Above: Farm house in Keldur, Iceland. These are “earth sheltered” houses, an ancient form of passive solar, sustainable architecture. It’s the practice of “packing earth against building walls for external thermal mass, to reduce heat loss and maintain steady indoor temperature.”
From Wikipedia: “A sod roof or turf roof is a traditional Scandinavian type of green roof covered with sod on top of several layers of birch bark on gently sloping wooden roof boards. Until the late 19th century, it was the most common roof on rural log houses in large parts of Scandinavia. Its distribution roughly corresponds to the distribution of the log building technique in the vernacular architecture of Finland and the Scandinavian peninsula.” Apparently the birch bark was an effective waterproofing layer.
In my neighbourhood, applications to build green rooves have recently been rejected by City Hall, despite the current civic administration’s green agenda. We may be seeing a case of two agendas at odds: the heritage agenda for the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver, with its housing stock of imported Victorian/Edwardian styles, and City Hall’s green agenda. The latter apparently doesn’t trump the former, though there may also be engineering concerns at play. Anyway, I came up against this when I became interested in building a carport/garage with a green roof.
Clearly this is a historic method, even in damp, dark places. These houses are examples of a very, very old building practice. In the case of the earth sheltered houses above I’d be curious to know if the interiors were damp, but I expect the houses with sod rooves were probably pretty comfortable.
The most beloved local example of a grass roof is in Coombs, B.C. where a popular stop on Vancouver Island is a small restaurant whose roof is covered in small grazing goats. Very popular with B.C. children and tourists. Our new convention centre in BC also has a notable green roof. But I’ll be interested to see if this method makes it to the local housing level in Vancouver, whose code is one of the strictest in N. America. A code so strict that it inhibits the building of any interesting architecture, and in fact precludes the building of house styles actually indigenous or vernacular to this region.
Four houses directly below are via Inhabitat.
Below, sod roof with goats at Coombs, B.C.
Below, the new Vancouver Convention Centre with its green roof