New York’s Heavenly Oases: Gardens in the Sky

11:19 am  |  02.06.2021

The secret realm of its roof gardens lies high above the urban canyons of the megacity. Photographer Charles de Vaivre has explored 25 of the exclusive refuges.

Romantic fairytale gardens, wild plant paradises, stylish designer terraces – like exquisite eagle nests, they not only offer their wealthy owners breathtaking views of the city. They also open up a piece of protected nature hundreds of meters above the ground. Of course, the botanical gems are mostly closed to the general public.

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The Upper West Side, where the landscape architects from Gunn Landscape Architecture have created a dream of a roof garden from cedar and zinc. In the middle of this green oasis there was a seating area, in the back there was space for a cozy reading corner. The highlight, however, is the specially made water wall.

The French photographer Charles de Vaivre embarked on an airy exploration tour and explored the roofs of Manhattan’s skyscrapers from the Upper East Side and Midtown to Little Italy, Tribeca, Soho, and Greenwich Village. He also struck gold in Brooklyn and other neighborhoods. The most beautiful of the heavenly retreats that allowed him and his camera access can now be admired in the illustrated book “New York Rooftop Gardens”.

This terrace surprises with a wall of lush plants and running water and impresses with its view of downtown Manhattan.

The Big City From a Bird’s Eye View

The city that never sleeps is hectic and loud. Land prices are horrendous, quiet areas a rare luxury. If not down in front of the building, then on the roof with the green spaces – the group of architects headed by Raymond Hood came up with this idea when planning the Rockefeller Center around 80 years ago.

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This romantic complex is located in the center of the posh Upper East Side. Their designers equipped them with begonias, birches, maples, brick floors, and a stone fountain.

The complex of 19 buildings built in the 1930s has several gardens on the upper floors. The viewing platform of the General Electric building is impressive and has been open to the general public again since 2005. The “Top Of The Rock” crowns the 70th floor Art Deco building and offers a unique 360-degree view of the Chrysler Building, Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the East and Hudson Rivers from a height of 260 meters.

Rapt Natural Paradises

Here, as well as in the numerous private roof gardens of luxurious penthouses, the contrasts astonish the visitor: below, the howling of the sirens, the gray of the concrete and the merciless pace of the big city juggernaut – above, between rose bushes, box trees and babbling fountains, contemplation takes the lead.

The famous role model in terms of roof garden culture: The Rockefeller Center has several green open spaces high above the city.

An army of landscape architects is now finding an unexpectedly large and, above all, challenging field of activity on New York’s skyscrapers. The demands of the top-class customers – media stars, money nobility, and political celebrities. The representative roofscapes not only want to be laid out and maintained but also to be constantly redesigned according to the changing trend or personal taste.

This green space is on the roof of one of the most famous buildings in Little Italy – the former New York City Police Department.

Original English or Japanese gardens are just as much on the client’s wish list as mini jungles, small urban forests, or green walls. In all projects, the resourceful garden designers have to struggle with the city’s extreme weather conditions: On the roofs of the skyscrapers, trees, bushes, flowers, artistically designed porticoes, pergolas, and other garden interiors are largely defenseless against the notorious icy winters, hot summers, storms and torrential rains exposed to the metropolis.

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Nice and Useful

The volume published by teNeues describes the roof gardens of New York as the “contemporary heirs of the hanging gardens of Babylon”. According to legend, Nebuchadnezzar II had the legendary terraced landscape about 100 meters wide and 100 meters long built in the sixth century BC out of love for his wife in the middle of the desert of modern-day Iraq – in ancient times it was considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

Indeed, the lush green spaces over the American metropolis are also marvels of the urban world. They not just beautiful from an aesthetic point of view.

Custom-made teak planters, a heated jacuzzi, and a fireplace sweeten the view of uptown New York from this roof terrace above the SoHo district. The Empire State Building can be seen in the distance. The open-air kitchen cannot be seen, for which there was also space in the 76 square meters open space.

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The New York City leaders have been promoting them for years because they prove to be a real environmental blessing: the gardens on the roofs of the city cool down in the summer and reduce the energy consumption of the climatic locations. They suck up rainwater and prevent flooding down on the streets. They dampen the noise, increase the humidity, improve the climate – and all in all, they are probably not without good reason one of the most fascinating green spaces on the planet.

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