Building Green tour of Brighton & Hove

The second day of our DIY Green Roof workshop involved a tour of some inspirational buildings in Brighton & Hove.

First was the Velo Cafe, with a green roof fitted by Organic Roofs. Lee Evans talked the group through the trials and tribulations of green roofing on a pitched slope. The roof now looks great, and we spotted a female grey wagtail feeding on it.

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Grey wagtail on the roof of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Grey wagtail on the roof of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

We visited Madeira Drive to see the ‘world famous sheltered walk’ and the green wall. Great inspiration for greening the other 4 building surfaces – which are often forgotten amongst all the talk of roofs! This was the first guided visit to the Madeira Drive Green Wall, and Building Green highlighted the threats and opportunities for its continued conservation.

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshop crew hearing about the special green wall at Madeira Drive, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshop crew hearing about the special green wall at Madeira Drive, Brighton

Finally we went to Whitehawk to see the great wildflower roof at the Crew Club. Unfortunately the roofs on the Children’s Centre and library are faring less well – much of the planting has died and the roofs should really be refurbished. Still, it’s a hotspot for green roofing and green building – nearby houses are making their own contribution too, as this well managed ivy attests.

The 'chalk downland' green roofs of the Crew Club community centre, Whitehawk, Brighton

The ‘chalk downland’ green roofs of the Crew Club community centre, Whitehawk, Brighton

Whitehawk home - carefully grown and tended ivy as a home for wildlife and attractive front garden. Brighton

Whitehawk home – carefully grown and tended ivy as a home for wildlife and attractive front garden. Brighton

All in all a great weekend – new friendships, new networks, and some new neural pathways from all this learning!

New ideas for Madeira Drive

Urban designer Michael Doyle has produced these ideas for a new-look Madeira Drive.

Based on designs published in the Argus in September, these new ideas incorporate the environmental infrastructure that is such an important part of our seafront.

Michael is a local resident who runs an independent town planning and urban design practice. Building Green has met Michael to share ideas.

In one design, photovoltaics could be mounted on the existing ironwork to provide some economic benefit and green electricity whilst longer term solutions are found.

In another, cafes and shops could be assembled as pods that sit outside the terrace at first – providing business space now – and wheeled back under the terrace like Victorian bathing machines if and when a safe, longer term solution is found.

The Council are in private talks over the future of the Madeira terraces, which are currently closed due to the deterioration of the antique Victorian ironwork. Ideas like those of Michael Doyle Building Green and the wider community should be heard as part of a wider debate and search for economic, sustainable solutions.

Building Green is highlighting the importance of the living ‘green wall’, which pre-dates the terraces and is notable for its age, uniqueness in the UK, its wildlife value and for improving the appearance of the East cliff. We are working with the Council to actively manage the only stretch of green wall that is currently accessible – which runs East along the ramp from Peter Pan to the top of Marine Parade.

In the words of Council Leader Warren Morgan, “…we owe it to those who built our city’s heritage, and future generations, to save what we value in our historic city and add to the story of Brighton and Hove for the future.”.

Restored terrace with cafe and shop pods underneath - like Victoria bathing machines these could be established in a space in front of the terraces to be used before the structure is made safe, and wheeled under the arches in due course

Restored terrace with cafe and shop pods underneath – like Victoria bathing machines these could be established in a space in front of the terraces to be used before the structure is made safe, and wheeled under the arches in due course

Photovoltaics could be established on the terraces where not safe to walk on. This can provide green electricity and some economic benefits, as well as a working platform for green wall maintenance.

Photovoltaics could be established on the terraces where not safe to walk on. This can provide green electricity and some economic benefits, as well as a working platform for green wall maintenance.

A striking way of visualising the environmental infrastructure in East Brighton. Connecting the downs to the sea via the squares, green wall and streets. Supporting wildlife and reducing surface water flood risk

A striking way of visualising the environmental infrastructure in East Brighton. Connecting the downs to the sea via the squares, green wall and streets. Supporting wildlife and reducing surface water flood risk.

Madeira Drive A5 leaflet Building Green 1509

Building Green image of green wall

Madeira Drive green wall, Brighton

Brighton carnival in front of Madeira Drive green wall. Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Brighton carnival in front of Madeira Drive green wall. Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The benefits of green walls

Why plant or protect green walls? What’s the point of them?

There have been good studies on this, focused on green walls for buildings. These have put pound (or dollar) signs on costs of establishment and maintenance, and benefits including:

  • increased property value (akin to planting street trees)
  • insulating buildings to reduce air conditioning costs in hot climates
  • acoustic benefit where the covering is thick
  • improving biodiversity
  • improving air quality by trapping dust particles
  • reducing the frequency of building facade maintenance
  • air temperature reduction (urban ‘heat island’)

This study concluded that ‘direct green facades’ – ie climbing plants established onto a building surface – are the most sustainable green wall type, and have a very positive net present value.

