PhytoKinetic: Lightweight Green Roof System For City Buses and Vehicles

July 24, 2013 by

Urban-Gardens-Original™-Post-Band

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For Barcelona area landscape designer Marc Grañén, the test of his concept was the reaction from his young children. When he told his kids, ages 6 and 9, about his lightweight green roof system for city buses, the boys began drawing pictures, telling their friends, and offering up wildly imaginative suggestions. “They go crazy when they talk about it,” Grañén said about his children’s response.

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Grañén’s young son Arnau explores the bus’s rooftop garden.

With his project, PhytoKinetic, Grañén aims to energize drab public buses with vibrant, gardened roofs that he hopes will contribute a bit to improving the urban ecosystem. “Urban green areas are crucial for photosynthesis, vital for purifying the air we breathe,” he said. “But much-needed green areas are not always available.”

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Grañén believes cities can use existing spaces–like the roofs of public buses–to create new pockets of greenery. A self-described “landscape artist,” based about an hour north of Barcelona, in Bescanó, Grañén first studied biology before turning to one of his passions, garden design. “My artistic point of view of life and my intense love of natural landscapes make the perfect combination for what has become my daily occupation. I am a landscape artist, says Grañén. “Nature is my inspiration and my family, my best teacher.”

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Grañén planting the PhytoKinetic prototype.

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Grañén‘s children offered their input.

When he met the lauded green wall and green roof innovator Alex Puig at a garden event in which they both participated, Grañén was drawn to Puig’s profound yet simple philosophy about greening urban areas in accordance with natural models. Puig’s commitment to biodiversity and multiculturalism resonated for Grañén, who recognized a kindred spirit.

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Grañén brought his PhytoKinetic concept to Puig, proposing a mutually agreeable scenario: in exchange for the use of Puig’s Vivers Ter nursery facilities and equipment for PhytoKintetic experimentation and prototyping, Grañén would commit to utilizing Puig’s plants and labor for future projects.

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Alex Puig’s Vivers Ter nursery in Girona Spain.

It was the beginning of what Grañén describes as a symbiotic relationship between the two–Grañén bringing the idea and Puig contributing the material and intellectual support in which to implement it. So it comes as no surprise that PhytoKinetic is more than just a magic bus for the 21st century: it’s a practical yet inspiring vision for a greener world.

Urban Gardens Views PhytoKinetic Prototype Bus

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Grañén introduces me in June 2013 to the PhytoKinetic prototype bus near Girona, Spain.

I met Grañén recently when he invited me to Girona to see his prototype PhytoKinetic bus, five months after he reached out to me about it via this blog. We climbed a ladder to the bus’s planted roof, where I was able to experience first hand the living mobile garden that I’d learned so much about since we began communicating in January 2013.

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The bus is on the road these days transporting tourists to and from a nature and camping facility in Estartit near Girona. But Grañén is in discussions with a major auto company who has expressed interest in sponsoring a fleet in Barcelona.

In the meantime, Grañén’s received approval to plant the vehicle roofs of a Barcelona landscape design company and another in Girona which he’ll be unveiling in a few days. In September, Grañén will take one of those vans on the road to the World Green Infrastructure Congress, an international event in Nantes, France about developing green infrastructures.

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Scientific Community Offers Their Support
An impressive cadre of scientists and engineers have consulted with Grañén in support of PhytoKinetic. The collaborative team has included mechanical engineer Xavier Castellano, a former classmate who works for a major automotive company, who conducted numerous structural tests. Jordi Sargatal, a recognized naturalist, ornithologist and former director of the Fundació Territori i Paisatge, a conservation and environmental education foundation, has advised Grañén about biodiversity. Enrique Figueroa, who teaches ecology at the University of Seville, assisted Grañén in analyzing Co2 capture rates, as did Dr. José Mª Durán and Dr. Julián Briz, agronomic engineers at the Technical University of Madrid and members of Pronatur, a Spanish non-profit that supports green roofs and urban agriculture.

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“All these people have worked with me gratis because they trust and believe in the project,” said Grañén.

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Up to Scrutiny
Still, the notion of putting plants atop a moving vehicle raises questions. Will the added weight reduce gas mileage? Will maintaining the plants require excessive water use? What will happen to the plants if the bus is in an accident? A similar project, Bus Roots, developed by NYU graduate student Marco Antonio Castro Cosio which we covered two years ago, drew skepticism for not fully addressing such practical concerns. And although Cosio has produced two Bus Roots prototypes, his project remains more conceptual, while Grañén ’s well-researched design is ready for wider implementation.

