
CITIES, APPLICATIONS IN EGYPT
Ahmed H. Radwan.
Associate Professor of Architecture, Department of Architecture,
College of Fine Arts, Helwan University, Cairo, Egypt. Email: email@example.com.
The huge roof areas of buildings in Egypt are currently neglected or occupied by storing
unused furniture, building materials & leftovers. these areas are considered a sort of danger to
buildings rather than been utilized to create green areas, or social spaces that can be used by
people in a better way. Green roofs as an idea could be easily applied, considering the
suitable climatic conditions in Egypt among the whole year, this paper is an attempt to
explore the idea of green roofs, and its applications in Egypt putting in consideration the huge
available roof areas on public or private scale(s), and how these neglected resources could
help in making the city healthier through the applications of green roofs, it also shed the light
on different applications of green roofs on both scales, urban scale, and buildings’ scale.
The case of Cairo is suitable for this study, since thousands of buildings do have large roof
areas, that are totally accessible, these areas in itself is a an important resource that can be
incorporated within the urban fabric, supplying the city with many thousands of square
meters of green areas, social spaces and living spaces in a city that vitally still misses a lot of
areas with such specifications, networks could be established to link rooftops of some
buildings in Cairo, applying green roofs concept may lead to a more healthier city that lacks a
lot of green areas.
Keywords: green roof, green architecture, green areas, sustainable design, healthier cities.
In a crowded metropolitan city like Cairo, the per green square meter for every resident is
extremely a low ratio, not only low, but also considered the least all over the world. These
rates of quick urbanization are increasing the need of people for more green areas, that can’t
be applied or fulfilled with the very high land value(s). At the same time thousands of public
and private buildings do have large areas of their rooftops, that are mostly left unutilized and
abounded. These areas are not only unutilized but also considered as sources of dangers, as
they are usually areas of leftovers, or building services like water tanks, dishes, ….etc, and
with badly insulated rooftops it’s also a source of danger in the rainfall seasons, in addition to
the heat loads these areas may transfer to the buildings indoor areas, from another side these
areas also are containing a quite good sector of informal housing spaces, that grows above the
building whether in informal areas or premium locations of the crowded city. If we consider
the per inhabitant green space amount in Cairo, it is almost 0.33 square meters per individual
which makes up the lowest proportions in the world. Along with the problems mentioned
above, stands out a common denominator, the roofs of the buildings (mentioned in figure 1).
Figure 1 Comparison of different greenery in different urban cities. Source: Attia, S., Mahmoud, A., (2009)
1. Research problem:
1.1. The green areas ratio in Cairo.
For the larger cities of the world, green areas are vital for maintaining the environmental
quality, this is much more crucial for the metropolitan cities like Cairo as these cities are
much denser. More than 22 million inhabitants are living in Cairo and as per estimate it is the
most densely populated and overcrowded cities in the Middle East along with the highest
pollution rate as well. Cairo is facing serious shortage of open and green spaces in terms of
both quantity and distribution. The average amount of green space which is available per
inhabitant in Cairo is almost equal to 0.33 square meters. The green space per person in Cairo
is one of the lowest most proportions in the world. . The other optimistic investigations
also mention that the open space has reached 1.5 m2 per individual but still as compared to
other big cities of the world it is still much less and is one of the key concerns. For the
sustainability of urban environment, the urban phenomenon has caused three main concerns
like, rapid growth of population, depletion of resources because of high rate of exhaustion
and contamination of environment.
1.2. The rooftop as a neglected space.
As a space or an area resource(s), the roof is either unutilized, or badly utilized, whether used
as mentioned above as an area for leftovers or unwanted stuff, garbage, old building
materials, or an area for building services, from laundry rooms, maids’ rooms, drivers’ rooms
in the past, to water tanks, satellite dishes, etc nowadays, which means that such a resource
should be thought about in the lack of open & green areas among the city.
2. Research objectives.
This research focuses on utilizing the buildings roofs, elaborating the Egyptian current
situation, particularly Cairo which represents the capital and clearly shows the problem of
supplying adequate green areas. It aims at shedding the light on the different dimensions of
the issue in an attempt to provide a methodology through which to encourage inhabitants,
building users, architects & Urban Planners to invest more in applying green roof ideas and
techniques with a focus on informal and other areas that are deprived of green areas, having
bad environmental conditions, or lacking social spaces.
