10 Of The World’s Most Spectacular Rooftops

In cities where space is at a premium, architects have turned rooftops into places of experimentation.

There’s nothing quite like spending time on a rooftop—standing above, but not altogether removed from, the grimy, crowded, overstimulating city that you love. Particularly in cities where the beach is far, the parks get packed, and getting a place with a backyard is about as likely as winning the lottery, rooftops are often the prime spot to pull out–or lug up–your plastic lawn furniture and laughably-tiny grill. Now that we’re deep into winter, they are a symbol of nostalgia for those warmer days.


Since rooftops provide space in dense urban environments, they’ve also become prime sites of experimentation and play for some of the world’s leading architects, as shown in Rooftops: Islands in the Sky, a new photo book from Taschen. For architects in dense cities, rooftops are like empty “land” floating high above streetscapes where there’s no more land available, and where the price for every square inch of real estate is at a premium.

Space with a view is even more valuable, leading architects and developers to top off existing buildings with brand new residences right on the roof, as documented in Rooftops. In Copenhagen, the Brussels-based architect JDS added three new penthouses to a building in a crowded neighborhood, dubbed the Hedonistic Rooftop Penthouses. Then, making use of the new rooftops created by the penthouses, the architects constructed a verdant playground with a deck and a place for grilling. Summer barbecues are even more hedonistic when you’re grilling in a backyard in the sky.

JDS Architects, Hedonistic Rooftop Penthouses – Copenhagen. [Photo: Julien Lanoo]

Of course, rooftops can be repurposed for more than just luxury penthouses. Cities are always in the need of more green space and gardens, which brighten concrete urban jungles, bring much needed shade to warm climate cities, absorb water run-off, and provide the stress-relieving benefits of plants to the city’s citizens. Take, for example, the Vertical Forest towers in Milan, built by Boeri Studio. The buildings can hold up to 460 residents—and 26 times as many plants (780 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 11,000 perennial plants, to be exact). Thanks to perennial foliage, the lush towers change colors with the passing of the seasons.

Stefano Boeri, Vertical Forest – Milan. Image: Laura Cionci

Other inventive rooftops are more about the spectacle. On top of a modernist beachfront residence near the city of Cadiz, Spain, the architect Alberto Campo Baeza built a roof that is an “infinite plane facing the infinite sea.” There’s also a pool from which, presumably, you can stare out into the infinite abyss. If you’re in a place where the winter means that the rooftops are closed, tide yourself over until spring with the slide show above, or check out Rooftops here.


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.