CARACAS – The roof of a Venezuelan university has become a melting pot of green ideas and a space where students converge at the country’s first open-air classroom.
Plants have replaced desks, instead of walls students take in gulps of fresh air, and what was a roof of the Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB), in western Caracas, has become the floor of this cutting edge educational space.
The postgraduate building has become a place that stands out for its hopeful message of change as students grapple with ideas to reverse and tackle the climate crisis the world faces.
The university sits on the other side of the motorway of the Antimano neighborhood, a community of colorful houses perched on a hill and one of the poorest parishes in the capital.
But on the campus’ roof, standing some 15 meters from the ground, hundreds of plants thrive and provide their surrounding with clean air.
The flora also serves to lower the temperature within the building by up to 6C.
The rooftop has become an emblem of a battle won in favor of the environment.
The UCAB had to choose between installing air conditioners to optimize the temperature of a dozen classrooms or opt for the landscaped roofs.
But as well as making the building blend into its lush setting, the innovative project has also helped the institution save money when it comes to energy bills.
In a country like Venezuela, which enjoys one of the cheapest energy rates in the world, this may not seem like a massive achievement but the university sees it as a victory in its commitment towards sustainable development.
In addition to the 440 square meters of green areas, the roof has walkways, benches and is designed to greet thousands of students from UCAB and other institutions yearly.
Curious visitors are also welcome and offered guided tours to learn about the benefits of the site.
There are high hopes for the rooftop and it has been conceived to become a breeding ground of environmental innovation.
“The main contribution is training, awareness,” Joaquin Benitez, director of environmental sustainability at UCAB, told EFE.
He is convinced of the educational value of innovative spaces in Venezuela despite the fact the country has been rocked by a devastating economic crisis.
The space seeks to serve as a wake-up call to the population on problems related to climate change, the professor added.
In Venezuela, which has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, it is important to raise awareness over how, through sustainable construction solutions, climate challenges can be tackled, Benitez said.
The project first came about in November 2013.
A pair of students who were studying to become civil engineers designed the plans to create an eco-roof in their thesis.
Years later, the students who are now fully-fledged professionals are part of the 5 million Venezuelans in a forced exile due to the crippling economic crisis and the abysmal prospects young people face in the country.
But although the brains behind the project have not been able to enjoy the fruits of their labor and see their design become a reality, the positive impact of their creation is already being felt by many.
When they designed the rooftop, the engineers calculated that every square meter of grass would generate enough oxygen for one person for an entire year.
The green roof today provides some 400 people with clean air.
The leaves scattered around in the rooftop garden’s plants also help to trap some 57 kg of dust preventing the soot from settling on the ground.
And as if that were not enough, the rooftop also modestly decreases the volume and rate at which rainwater flows off the roof.
The gardens retain most of the rainwater.
“The drainage systems of the city are not affected by rainwater flows coming from our buildings,” Benitez said.
The profitability of the project lies in its energy savings, because air conditioners, which according to the International Energy Agency global energy demand for the cooling devices is expected to triple by 2050, are rendered unnecessary.