Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant Living Roof: Driving the U.S. Green Roof Industry Forward

Nearly 20 years ago, William McDonough (founder WM+P) insinuated himself into a meeting with William Clay Ford Jr. at the Ford Motor Company world headquarters in Dearborn MI. Initially informed that Mr. Ford could spare fifteen minutes, Mr. McDonough’s vision for renovation of the Rouge Manufacturing Complex was sufficiently compelling that Mr. Ford cancelled the day’s meetings, ultimately collaborating for a sustainable overhaul of the Historic Rouge property’s continued operation and new construction.

Chief among Mr. McDonough’s proposed sustainable design elements was a vast living roof to cover a new vehicle assembly plant. Living or vegetated “green” roofs were virtually unknown in North America with few examples: Chicago City Hall and GAP HQ in San Bruno CA (both designed by WM+P), so its consideration was quite a leap for Mr. Ford. Moreover, early North American green roof designs were much heavier than the limited load bearing capacity of the proposed vehicle assembly plant, necessitating a lighter green roofing option. Early trials evaluated a novel modular tray system alongside established European approaches with lightweight mineral-based media and drought tolerant Sedum species. Among these trials, the XeroFlor pre-grown vegetation blanket system distinguished itself as a proven and lightweight “instant green” approach, while offering logistical management advantages and greatly reduced maintenance requirements compared to other tested systems.

Wolfgang Behrens, XeroFlor creator and owner, contributed decades of global green roof experience to the Ford, WM+P, and Michigan State University development team. Early tests conducted in Michigan and Georgia showed the XeroFlor system to be easy to grow, handle and install; though of even greater importance for long-term performance and maintenance was its inherent resistance to weed infestations due to its ultra-thin profile and pre-established vegetated coverage. The project team unanimously agreed the 10 lb/sf2 saturated weight XeroFlor assembly to be the ideal horticultural and logistical solution for the Rouge Complex’s Dearborn Truck Plant green roof.

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