Not Gone With The Wind: How to Design Rooftop Spaces
Landscape architecture may only have been recognized as a profession since the early 1800s, but the desire to combine the natural environment with landmarks and cultural gathering places has been around almost since, well, the dawn of people. These days, the field—part art and part science—includes design for sophisticated public spaces like upscale apartment terraces, rooftop restaurants and gardens, the expansive grounds of museums, and city green spaces. These projects are wildly, colorfully varied, but they all have one thing in common: the design needs to suit the needs of the people who use it, from the structures to the outdoor furniture and accessories.
Abigail Hancock, a designer and project manager with Town & Gardens in Long Island City, New York, sat down to talk with us about her process for designing an outdoor space, including outdoor furniture selection and her favorite tips for success.
When Town & Gardens installs a project, there are so many elements that come before the furniture is brought in—drainage, structure, paving, irrigation, planters, plants, lighting, etc.
We usually think about the requirements of the space first: how many people will be using it at a time, what types of activities it will need to support, and for how many seasons. We also need to think about weight requirements of a site, since rooftops and terraces are such a large component of our work at Town & Gardens, and we need to make sure we’re planning for wind uplift. After we know the requirements, we can focus on the fun part: aesthetics.
Nothing feels quite as good as the arrival of the furniture. When you’ve done your work properly, the furniture means the space is ready to be enjoyed.
What pointers do you have for thinking about designing for small spaces such as courtyards or balconies?
When designing for small spaces, I think it’s best to choose several larger pieces, instead of many small ones. This goes for both planters and furniture. Make sure you measure first, of course, but when something is cluttered, it only looks smaller.
What are some of your favorite materials for outdoor furniture and why?
There are so many great options, it really depends on the project. Personally, I like a simple steel aesthetic that is warmed up with either a wood or synthetic component. But what we choose for a project really depends on the requirements of the space and the taste of the client.
What are some common mistakes people make when adding furniture to their outdoor spaces?
I think a big mistake is being too matchy-matchy. It’s nice to differentiate spaces and provide unique areas for different groups and activities, especially in commercial spaces. But this applies to residential, too. A few different areas with their own unique touches make an outdoor space feel special and personalized.
What are a few of your favorite tips for incorporating outdoor furniture into a landscape design?
Make sure you measure and take some time to think about scale. It’s important not to choose pieces that are too small, but you also need to consider [having enough] walking room around the furniture.
Maintenance, winter storage, weight—these are all important considerations, too, and will help determine the best materials for your furniture. Comfort is also an important consideration, so if it’s possible to give the furniture a “test drive,” do that. You want to make sure what you pick doesn’t just look right but feels right, too.
Abigail Hancock is a designer and project manager with Town & Gardens, Ltd. in Long Island City, New York. Originally from Northern California, she is a graduate of the University of California—Irvine, and of Pratt Institute’s Graduate Architecture and Urban Design program. She lives in New York City.