3. Research methodology.
The research methodology would firstly be observatory by highlighting the current situation
of using buildings roofs in Cairo, and the different problems that exists,
3.1. General analysis of case studies and experiences.
An analytical approach by reviewing some international, regional and local attempts for the
green roofs applications, and finally discussing the limits and challenges facing this issue.
Research ending by specific conclusions and recommendations for the Architects, urban
planners and inhabitants for utilizations, implementations and future researches.
4. Cairo case as the research focus.
4.1. Various current uses of rooftops in Cairo.
The majority of the rooftops in Cairo is abounded, where these spaces are either used in
storing old belongings of building inhabitants, satellite dishes, water tanks, Solar heaters now.
however, more uses do exist, from using the rooftops as a working space for some crafts
where applicable, garbage collections, even for using the rooftops as residence especially in
the areas where the buildings’ rooftops do have service rooms, drivers and maids rooms, in
downtown Cairo, Zamalek, and some other areas.
Figure 2 Rooftops of different buildings in Cairo showing rubbish and trash and many satellite dishes.source
In Cairo, Manshiet Nasser is a prime location for Zabbaleen which are local collectors of
garbage. They are supposed to recycle the city’s waste and they recycle as much as 80% of
the collected refuse . Most of the rooftops at this area is used as a space for storing,
segregating garbage, and processing Garbage where it is considered as a valuable resource of
income and business. Residence and work areas are attached to one another.
In downtown Cairo, Zamalek, and some other areas. Many rooftops are used as residence
especially in the areas where the buildings’ rooftops do have previously service rooms for
drivers and maids’ Focusing more on such areas, it’s also considered as suitable living
areas(s) for many families that couldn’t find the suitable homes, especially with the shortage
of housing units. Having these rooftops with basic conditions of living standards, prime
location among the city, is not a bad idea to be hosting many residents.
5. Literature review
5.1. Green roof definition.
A green roof is defined as a living roof at the top of a building which is either partly or totally
covered with vegetation and a growing medium and underneath it is a strong and water
resistant membrane. Some additional layers are sometimes included in it as well like root
barrier along with a system of irrigation and drainage. Plants are grown on the top of the
roofs and this helps in the replacement of vegetated footprints which were lost while
constructing the building. Green rooftops are basically economical and inactive plan elements
of vegetation surfaces connected to a waterproofing layer of a reasonable traditional rooftop
develop in stormy atmospheres .
5.2. Green roofs - the reasons.
An important question is why green roofs are needed and what are the advantages these green
roofs offer to the city and environment around? It can easily be said that the construction of
green roofs offers so many advantages to the people, economics and social sectors along with
considerable benefits to the environment of locality. The advantages which are mentioned
below can be obtained by all systems containing green roof and designs. When the roof tops
are provided with gardens, they do add a touch of decoration to the building, besides it also
offers a free space for everyone inside the building to enjoy. When such gardens are made at
the roof tops, there is also a considerable reduction in the fluctuations of temperature in a
building. In this way the top floor of the building is kept cooler in summer season while in
cold winter months it is kept a bit warmer.
5.3. Green roofs-The benefits.
One of the options which can lessen the negative effects of development is the installation of
green roofs while offering a lot of other environmental, economic and social advantages. The
storm water management is also improved with the reduction of runoff and water quality
improvement, energy conservation, island’s urban heat reduction, noise and air production
reduction etc. It is also estimated that greening of the roofs can increase the biodiversity of an
urban town by providing an artificial habitat for the wildlife and some space for the
agricultural cultivation in cities. Another advantage is offering highly aesthetic and pleasant
environment for the local communities to live and work. It thereby improves the investment
return in contrast to the custom roofs .
5.3.a Green roofs - storm water runoff reduction.
During substantial and constant rainfall, spillovers can overpower the framework of storm
water and it can possibly harm the waterways . When the green roofs are made, they can
retain the rainwater along with the plants and some part of this water is returned back to the
atmosphere as a result of transpiration or direct evaporation from the water surface. The
storm water which is left from the top of the roof is delayed and there is a reduction in its
volume, storm water which is seen running from the green roof is much clean as compared to
the runoff which is seen from the customary roofs. The deferral and retention of spillover or
runoff facilitates the weight on the framework of storm water and sewers, cost savings from
the decentralized storm water mitigation lessen the requirements of expanding or renovating
the concerned framework.