How PhytoKinetic Works

Plants and Weight
Grañén utilizes a lightweight, 7-centimeter thick hydroponic foam which is much lighter than soil, thereby significantly reducing the overall weight of the PhytoKinetic roof. The foam retains humidity and is extremely flexible, making it easy to install regardless of the shape of the bus roof.

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Variously hued sedum plants carpet the surface to add color, changing with the seasons, and absorbing sunlight to protect the hydroponic substrate and regulate the rooftop’s temperature. Small shrubs add visual interest. Grañén foresees each city bus line cultivating its own unique landscape of aromatic herbs, ornamental plants, ivy or grasses. “These types of plants can be found everywhere in the world, but it is important to consider each city’s weather in determining which varieties to use,” Grañén said.

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Water and Waterproofing
A perforated stainless steel grid keeps water moving to prevent stagnation. The design employs a polyuria waterproofing system, AquaPro, which dries in ten seconds and permanently seals the roof to prevent leaks.

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PhytoKinetic’s closed perimeter boundary design is flexible and adaptable to any roof shape and does not interfere with emergency exits, antennas and other mechanical elements such as air conditioning, filters, etc. that may be located on the roof.

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Condensation from the bus’s air conditioning system, which is typically wasted, is captured and recycled to irrigate the roof. The hotter it gets, the more water the plants need and receive. In cooler weather, when the air conditioner is not in use, the garden can be manually watered or buses can drive through special car washes capable of withholding soap and without the overhead mechanical brushes that could damage the garden.

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Stability
Micro-perforated stainless steel bands fixed in place with ultra-light protective mesh anchor the planted surface should an accident or sudden braking occur. Grañén said he has tested the mesh with a mechanical engineer, finding that the material holds plants in place even in the event of an accident causing the bus to flip over.

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Energy Savings
When tested in the heat of summer, a PhytoKinetic bus was 3.5ºC cooler than a regular bus. “Madrid, for example, has more than 2.500 buses. Imagine how many more are on the streets of New York City streets.” says Grañén . Calculating that the average bus roof size is 20 square meters, Grañén figures this amount to approximate more than 100,000 square meters of green roof in New York City.

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All practical aspects aside, Grañén believes that his buses have the power to change our relationship with the earth– to integrate urban and natural spaces. Instead of feeling separate from nature, he says, urbanites can feel closer to living, breathing plants. The notion of buses as dirty, fuel-guzzling contaminants would change: Just seeing plants hanging from a bus roof, or arriving at work in a moving garden, hopes Grañén, would begin to alter preconceptions and generate more public interest in greening our concrete jungles. “People have to think beyond these prototypes,” says Grañén . “They have to imagine a city with more green walls, roofs, buses, public buildings, even in the interiors of buildings.” Grañén is not alone in his point of view.

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Jaume Terradas Serra, Professor Emeritus of Ecology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, has endorsed PhytoKintetic, commenting that he believes “this idea is interesting and worth considering: the techniques for creating green roofs and vertical gardens in cities exist. They must be publicized so that people are able to see that they are viable. If the project is successful, it will represent a new economic activity within the framework of greater integration of urban and natural systems. When applied as standard practice, it can help contribute to improved sustainability in cities.”

Julian Briz, Founder/President of Pronatur, believes Granen’s project can steer people beyond the obvious, encouraging them to think outside the box for other innovative green solutions.

“As we continue to solve traditional environmental problems with technologies like green roofs and green walls,” explains Briz, “these innovative solutions can lead us to new methods, opportunities, and places for greening our world–including the roofs of urban buses, trucks and vans, trains and trams, and even ships.”

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Looking forward, Grañén imagines offering branded PhytoKinetic green roofs with sponsor logos created from plants. Advertising on buses and other vehicles is not new, but this application would not obstruct riders’ views, while have an environmental benefit while x and could help subsidize city transportation costs. He figures with the efficient production of several buses planted at once, the cost of this “greenvertising” could be greatly reduced.

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Grañén’s numerous brand collaborator logos on display. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens

For now, Grañén sees himself as a sort of green pioneer. As for critics and skeptics, he has no problem conceding that his project is not perfect, but a starting point for better and better versions.  “Mistakes offer opportunities for solutions,” explains Grañén. “Edison performed a thousand failed experiments before developing the light bulb. And today, our critics use them everyday.” The point, believes Grañén, is to keep trying, to keep imagining a better, greener world.

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All rights reserved ©Urban Gardens 2013.
This original article appeared first on Urban Gardens. Please reference this site when citing the story and please do not reproduce without prior permission.

All photos ©Marc Grañén unless otherwise noted. 

 

65 Comments »

  1. James said:

    Great article and I love your pics. One thing I would love to know is how they add nutrients to grow the plants in the hydroponic carpet since usually these require a liquid nutrient solution. Do they add soil in cutouts for plants?

