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Roux Center vegetated roof opens for use by Bowdoin community

April 27, 2023

Andrew Yuan
RAISE THE ROUX-F: Thando Khumalo ’23 serenades students with her repetoire of original music in celebration of the opening of the roof at the Roux Center for the Environment on Monday.

The plants on the Roux Center for the Environment’s roof happily soaked in Monday’s rain a little more than students did, but the latter, who gathered to celebrate the roof’s opening to the campus community, were excited regardless. Since the building’s opening in 2018, the green roof—which consists of a patio and plant life both beyond and within the railing—has been utilized in a limited capacity, remaining outside of card access to all but a few. Luisa Wolcott-Breen ’25 wanted to change this.

Last semester, Wolcott-Breen was introduced to the Roux Building Manager Rosie Armstrong, and the pair worked together to open the roof to students. While Wolcott-Breen expected that the possible fall hazard would be the biggest barrier to opening the roof, the staff in the OneCard Office and the Office of Safety and Security cited other concerns.

“We got a lot of concern that there wasn’t [a budget] to have tables and chairs out there, and security didn’t want people to take tables and chairs outside from the indoor furniture,” Wolcott-Breen said. “So, it was people questioning how it would look as a study space. I think that pushed Rosie and [me] to rethink and reframe what we were imagining.”

The pair decided to forge ahead without a budget, utilizing the built-in benches on the roof instead of outdoor furniture. They hope to work alongside Professor in the Natural Sciences Barry Logan to secure funding for chairs by the fall. Despite this budgetary hurdle, involved staff agreed to open the roof on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.—times during daylight hours when faculty would be on site.

“Chiefly, it should be a place that students can experience, and the whole of the Bowdoin community can experience,” Logan said.

Logan, who was on the planning committee for the Roux Center, contributed to the design of the vegetated roof with one of the project’s chief architects, Chris Muscoff.

“I came away from [the building committee] feeling like this part of it—the vegetated roof and the patio around it—was very much intended to be open and free for people’s use,” Logan said.

The roof has more academic potential beyond simply being a study space. Shortly after the Roux Center opened, before the Covid-19 pandemic, Logan’s “Plant Ecophysiology” class analyzed the impact of shade on bearberry on the roof.

“I foresee [the vegetated roof’s use for class projects] down the road, too. There’s the potential to use it in a contrasting way against native plants,” Logan said. “We grew blueberry [plants] out there; we could put blueberry back and would be interested in looking at pollinator communities. Who are the bees and other insects that visit a rooftop blueberry, in comparison to blueberry in something that’s more in its condensed, native environment?”

The weather prevented the opening event from being held directly on the roof. Instead, students gathered on the third floor next to the windows that overlook it.

Thando Khumalo ’23 serenaded attendees, who munched on homemade chocolate chip cookies, with original music.

“Go Roux roof!” Khumalo said enthusiastically, an interjection echoed by the crowd.

“It was just a fun group to hang out with, and the live music was really good. It was just really happy vibes,” attendee Zach Carlson ’26 said.

Avery Cutler ’26 agreed with Carlson’s sentiments, and both look forward to the development of the roof as a social and academic space. While neither currently works in the Roux Center very often, they hope to visit the building more in the future.

“I think they’re also planning on getting some chairs out there, and making it more of a study space or a social space. If that happens, I’m really excited to be there,” Cutler said.

Wolcott-Breen was pleased with how the community came together for the event.

“It was a big community effort, so I’m glad it came together…. I’m very glad that we got to celebrate today and listen to Thando’s music,” Wolcott-Breen said. “And the exciting part is that it’s now accessible to students.”


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