Westergate Business Park

There are lots of places in Brighton where this applies – around New England for example, Westergate, American Express, and so on.

For Madeira Drive, our most famous green wall, things are a little different. However, the benefits include:

  • green space for relaxation in a community where the vast majority have no garden, balcony or other outside space
  • a habitat for wildlife – 100 species of plants, birds, butterflies
  • a national arboretum for Japanese spindle, and place to learn how to prune, coppice and manage it
  • a place to study Victorian environmental engineering
  • a green lung in an otherwise sparsely vegetated area – trapping dust
  • a more attractive covering for a rendered cliff face that is so much better visually than sprayed concrete
  • a protective coating for the cliff face – limiting damage and deterioration from wind, rain and cold.
  • a place for volunteers to get active and health
  • a backdrop for TV, film, photo shoots and show piece for Brighton & Hove.

It would be useful to do some economics on this – anyone out there with the requisite skills?

Madeira Drive Green Wall – our living Victorian history

Plenty of news about the Madeira Terraces this week, especially a potential bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site Status. But little mention of the integral, living parts of seafront history.

Argus – Rich film heritage

Argus – Minsters invited to Madeira Drive

Argus – World heritage sites well worth applying for

You can download a leaflet here about the Madeira Drive Green Wall.

Madeira Drive A5 leaflet Building Green 1509

Building Green is interested in working with the Victorian Society, Regency Society, Brighton & Hove Heritage Commission and others on the future of Madeira Drive. We want to ensure that the living history is protected and conserved as part of any plans for the restoration, refurbishment or development of Madeira Drive.

A letter to Simon Kirby MP received the following response (11 September 2015):

"Please be assured that the future of Madeira Drive is an issue I am continuing to work hard on and I will certainly keep your comments in mind. I have recently invited the Coastal Communities Minister to the Terraces to discuss the situation and to see what Government funding may be available."

Building Green counted well over 100 mature spindle trees on the green wall last week – each over 130 years old. 100 plant species have been found in total, and the wall will become the first statutory local wildlife site of it’s kind in the UK when the Council adopt part 2 of the City Plan soon.

Madeira Drive Green Wall sign on the ramp to Marine Parade

Madeira Drive Green Wall sign on the ramp to Marine Parade

Check out Building Green’s timeline for Madeira Drive through history.

Building Green at Big Nature

Big Nature is a free event to encourage awareness and involvement in the natural environment.

Building Green will be there to promote green roofs and living walls for nature in the city. We will be running activities for kids, providing free advice, and talking about how to DIY your own shed green roof.

We’ll also be raising awareness of the importance of our existing environment in the city, including the historic and unique Madeira Drive Green Wall.

Download the new Madeira Drive Green Wall leaflet here.

Madeira Drive A5 leaflet Building Green 1509

Wallflower, Madeira Drive green wall, Brighton

Wallflower, Madeira Drive green wall, Brighton

Big Nature in the Biosphere, Sat 3rd October, 1 to 4 pm, The Foyer, The Brighton Centre

Big Nature in the Biosphere is an interactive event aimed at all ages where you can see what wildlife a pond in your back garden could attract or learn how to make your very own butterfly haven on your front lawn or garage roof. The event will be promoting the great work people are doing within our community and you can find out how to join a group caring for local wildlife reserve near you or how to do it for yourself in your own back garden. 

Get it right first time!

The new Amex building was opened to great fanfare in 2012.

Built by Robert McAlpine and designed by EPR Architects and claimed big sustainability credentials.

Many of these are undoubtedly worthwhile (the result was a BREEAM Very Good), but the biodiversity features are, sadly, dead.

‘Green walls’ at the back of the building were tokenistic pre-grown ivy stands and have all withered and died, possibly due to a lack of irrigation. Judging by the aerial views you can glimpse if you watch ITV’s new police documentary ‘The Nick’, the small green roof has also died or is dying.

Amex green walls have died

Amex green walls have died

Meanwhile the green wall planted by the Victorians at Madeira Drive is still thriving at 130 years old, and the Crew Club green roof is going strong at over 10 years old.

All of this points to the value of a good specification, clear planning conditions, no skimping on the budget, and a maintenance programme. The green roof won’t be visible to many, but the walls now let down the corporate image and will surely need replacing.

Perhaps American Express could get in touch with Building Green for advice?

Background: UK Green Building Council citation on the building contained this statement:

Biodiversity: Green roofs and living walls are located in a number of locations, some of which were a request by the planners, and these include green walls which can be easily seen from street level. The roof areas include 15 bird boxes in specific locations. 20 new semi-mature trees have been planted within the site and neighbouring school grounds as part of an improved biodiversity and ecological target. The site prior to the building works contained at grade car parking and two small scale buildings, and an ecological survey found no presence of bats or other protected species. Monitoring will be carried out by the FM team once in full occupation.