Green roof atop the Javits Center becomes urban sanctuary

Lauren Glassberg Image
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Green roof atop the Javits Center becomes urban sanctuary
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Lauren Glassberg has the story

NEW YORK (WABC) -- It's New York City's main convention center. But an unconventional story about the Javits Center is taking place up on the roof, where gardens have become a bird refuge and an enormous energy saver for the facility.

It's an urban field of dreams.

"It's an unexpected space in the middle of Manhattan. No one really looks at a building like Javits and expects to see a green space like this on the top of it," said Javits Center President Alan Steel.

The nearly 7 acres of plants at the Javits Center make this the second largest green roof in the country.

"This is the soil that we're growing here," said Steel. A living thing on top of a building that for years had been deadly to birds.

Birds crashed into the old reflective windows, but those 6,000 windows have been replaced with less reflective ones, and along with that, the leaky roof transformed with sedum.

"From an environmental point of view, it's certainly the greatest thing we've ever done," said Bruce Fowle, the architect of this project. And he's a bird lover.

Bird deaths are down 90 percent because of the new windows, and the roof has become a sanctuary for 11 different bird species.

"During migration, all the birds come up through New York, and they look for green spaces to feed, re-energize themselves and go on, and this is one more place that they can do that," said Fowle.

Some of them are even nesting here. And there are bats too. A device records their calls.

"That's how we know we have five different species of bats here," said Steel.

And it isn't just the bats and the birds, it's bees. Honeybees are enjoying the rooftop as well.

"We hope to have more hives next year, and once we do you'll start to see bottles of Javits honey appearing in our stores," said Steel, adding 'how sweet it is."

It's sweet in so many other ways.

"The temperature on the green part of the roof is about 20 degrees lower than the temperature on the concrete part of the roof," said Steel.

That saves millions of dollars in electric bills. The succulents also absorb 7 million gallons that would have been runoff, and neighbors now get to gaze upon a lush field that also inspires.

"I think it's a harbinger of what's to come," said Steel.

To schedule a tour of the Javits Center green roof, call 212-216-2325, or e-mail