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Wanted: More Living Roofs

A living roof is composed of a series of layers of drainage and filtering materials topped with soil and plants. While traditional roofs repel and redirect rainfall in concentrated torrents, living roofs mimic the natural world. They absorb up to 70 percent of any given rainfall and then filter the excess.

As a result, unlike the rainfall deposited by, say, Tropical Storm Gaston, water doesn't bounce off and contribute to flooding. It flows gradually into rivers and streams instead. Green roofs also provide superior insulation, mitigate noise and retard fire. Plus they look nice.

Richmond City Hall, in contrast, was recently described as "Stalinesque" in the London-based magazine "The Economist." But its Soviet ambience is the least of the building's problems. Since 1972, when it was built, thousands of marble slabs attached to the exterior of the 450-foot-high edifice have cracked, cupped and bowed.

In order to prevent these slabs from falling onto the heads of the citizens the building was meant to serve, the city installed fiberglass straps and corner supports. Then in 2002, a $19.5 million renovation project began. The project will leave the building looking pretty much the same. It is scheduled for completion in April.

Chicago's City Hall has a living roof. And architects on the Richmond project initially thought about green roofs for each of the four quadrants extending from the building's second floor, says Fred Ortiz, of the Richmond-based firm Scribner, Messer, Brady and Wade. But city officials nixed the idea because of cost.

A $28,000 award, however, might be just the thing to inspire reconsideration. And if not, Ortiz says, his firm is working on two other municipal possibilities: the Richmond Coliseum and Main Street Station Phase II. But in the world of municipal building renovations, the architect concedes, money is always an issue.

"You're free to think as wild as you can, and you get all these ideas," Ortiz says. "But then the client says, 'We only have this much money.'"

In addition to municipal buildings, the alliance's Green Roofs Contest will consider applications for buildings that are multiresidential, mixed-use, commercial, industrial or recreational. Any such building in Richmond or Petersburg, or in the counties of Chesterfield, Goochland, James City, Henrico, New Kent or Powhatan is eligible.

So even if Wilder decides to confine his ax-wielding activities to the indoors, somebody somewhere will get a green roof.

Feb. 14 is the deadline for applications, which can be found online at www. — Laura LaFay

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