Greening a roof in Babilonia

Babilonia is one of several hundred slums known as favelas settled on the hillsides above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Favelas vary in size, level of urbanization, and local history however, most share a connection to drug trafficking and corrupt local government. To date, about one in five residents of Rio live in these densely packed, poorly ventilated and constructed communities.

MIT graduate student Shanti Kleiman received a grant from the PKG Center for the summer of 2008 to devise a sustainable solution to provide clean water to Babilonian residents. She worked in partnership with COOP-Babi, the Babilonia Ecological and Reforestation Cooperative, Tia Percilia School, and the Babilonia Residents Association. She also worked with the Tiba Institute (, a collective of engineers and architects dedicated to ecological architecture and design, by attending a workshop where she learned about bio-architecture, local food production and permaculture.

The idea of a green roof in conjunction with a rainwater catchment came from working with Peter Van Lengen of the Tiba Institute as well as out of a recognized need for a clean water source. “During the summer, residents went over 15 days without water on two separate occasions. When water runs out, community institutions shut down, and in the case of the Tia Percilia School, it means 164 children have nowhere to go while their parents are at work,” Shanti had said of the clean water shortages Babilonia experienced. After learning about green roofing from the Tiba Institute workshop alongside carpenters and residents of Babilonia, they began construction of the new roof for the school, which would provide a healthier environment as well as a catalyst for environmental education for the students.

A positive aspect of the project was that it had been decided upon and built by Babylonian residents, and the children and staff at the Tia Percilia School could feel and see the immediate benefits of their new green roof. “We held a class session on top of the roof and talked about where our water comes from, the global water crisis, how the green roof works, what its benefits are, and how to take care of it.” Shanti hopes that her innovative solution will spread throughout Babilonia and to other favelas as she plans for her return trip to see green roof technology applied to the school’s tool shed.

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