Figure 3 Rainfall and runoff comparison in the 2005 dry and wet seasons (source: from the September 2006 CMHC Report).
5.3.b Green roofs - energy efficiency
Heat flux through the roofs is reduced
through green roofs and there can be
considerable cost saving on the basis of lesser energy requirements for heating or cooling.
When the outer surface of a building envelope is shaded it has been proven to be much
effective as compared to inner insulation. When green roofs are constructed, they do not let
solar heat to heat up the building directly while in winter, these green roofs ensure less heat
loss with the help of increased insulation on the top of the roof. As a result of all these energy
conservation measures there will be less emission of greenhouse gases. The energy
consumption is reduced to 40% in winter for heating as well with the help of green roofs and
100% reduction in energy consumption in summer for cooling. .
Figure 4 Green Roof vs traditional roofs Source:http://commons.bcit.ca/greenroof/files/2012/01/roof_types.jpg
5.3.c Green roofs - improving air quality.
Leaves of plants purify the air by trapping the dust particles from the surroundings, when
transpiration occurs; there is reduction in temperature as well. Reduced Ozone at ground level
+ reduced heat = Less production of photochemical smog. There is also a considerable
reduction in urban heat island profile,
lesser requirements of heath care
facilities directly result in saving the
cost. Along with all other benefits as we
are discussing, one of the key benefit of
greenery is the scrubbing of air. One
square meter of greenery can absorb all
the contaminants which a driving car
emits if it drives 12,000 miles per year.
Figure 5 Urban Heat Island profile source:http://commons.bcit.ca/greenroof/files/2012/01/urban_heat_island.jpg
The amount of carbon-dioxide can be reduced considerably with the help of green roofs and
as this happens there will be significant reduction in global warming. If the green roofs are
constructed it is to be kept in mind that 1 square meter of this green roof can absorb per
annum 5 kg of carbon-dioxide from the surrounding air. Furthermore, since the energy
consumption is reduced as well, there is further reduction in the carbon dioxide production to
as much as 3.2 kg per year. Some airborne particles which are considered as toxic
contaminants like smog, volatile organic particles from the atmosphere in the surroundings,
heavy metals are as well captured by the plantation at the green roofs. As this happens there
is a great and healthy impact on the air quality and inhabitant’s health.
5.3.d Green roofs last longer.
The water proofing membrane is
covered by green roofs which can
provide much better protection to
it against ultraviolet radiations
and the everyday intense
temperature fluctuations. As a
result of it the life time of a water
proofing extends twice as much as
that of the customary roofing, it
also indicates that the membranes
which are kept under green roofs
last much more (twice) in contrast to the traditional roofs, this indirectly impacts on the
reduced material which is formed by re-roofing, lesser needs of reroofing, lesser costs in the
given time frame. It has also been proven that the life expectancy of the roof is tripled by
constructing the green roofs. The roof materials underneath are given protection from any
sort of mechanical hazard, UV rays and temperature extremities as a result of which the
maintenance and renovation cost is reduced significantly.
Figure 6 Median daily temperature fluctuation experienced by the roof membrane of the three sections at the Green Roof Research
Facility, by season September 2006 CMHC Report).
5.3.e Green roofs - provide extra spaces.
Green rooftops take advantage of unused space inside the expanding thickness of urban areas,
they can make social as well as recreational space from the roof tops and these can also be
used in the agribusiness inside a city, amenity day care space, meeting, recreational, aesthetic
view to the inhabitants in surroundings, enhancing the potential of workers and their
creativity, also an increase in the potential to increase the food security of the city via
gardening at the roof top. Green roofs and their natural character offers protection from the
concrete build up in the major cities also it results in considerable alteration to the present day
5.3.f Green roofs - create Job opportunities.
A new industry represents a new market that provide employment opportunities, through
Supply and manufacture of roofing membranes and root repellent layers, drainage layers,
landscaping cloth, curbs, irrigation systems and other specialty products, Supply and
manufacture of substrate, light-weight soils and amendments, plants, Design and engineering
professionals, contractors and landscapers; and companies supplying maintenance contracts.
