It has been 10 years since we completed the living roof at Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Complex, a truck manufacturing plant in Dearborn, Mich. I was involved with the project from the beginning of the design phase through final completion, conducting quality assurance inspections. Due to the size of the project (more than 10 acres of living roof) and the fact that it still is the largest living roof in North America (and fifth largest in the world), it will probably remain the most recognizable roof that I ever worked on. It will surely be the only one that will have daily viewing tours.
At the time of installation, living roofs were not very popular in the United States. Industry reports indicate that there were only 500 living roof installations in North America prior to the Ford project. I had worked on numerous living installations in waterproofing applications and on high-rise structures throughout the years and was already acquainted with design aspects and benefits. I was an advocate from the start.
There were many challenges in the design phase. Number one was that none of the North American roof manufacturers had living roof systems and technology and materials were subsequently imported from Europe. There were also many skeptics of the concept — including Ford’s roof “experts” who approached me at a conference prior to the project and stated, “We have to stop Ford from doing this.”
Since this installation — and the great success of the project — the narrative has changed. It is my understanding that there are now more than 10,000 living roofs installed in North America, and every roof manufacturer now offers waterproofing materials and vegetative roof systems.
A couple of years ago I was part of a team of initial project participants that Ford brought together to study the performance of the roof and other building components. My testing indicated that the roof system is in excellent condition and should provide waterproofing protection for several more years. The study was conducted at a time when some industry publications were stating that there were problems associated with this roof system. Those unsubstantiated claims were erroneous; the roof system has never leaked since it was installed, the vegetation is thriving, the water run-off is well controlled and there are at least twelve species of wildlife that call this area their home.
Of course you do not have to take my word for it. You can always take the Rouge Plant Tour and see it for yourself.