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April 14, 2009

The Greening Of MetroWest



A select group of Natick homeowners will have a bird's eye of view of the area from New England's biggest roof garden at the upscale Nouvelle at Natick condominiums.

It ‘s the icing on a well-decorated cake, which is a $170 million, 215-unit luxury condominium building that is attached to the Natick Collection shopping mall on Route 9. The condos went on sale in December when the construction was finished.

Bird's Eye View
The 1.2 acre garden that tops the sixth floor of the building allows residents to entertain and socialize with each other or just enjoy the greenery and artistic stone touches designed by Cambridge-based Martha Schwartz, a nationally renowned landscape architect.

"We wanted it to be textured," said Aaron Bartels, senior development director of Chicago-based General Growth Properties, developers and owners of the Natick Collection and Nouvelle at Natick. General Growth completely renovated the Natick Mall in 2007 and built the condo development from scratch, with a groundbreaking for Nouvelle in August 2006. With the housing crisis, General Growth has hit particularly tough times, warning that it might have to file for bankruptcy as it struggles under enormous debt.

Despite those larger economic troubles, the Nouvelle development has met with some success. Thirty of the 215 units have been sold and some people have already moved in. The prices range from $350,000 for one-bedroom units to $1.2 million for the penthouse condominiums. Three of the 17 penthouses have been sold.

Roof gardens aren't entirely new here in New England, with the Boston-Cambridge area sporting a number of them, including Harvard University's building at 29 Garden St. in Cambridge.

But Parc Nouvelle, as the Natick garden is called, may be one of the few such rooftop gardens in suburbia. The view from the garden allows one to see for miles, all along Route 9 and the Massachusetts Turnpike. Despite the heavy development in the area, there's still a surprising amount of open space to be seen from the roof.

With the roof garden on the sixth floor, the floors above it do not loom above them and seem less imposing. Some residents of that floor have patio space just outside their units on the roof garden, and many others on the floors above overlook the garden from their balconies.

Trees and hardy native plants such as sedum and tall grasses are planted at different levels along the 600-foot boardwalk that wends its way across the roof, breaking the space into large and small gathering areas. There are also two putting greens, one on either end of the garden.

The Natick Collection's skylights act as a backdrop. "It adds a sculptural element," Bartels said, adding that the lines of the skylights and the winding path through the garden work together.

Another element that adds to the rock sculpture areas are beds of Mexican black rock, which shine brightly when wet, Bartels said, and compliment to the rock sculpture and the wooden path.

The garden roof itself was installed by Chicago's American Hydrotech Inc. The science behind the roof includes a waterproof membrane, a root barrier, drainage channels and an unseen irrigation system. If traditional watering was used for the garden, it would need 1.2 million gallons a year, but with the special irrigation system it will only use 12,000 gallons a year.

The roof was also designed to make use of ecology-minded resources like rain water conservation, solar light fixtures and recycled composite material for the deck areas.

Schwartz said that residents who have taken on a more urban home at Nouvelle can still enjoy what they liked about the suburbs in the first place: open space and nature.

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