5.3.g Green roofs - Noise reduction.
A reasonable insulation is provided by a green roof framework and this helps to make the
living space comfortable and pleasant in the urbanized areas. Greenery also helps in the
reduction of noise in big urban towns especially the cities with so many industries and
5.3.h Extensive green roofs.
Extensive green roofs contain
shallow soils (generally 7-
10cm). A lot of vegetation,
Figure 7 Extensive green roofs
sedums, mosses as well as herbs are supported by these green roofs. They are much lighter in
type. When such extensive green roofs are made, they provide much more protection to the
underlying water proof membrane and hence the water runoff is reduced considerably. Once
or twice a year, there will be detailed inspection of a roof. Also once in a year, fertilization is
offered in the late fall or beginning of the spring season and this is done to ensure the
maximum growth of plants for the success of the framework. The system of irrigation is not
much needed in this but if you are in areas which remain dry for longer time periods you
might need the efficient irrigation system as well. there is also no need of regular access to
the extensive green roofs.
5.3.i Intensive green roofs.
There is a deeper layer of soil in intensive green
roofs which is approximately 15 cm upwards
along with plenty of plants varieties which are
likely to be grown from the semi mature trees to
the lawns or ornamental plants. The depth of soil
needed is determined by the plant varieties which
are supposed to be grown.. Also the plants to
be grown determine the requirement of irrigation
system if any along with the level of
maintenance. The regular access to roof is given,
hence the paved zones, water features as well as
walls are also added while designing.
6. International, Regional & Global Practices.
6.1. International experiences of green roofs.
Austria, Germany, Belgium and in other rainy countries are the places where green roofs are
considered as one of the key features for the source control which can contribute to the
management of soil water and control over the runoff system. Water is not only stored at the
roof level with the help of green roofs but also the rate of runoff of this water is significantly
reduced which can ultimately reduce the requirements of underground networks of drainage.
From the green roof it is easier to harvest the rainfall though the rain water amount which can
Variables Extensive Intensive
Vegetation Sedum, grass, herbs Grass, ornamental bushes, trees
Height <15cm 25-100cm
Irrigation Mostly not Always necessary
Weight 50-150kg/m² 250-1,000kg/m²
Walking possibility No/Limited Yes
Water buffer 4-12mm 18-39mm
Load capacity roof Most normally sufficient Requires extra strong roof structure
Maintenance Very low Comparable with a normal garden
Roof pitch Up to 45° Flat or in terraces
be used can also be lessen which to a great extent depends on the green roof type which is
In Europe there is considerable growth in the industry of green roof for the past few decades.
It is also estimated that in countries like Germany, 12% of the buildings with flat roofs are
now covered with plantation. It is also seen that the number and demand of green roofing is
increasing in Germany at much faster rate i.e. 10 to 15% yearly.
6.2. The Future of Green Roofs in the United States.
There is a steady rate of growth in the green roof industry in United States. In many areas
where further development and advancement is needed the industry is still young. There are
some hurdles to the installation of green roofs in United States which are: restricted standards
of performance, lesser awareness among people about the advantages of green roofs, costly
installations, and lack of proper policies by Government to support green roofing and data
which is quantifying green roofing is also limited. With the help of research however, one
can easily overcome such barriers and some modernization can be added in the designs for
green roofs .
6.3. Regional experiences of green roofs.
The word green roof is yet not much familiar in our region and there is a high influence of
media with Northern image. It has also been observed that there are so many beneficial
outcomes of green roof systems as presented by the researches like energy saving, thermal
execution enhancement, building’s comfort level especially in terms of cooling in summer
based on the studies which are made in areas with latitude higher than 40 degrees having a
cold or temperate climate.
In hot and humid areas there are no green roofs, In Saudi Arabia for example, it is not easy to
find successful green roofs since the climate is too hot and humid. The minimum rate of
precipitation must be 450 to 650 mm to ensure the successful green roof installation
according to the norms mentioned by Europe. In Cairo, therefore one can grow the green
roofs as the precipitation rate is 26mm, in Amman it is 276mm, Riyadh 20 mm, and Dubai
10mm. If we consider some cities located in coastal areas like Alexandria (190mm), Tunis
(450mm) or Casablanca (425mm) the summer is of extreme type with larger drought periods,
such long droughts remove the sedum plants and there is lesser chance of their recovery in
the following winter season. There are many voices in Arabia facing these facts which
shockingly do not let the green roofing ideas to be executed unless there is some artificial
system of irrigation. This idea is enough to lose the entire point of sustainability in the
regions particularly where water is already in scarce .
