SYNTHe: An Urban Rooftop Garden Prototype in Los Angeles

by , 02/09/09

synthe prototype green roof, sustainable design, gardening, urban development, los angeles, urban farming, southern california institute of architecture, alexis rochas, green building

In a city covered by over 4,000 square miles of asphalt and cinder block, the green roof movement may have just won a serious coup with SYNTHe, an urban rooftop garden prototype designed by SCI-arc professor and architect Alexis Rochas. Located atop the Flat, a downtown Los Angeles residential mid-rise building, SYNTHe is a fertile oasis in the sky that will ultimately grow a variety of edible plants. Through an active collaboration between students, faculty, and city officials, SYNTHe proves that green roofs could indeed have a fruitful future in LA.

synthe prototype green roof, sustainable design, gardening, urban development, los angeles, urban farming, southern california institute of architecture, alexis rochas, green building

SYNTHe is a self-sufficient ecosystem that could offer a myriad of environmental benefits. Besides helping to filter pollutants, increasing thermal insulation of the roof, and reducing storm water runoff, the roof top garden sets forth a complete productive cycle. Food will be grown, consumed, and ultimately returned to the cycle in the form of compost on the premises.

The design features an alternating landscape of hard and soft surfaces that knit together to form a series of platforms. A prefabricated, suspended metal blanket and specialized recycled plywood frame outline a series of grow channels which are filled with an engineered growth medium (which is much lighter than natural soil). The undulating surface negotiates the space around existing HVAC and mechanical rooftop equipment, offering a 100% usable surface that is tiered for maximum solar exposure.

The prototype garden, part of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council program, is planted with fruit trees and vines, and herbs and vegetables that will be tended and used by residents and the chefs of the well-known ground floor restaurant, Blue Velvet.

+ Alexis Rochas

+ SCI-arc

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  3. billd February 13, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Shiznit is right; 10,000 lb gorilla. This is being brought up as something new. The basic principal for this design is terrace farming. Incas, Mayans and Asians were doing it thousands of years before.

    The only difference is that rather than using a mountain for the base structure, it is probably a structure of post and beam supports with structural panels mounted to the skeleton.

    I am glad that it was reintroduced to modern uses. It is very beautiful too.

  4. shiznit February 12, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    seems like some student’s project got translated directly to a rooftop from maya.
    oh…and by the way, plants are supposed to grow on top of that thing somewhere…
    it took me some time to actually realize that some of those photos were taken before planting so i was left wondering..where the hell do the plants go on this supposed green roof? looks super heavy too, but i guess that was offset by all the dead weight that was saved by not having more soil/planting.
    it’s just funny how this was piped that food is to be grown for consumption at the restaurant below, but what are they really expecting to get off of that thing… some lichen perhaps… miscellaneous moss…?
    sorry for the wet towel, but i’m just exposing the 10,000lb gorilla in the room.
    nice sweeps though.

  5. Will February 12, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Wow, good looking and green! To the poster who asked about PV, they could put PV panels on the non-growing portions of the roof, which would not only generate electricity, but also provide convection warm for plants like tomatoes, etc.

    As far as the synthetic growing media, I read an article that Suntory had invented a synthetic soil. The article was titled, “Suntory Creates Synthetic Soil,” found at

    Funny thing is, Toyota was working on synthetic soil also. How about that?

  6. pritchet1 February 10, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Now if those panels were PV…

  7. SHARON BADENHORST February 10, 2009 at 6:04 am

    Please sign me up for newsletter.

  8. JIMMA February 9, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    The form and juxtaposition between hard and soft is beautiful – but I have to wonder about the materiality. That surface is metal? Wouldn’t that attract light because of reflection and possibly trap warm air between the surface and existing roof?

    Beautiful project…

  9. Esser February 9, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Wonderful + Interesting

    An intriguing balance of function and aesthetic form. Are any smaller applications planned, and can it be installed as an after thought to existing buildings?

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