Seneca may have disapproved of them, but roof gardens are part of the poetry of urban lifeby Lesley Chamberlain / July 26, 2008 / Leave a comment
Discuss this article here
Roof terraces do redeem the city. All gardens are refuges, but a garden in the sky offers a special dispensation—the chance to still live in the frantic world without, momentarily, participating. Think of it as like living in a lighthouse: a maritime address that doesn’t entail living in the sea. Of course, we aren’t up here all the time, but at least once every day of the year it’s imperative to see the plants are not parched or swept away or frozen, which sometimes means leaving footprints in virgin frost. We inspect the state of neighbouring roofs and, in all seasons, watch the sun burn a red hole in Canary Wharf.
Discounting those with no head for heights, or who find the steep, narrow steps too much, our friends divide into those who feel sorry for us not having a “real garden” and those who would also not mind breakfasting on a battered white bench with a hassle-free 180-degree panorama of London. It’s not schadenfreude one feels for the car-bound masses occasionally speeding, mostly crawling, below, more a renewed sense of wonder that everything works so well. People get up in the morning and go home at night and the cars don’t bump into each other. Fancy that! When they do, from above their heads we can plot their angry gestures and the odd position of their vehicles like blips on a graph. The sight could be painted as an urban still life.
How high is it? A hundred feet, perhaps. Traffic fumes have dispersed by the time they get up here, where I sometimes sit with my laptop in a cardboard box to escape the glare, in conditions always a fraction colder or hotter or windier than down below. The surface isn’t tin, but when the sun shines it burns the cat’s feet. On a shadier day she’ll stay around to jabber at the occasional crow stopping over on the tv mast, or peer through the drain hole at Lilliputian passers-by. It’s not a narrow road, and there’s a generous amount of ambient space before you meet the next brick wall, but we can hear pavement conversations as if we were part of them. Chats on mobiles reach the rooftop as surely as Spiderman. But it doesn’t matter up here, because we’re free.
The Stoic philosopher Seneca disapproved of roof gardens. (How astonishing that…