6.4. Local experiences of green roofs.
There are a lot of benefits which can be expected. Green roofs not only provide a general
aesthetic to the building it can instead act as insulation which in Egyptian construction is not
a usual factor to be considered, especially in the poor surroundings where the roof top
apartments are generally ovens. The heat from environment can be absorbed by the green
roofs. The concrete and ubiquitous asphalt are likely to increase the city’s temperature by 3-4
degrees in contrast to a farmland in surrounding. Plants can absorb dust and heavy metals
along with other toxic pollutants from the surrounding air. Although it might not be a great
sell if the crops are being produced for the table. A delightful communal space is created by
green roofs for the residents.
6.4.a Al-Zawya Al-Hamra green roof farms.
In Al-Zawya Al-Hamra, Cairo, the roof farms were utilized with the help of wooden
containers or barrels with a help of a plastic sheet filled completely with peat moss or use of
perlite as a substrate, With the help of tiny plastic hoses to the buckets the system of drainage
is driven, the system produces some leafy crops like radish, parsley, carrots etc. almost 400
Egyptian Pounds are the expected cost of per square meter in this method.
6.4.b The American university in Cairo.
The Desert Development Center (DDC), which had a support of forest service of US and DC
green works, has made American University of Cairo’s first green roof on the office site
building at the place where
DDC is located. The green
roof is covered with succulent
plants and dense vegetation
with underlying water proof
membrane. The roof is serving
in many ways; it has impact
on environment, economy and
aesthetics of the building and
its surroundings. In addition to
all these, a space for learning
is also created with it.
Figure 8 AUC’s first extensive green
roof, source: http://www.aucegypt.edu
The broad green rooftop is mostly conceptualized to be inquired regarding a venture that tests
distinctive methods of developing on a rooftop, including wooden grower, a vertical garden
framework along with aquaponics framework that includes a circular exchange of water trade
provided with a tank of fish. In order to find out how the green roofs will work in Egypt, the
DDC decided to make green roofs. Acknowledgement of certain new innovations and
technologies along with the substrate mixes, schedule of irrigation, plants, runoff, working
with aquaponics and weight are needed. A research on the execution of the system installed is
conducted by DDC so as to figure out the advantages and effects. After this investigation, the
DDC can advertise green roofs in major cities of Egypt and can also guide others for the
There are a lot of advantages of green roofs which include the vegetables production and
food security enhancements. “They also improve air quality, reduce the urban heat island
effect that occurs in heavily-built conglomerations such as Cairo, and provide natural cooling
for the rooms underneath. “Green roofs absorb solar radiation and act as carbon sinks, taking
carbon dioxide out of the air, while providing a natural habitat for birds, bees and insects.
And they look good.”
The roofing technique is cost efficient as well and a little maintenance is needed. In Egypt the
locally available water proof membranes are tested. Shaduf project says that for an
association which determines the system of sustainable water management, it has been seen
that the constructors of green roofs are working hard to find out the suitable materials which
are required for the water contaminant. There is a key difference in roof planting techniques
in Egypt as compared to rest of the world and that is the need of irrigation, whenever
irrigation is needed there is always a need of proper system of runoff or water drainage .
Another important aspect is a weight of green roof components which may give rise to an
issue on some of the roofs in Cairo. Since the sand and conventional soils are massive,
planters of DDC roof gardens are packed with different types of media. There are several
things which add to the fertility of ground for supporting plants life and holding water, these
are mixes of peanut shells, compost, perlite, sand, vermiculite (which is a volcanic glass)
along with the crushed clay pots. There was an investigation that was basically intended to
find out which of the above mentioned mixes are likely to produce biggest benefit for the
plant growth along with the benefits of the nutrients which are produced by fish for the
growth of plants. With the green roof system testing, solutions can be offered by DDC for the
budgets of wide ranges. Awareness raise in the audience of Cairo is also included while
planning the gardens at roof tops, besides it also helps to exhibit individual practices; there
was a unique and firs of its kind of insulation.