    — July 25, 2013 @ 09:53

  2. deowll said:

    This is going to cut their mileage which means they will use more fuel. They may also be raising mosquitoes. Looks cute though.

    — July 25, 2013 @ 11:59

  3. Robin Horton said:

    According to the designer:

    “Of course–as is the case with the buses which have a gas engine on the roof, an air conditioning system, or electric batteries. BUT, the more weight you add on the top of a public bus, the fewer people can travel inside, so the weight remains morel or less the same. Here in Europe, the law says that when something is installed on the roof, the bus has to accept fewer standing passengers. For each 68Kg you add, one standing passenger place is lost. If you were to look for it, you would see that buses with items on their roofs, have fewer passengers. Phyto Kinetic works exactly the same way. This is a new concept, so people need to adjust to new concepts and assimilate them into their lives.”

    — July 25, 2013 @ 17:15

  4. Robin Horton said:

    According to the designer:

    For this first bus, and for the first van I’ll finish next monday, nutrients must be added by hand. Moving forward, in an existing vehicle, one without prior preparation for this kind of installation, the nutrients would also have to be added manually. However, in the future, all those new buses opting in advance to have a PK green roof, will include a small tank for nutrient irrigation–this will be installed either next to the Addblue system, or next to air conditioning system (from which we get excess water for irrigation.)

    — July 25, 2013 @ 17:21

  5. Realidad: “El techo verde” para “autobuses urbanos” en Girona (Spain) | kekuleproyectsblog Pingback said:

    […] Más fotografías y texto en: http://www.urbangardensweb.com/2013/07/24/phyto-kinetic-green-roofs-for-city-buses-and-improved-urba… […]

    — July 26, 2013 @ 02:52

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    […] segundo projeto nasceu da cachola de Marc Grañén, biólogo e paisagista catalão, que conta ter recebido o maior impulso e as melhores idéias de […]

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    […] – What a fantastic urban project – green roofs for city buses. […]

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    […] Read more about the Phyto Kinetic prototype on Urban Gardens. […]

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    […] This is a pleasant looking rooftop garden: […]

    — August 7, 2013 @ 12:52

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    […] This is a pleasant looking rooftop garden: […]

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  17. smackyinBoston said:

    Yes, but passengers get on and off. You’re assuming the bus is operating at capacity at all times. If the bus is ever operating under capacity, which every bus does at some time (pull-in, pull-out, dead-head, not to mention any non-peak times), then this bus is just carrying dead weight.

    Plus, if the capacity of the bus is reduced, then more buses are required to carry the same number of passengers.

    To echo the sentiments of deowll above, “looks cute though.”

    — August 9, 2013 @ 10:26

  18. In Barcelona some buses have green rooftops - GR2FS Pingback said:

    […] Photo, video and article curated by Dr. Margaret Carroll Boardman.  Article on GR2 Food Security, Sustainability & Conservation via grist.org and http://www.urbangardensweb.com […]

    — August 9, 2013 @ 15:10

  19. Why Putting Gardens On Top Of Buses Makes Total Sense « Pingback said:

    […] One concern they've addressed is will the added weight of the garden reduce gas mileage? No—Urban Garden reports that Granen “utilizes a lightweight, 7-centimeter thick hydroponic foam which is much […]

    — August 10, 2013 @ 14:03

  20. Why Putting Gardens On Top Of Buses Makes Total Sense | Business news Pingback said:

    […] One concern they’ve addressed is will the added weight of the garden reduce gas mileage? No—Urban Garden reports that Granen “utilizes a lightweight, 7-centimeter thick hydroponic foam which is much […]

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    — August 10, 2013 @ 17:22

  22. Why Putting Gardens On Top Of Buses Makes Total Sense | Living Biology Pingback said:

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    […] One concern they’ve addressed is will the added weight of the garden reduce gas mileage? No—Urban Garden reports that Granen “utilizes a lightweight, 7-centimeter thick hydroponic foam which is much […]

    — August 10, 2013 @ 19:41

  24. Why Putting Gardens On Top Of Buses Makes Total Sense - Finance Informer Australia - Finance Informer Australia Pingback said:

    […] One concern they’ve addressed is will the added weight of the garden reduce gas mileage? No—Urban Garden reports that Granen “utilizes a lightweight, 7-centimeter thick hydroponic foam which is much […]

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    […] One concern they’ve addressed is will the added weight of the garden reduce gas mileage? No—Urban Garden reports that Granen “utilizes a lightweight, 7-centimeter thick hydroponic foam which is much […]

    — August 10, 2013 @ 20:14

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    — August 11, 2013 @ 10:29

  29. Phyto Kinetic: Green-Roofed Buses Add a Breath of Fresh Air to the Urban Jungle | Environmental News Bits Pingback said:

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    […] It was the beginning of what Grañén describes as a symbiotic relationship between the two–Grañén bringing the idea and Puig contributing the material and intellectual support in which to implement it. So it comes as no surprise that Phyto Kinetic is more than just a magic bus for the 21st century: it’s a practical yet inspiring vision for a greener world. >>> […]

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  35. Jennifer Ebeling said:

    Just stopping by… and wanted to let you know… I loved this story Robin! Great Job!

