P!LA: SynthE-sizing Dinner

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009
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On Saturday, before we headed over to the Standard for my star turn on the media panel, Sam Lubell and I first swung by the Flat, home to celebrated LA restaurant Blue Velvet. We were there for an event hosted by colleague and co-panelist Alyssa Walker, part of her de Lab (design east of LaBrea) series. SCI-arc professor and hunk Alexis Rochas had installed easily the coolest green roof we’ve ever seen on top of the condo, and two dozen or so people had shown up for a tour, followed by a most-interesting lunch.

Alexis Rochass SynthE green roof. (All photos Matt Chaban)

Alexis Rochas's SynthE green roof. (All photos Matt Chaban)

The Flat, you see, is an old Holiday Inn motor hotel on the border of Westlake and downtown that was converted three years ago into luxury apartments. (I guess this is what passes for historic preservation in LA.) Well, shortly after the residences and attached restaurant opened, the folks at Blue Velvet asked Rochas to design a green roof for them, not only to retain stormwater runoff but also to supply the most local produce imaginable, at least for Downtown LA.

The green roof was built atop the Flat, a converted Holidays Inn.

The green roof was built atop the Flat, a converted Holiday Inn.

With a group of his students, Rochas devised SynthE. The team took about 950 laser-cut panels, no two alike, bent them into the desired forms, welded them all together, and created what looks like Logan’s RunĀ if it were set on the Inner Mongolian steppe. Rochas explained that the form serves two purposes, directing the flow of water into the planted bands as well as subtly outlining the mechanical systems hidden beneath.

Because the building was built before the 1967 code took effect, the weight tolerances of the roof were incredibly thin, and only 20 pounds per square foot could be added. This necessitated not only the use of the lightweight aluminum, but also a special soil, which only weighs, with water, around 15 pounds per square foot. Still, Rochas said the system absorbed 80 percent to 90 percent of all precipitation and had no trouble sustaining the plants that are product, or rather produce, of the roof.

Among the produce growing on the SynthE roof for use in the Blue Velvet kitchens is beef steak tomatoes and lavender.

Among the produce growing on the SynthE roof are beefsteak tomatoes and lavender.

“As an architect, you design the structure and its shape, but also this time, its program and its use,” Rochas explained. “The architect becomes a gardener, the gardener a planner.” Indeed, the entire roof, but for a patch of grass intended for lounging by residents, is planted with various fruits, vegetables, and other edibles for Blue Velvet. Working 90-day crop cycles, the team grows all manner of tomatoes, herbs, greens, berries, wheat grass, even some monster cabbage. “It’s a true, organic experiment, seeing what will grow and succeed,” Rochas said. “And you can’t get more local.”

Plus, it makes a decent slide.

3 Responses to “P!LA: SynthE-sizing Dinner”

  1. […] grows vegetables used by the restaurant. Designed by a team of architects led by Alexis Rochas, SynthE, as the installation is being referred to, had to be lightweight to ensure that the roof of the […]

  2. […] grows vegetables used by the restaurant. Designed by a team of architects led by Alexis Rochas, SynthE, as the installation is being referred to, had to be lightweight to ensure that the roof of the […]

  3. […] photos and a video tour of the roof can be found here.) Sam […]

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