Themes for the International Rooftop Knowledge Day 2022

You step through a doorway. Suddenly, you have a clear view of the horizon and can hear only the wind and muffled sounds from the city below. Staring to the world beyond, you take a deep breath. Your feet are still on solid ground, but your head is closer to the clouds. As Sereh Mandias wrote in her essay on rooftops: “as if you had suddenly surfaced from something you were unknowingly immersed in all along.”

Using the rooftop feeling to improve design

To refer to the experience of being on a rooftop, we have coined the neologism ‘dakgevoel’, translated to English as ‘rooftop feeling’.

The Dutch term pertains to both the sensory perception of rooftop dwelling as well as the emotional state the experience evokes. Think of it as clearing your mind with a stroll on the beach, only in the middle of an urban environment. The positive effects on ‘city users’ (humans and animals alike, both residents and visitors) are easy to imagine, but hard to measure. When we make an effort to create opportunities for this rooftop feeling, calculating the return on that investment would be nigh impossible. Even so, we feel it is pertinent to take this rooftop feeling as a starting point for design. It is part of the search for a future for urban planning in which the city users’ broad interest is more of a focal point.

Image: Renée Rooijmans

‘Sensitive’ topics: four themes to explore

We will discuss the experience of city users and their rooftop feeling (1) as being a ‘why’ for rooftop use. From there, we will look at the ‘how’ with two possible applications: green rooftops (2) and rooftops as public spaces (3)

Both are connected to rooftop feeling and have an obvious value that is, again, hard to measure. We instinctively recognise they are beneficial and important functions for rooftops, but what are the concrete results? At what point are they beneficial enough to warrant the investment? We cannot put our finger on it – not only in rooftop use but on the street level as well. This intangibility distinguishes them from the more rational rooftop functions such as energy generation and water retention, where the profits are easily measured and numerically expressed. And that disparity becomes problematic when we need to prioritise certain rooftop functions over others. A hurdle we must overcome, if we want to seriously profit from the potential of the rooftop feeling.

From the ‘how’, we will finally arrive at the more concrete ‘what’: the regulations (4). Our aforementioned ‘sensitive’ rooftop functions in particular are often restricted by these. Through science fiction and international real-life examples (such as NYC’s air rights), we will look for ways to make the regulations work for us instead of against us in our quest for the rooftop feeling. So that they are no longer a towering obstacle, but more of a tool to channel creativity into realistic applications.

Curious to know more about our previous rooftop knowledge programme? Take a look at the programme of our online International Knowledge Day 2021!