    — September 6, 2013 @ 10:00

  36. Robin Horton said:

    Smacky, all good observations. From my POV, it comes down to weighing relative benefits but, more importantly, I think being open to new ideas offers us opportunities to explore how we can make them work even if they are not there yet. It’s asking “why not?” instead of “why?”

    — September 6, 2013 @ 11:38

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    — September 20, 2013 @ 16:18

  39. Robin Horton said:

    Thank you for stopping by Jennifer and so glad you liked this story. Marc contacted me back in January from Spain to share this with me and it was so fantastic to get to go there to see the bus and the nursery where the plants are grown, meet him, and everyone associated with the project. I am so happy to share this with the world, and it has brought a lot of visibility to Marc and the project, and inquiries from around the globe.

    — September 21, 2013 @ 09:56

  40. Jennifer Ebeling said:

    Btw – that picture of you both on top of the bus is really great. You should have it framed and put it in your office!

    — September 22, 2013 @ 02:01

  41. Robin Horton said:

    Ha, thanks Jennifer! It was such a great experience seeing in person what I had only seen in pictures via email!

    — September 25, 2013 @ 11:08

  42. Gardens On Buses Purify City Air -- Phyto Kinetic Project | PlanetSave Pingback said:

    […] we need to get from here to there in urban areas. Landscape artist Marc Granen’s prototype Phyto Kinetic project in Spain joins these two indispensable parts of life by installing gardens on the roofs of buses to […]

    — September 26, 2013 @ 13:16

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    — November 27, 2013 @ 06:28

  48. mehrumj said:

    I have a van. I would like to try this but to grow my veggies. How can I get started? are there any DIY instructions yet?

    — December 3, 2013 @ 14:03

  49. Robin Horton said:

    No DIY version of this yet! If you figure out your own system, let us know!

    — December 3, 2013 @ 14:23

  50. ???????????????????????? | ??? Pingback said:

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  51. Valeria said:

    What a beautiful project. I wonder if you have an idea of the price. Thank you.

    — March 7, 2014 @ 18:29

  52. Robin Horton said:

    Hi Valeria!
    Thanks for being interested din PhytoKinetic. Right now we are dealing many projects around the world, and all of them are different, as PhytoKinetic can be isntalled on all kind of vehicles: buses, vans, trucks, cars,… so the price always depends of the vehicle, and the number of them. So we’ll be very pleased to make you a project/budget; just need some basic information : kind of vehicle, size of the rooftop, and a pic. of it, if it’s possible.
    Kind regards,

    *Marc Grañén*
    *Landscape artist – PhytoKinetic’s director*
    http://www.phytokinetic.net
    http://www.marcgranen.com
    *+34 650 907 935*

    — March 8, 2014 @ 16:33

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  54. In Barcelona some buses have green rooftops | GR2Food Pingback said:

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    — March 27, 2014 @ 11:25

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  58. Country's First K-8 Urban Farm School Sprouting in San Francisco - Urban Gardens Pingback said:

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  59. Guided Instagram Tour of the Global Urban Garden - Urban Gardens Pingback said:

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  61. Empreror said:

    What a stupid waste of gas, resources, materials, labor and time for anyone involved. Yay, it cost 5k dollars or more to grow weeds on a bus.

    — March 13, 2018 @ 15:15

  62. Empreror said:

    I do wonder, does this significantly drop the amount of time the a/c runs?

    — March 13, 2018 @ 15:19

  63. From Cargo Beds to Flower Beds: Japanese Pop-Up Gardens Keep on Truckin' - Urban Gardens Pingback said:

    […] Some mobile gardens are on casters for portability and to chase the sun, others are traveling green roofs on the tops of  busses and vans, and still others sprout in the backs of […]

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  64. These buses have gardens on their roofs | Matter Of Trust Pingback said:

    […] read more original article Urban Gardens […]

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  65. digitalurbanism Pingback said:

    […] i like this! rooftop garden on the bus – via Phyto Kinetic: Green Roofs for City Buses and Improved Urban Ecosystem | Urban Gardens […]

    — June 25, 2020 @ 00:17

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