6.4.c Cairo’s Gate Residence Features Green Living.
Residential private compound which is under construction, located in a highly dense area in
Cairo, Nasr City. The new solar photovoltaic cells will cover the entire roof of the apartments
buildings, Window glass will take
advantage of the combined functions
of power generation, lighting and
temperature control, Solar water
heating tubes are integrated within the
design to deliver hot water to all the
apartments throughout the year. The
roof transforms into a big community
garden covering the entire complex to
improve the thermal inertia of the
roof. The mixed-used complex will
also feature a rooftop garden for
growing fresh produce and will
double up as a recreational area for
Figure 9 Cairo Gate Residence - Proposed green roof, source: http://aasarchitecture.com/
6.4.d Challenges facing green roofs applications in Egypt
There are so many problems. Ownership is the biggest concern. In Cairo very few buildings
exist which are legally registered particularly in the poor surroundings where the crops at the
top of the roofs are supposed to provide much benefit. It is a big hurdle in deciding who has
the right to the roof and the one who must be held responsible for services is another concern.
In the poor areas of Cairo, the electricity meters are not registered under the owner’s name.
Communal form of water meters are used hence all the residents of a building can end up in
financing the irrigation and harvesting of the crops at the roof top. Another important concern
is the structure of building. Most of the buildings are constructed below average and it is
always a big concern whether these buildings can support some extra weight of a rooftop
farm let alone bear the
water leakage which is
almost inevitable and
hence a cost is there with
a gardening system to be
launched at roof top, the cost ranges from 7,000 to 15,000 pounds as per some financial
Figure 10 Challenges facing green roofs applications in Egypt. (Tawfik,2015)
In a crowded metropolitan city like Cairo, and with this poor ratio of green area per person,
green roofs concept is growing from being a luxury option, to a severe need to provide the
city with more green areas, better air quality, & other benefits of green roofs. With the
current increasingly urbanization rates, This need of green areas not only in the informal
areas in Egypt but also in the majority of the city, could not be achieved easily through
providing more green areas among the urban setting of these areas, due to many challenges
and difficulties among them the increasing land value, people awareness, besides other legal,
governmental and economic factors, considering the fact of having thousands meters of
accessible areas represented in the roof tops, this could be a suitable solution for such an
urban problem. Although both types of inclusive and exclusive green roofs might not be this
suitable solution for the informal areas, yet urban agriculture could be a good one, providing
the environmental, socioeconomic benefits of the green roofs concept, supported by some
successful experiences that took place in Egypt, and could encourage people for more trials
and better expected outputs and results. Not only limited to green roofs and urban agriculture,
rooftops could provide the buildings with many social spaces that could be utilized by the
buildings inhabitants, talking on an urban scale, linking these rooftops could provide the city
with a network of open spaces, accessible and considered as extension of spaces with
different uses whether on the level of private or public buildings. Many attempts and project
are currently ongoing in Egypt, that are applying the various concepts of utilizing the
rooftops, which shows a good level of awareness towards the importance of such an issue.
There is always a need of scientific research to broaden the knowledge which can ultimately
enable to design better urban development. Green roofs concept(s) should grow from being
an individual project for one or couple of buildings, to deal with that urban problem through
creating a network that could be managed economically and securely controlled, keeping in
consideration the value of privacy for the Egyptian culture. more researches should be
developed to investigate and explore the technical issues of green roofs-Urban Agriculture
rather than the concepts, that can lead to easier way of dealing with such solutions
considering the economic factor that can help the idea to grow and expand among many areas
of the city thus leading to better qualities of life. encouraging the building owners to make
use of the roof tops whether through applying green roof concepts, or urban agriculture, or
using the rooftops as social spaces for gathering of inhabitants, this might help in getting a
source of income, that might be supporting the buildings’ maintenance and running costs, and
could also help in better living conditions among the building. exploring more concepts of
utilizing the building rooftops by integrating such areas in the design of the building whether
private or public, in addition to investigating details that makes the green roof concepts
feasible and adding value to the building. Encouraging individual projects in this concern
within a network of other projects on the urban level throughput the city, would help in
getting short term results and controllable budget limits.
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