November 2011 – While balancing a large mug of hot tea and my book, I nearly tripped over the uneven concrete stairs leading to the charming rooftop of our hotel in the Spanish colonial city of Antigua.
I woke up early to have a pleasant morning on our hotel’s lovely rooftop before beginning the day’s adventure. The view from my rooftop was just as beautiful on this clear and calm morning as it was the night before when I journeyed atop for a sunset drink. Antigua rests cozily within a fishbowl of gentle mountain slopes and playfully active volcanoes that offer incredible views to any rooftop that dares to open its eyes.
Antigua’s use of rooftop space is inspiring. As I sat on my rooftop early that one morning, I noticed a woman tending to her rooftop garden on the adjacent building. Charming tables and chairs surrounded by dozens of plants of all sizes created a warm and inviting rooftop. She transformed her roof from the functional top of her house into a pleasant garden oasis. She wasn’t the only one – rooftops in all directions appeared to be treated with this same sense of care and natural beautification that turns a functional space into a personal and often social space. With comfortable weather all year long and gorgeous mountain views in all directions, who wouldn’t want to make good use of their rooftop?
Cold climate cities should be open to the wonderful possibilities of a rooftop culture. Dealing with the burdening weight of snow and the need for efficient winter insulation can be an problem, but it’s a problem that can be creatively circumvented with good design. I was impressed with the pleasant use of rooftop space in Antigua and I would like to see a rooftop culture extended to colder climate cities as well.
Antigua is one of the Spaniard’s first major settlements in the New World so the city has a strong colonial feel to it. The gridded cobble streets and monumental churches remind anyone walking through Antigua that it was once home to European visitors. This historical aura can be felt on the street level but also from the rooftops where red clay shingles and antiquates European style buildings give the city-top an equally historical vibe.
There is something naturally inspiring about a space that pulls us off the ground and lifts us closer to the sky. Anyone who has lived in a room with a balcony or a building with an accessible rooftop appreciates the liberation of this elevated space. As our cities get taller and denser, I think it’s important that our built environments find creative ways to play with rooftops, balconies and any unique space that reaches upwards toward the sky.
Click the link below for a full view from my rooftop in Antigua.