High-rise Forests

Green buildings are a growing presence on city skylines, making the temperatures more comfortable and the air easier to breathe. The skin of the building is covered with such dense plantings that it appears to be wholly organic. Landscape architects worried about putting trees in shallow planters without enough space for growing roots and noted that high-rise cultivars would have to endure more violent weather than those planted firmly in the ground. Such issues have been addressed and the first green buildings are in full bloom.

Opened in 2014, Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) in Milan, is one of the first successful experiments in urban reforestation. What’s unique about this project? Drawing on the Milanese passion for terrace gardening, the architects created  a bio-community within the city.

Bosco now boasts 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and 15,000 plants. Biophilic Cities Journal has called it “an unfolding evolutionary adaptation of the local balcony gardening tradition.”

It’s also a masterpiece of city planning. Boeri envisioned this green high-rise as an alternative to suburban single-family neighborhoods.   He designed landscaped patios to encourage conversation with neighbors. And he gave residents direct access to nature through rooftop gardens, choosing plants known for attracting birds and wildlife.

Curious? For your next vacation, you can rent one of these lush hideaways on Airbnb.

And why not pack a copy of William Henry Hudson’s Green Mansions, featuring Rima, a bird girl who lives in the depths of the Amazon forest. Or Hampshire Days, where the author describes his native English woods:

“The blue sky, the brown soil beneath, the grass, the trees, the animals, the wind, and rain, and stars are never strange to me; for I am in and of and am one with them; and my flesh and the soil are one, and the heat in my blood and in the sunshine are one, and the winds and the tempests and my passions are one.”

Designing an Eco-Village

If you want to see some futuristic plans for a Green City, you don’t have to turn to speculative fiction. The Rotterdam firm MVRDV specializes in buildings that can tolerate climate change—and has created some intimate urban oases. You can view some of their apartment projects in Paris and Valencia here.

Thinking bigger, MVRDV has also proposed a “verdant acropolis” for South Korea—a project so large that it could house some 77,000 residents.  This award- winning design gives you an idea of what’s just around the corner and how much can be accomplished with a combination of bold vision and government backing.   The rendering below shows a proposed power plant surrounded by apartments, shops and public gardens.

photo courtesy of MVRDV

Living Walls

Once you start looking at these futuristic urban forests, it’s hard to stop. DeZeen magazine, an online architecture and design publication based in London, recently profiled 10 plant-covered buildings—from small scale apartments in Sydney and Sao Paulo to Stefano Boeri’s most ambitious project yet—a vertical-forest city in China with one million plants to reduce this country’s biggest urban blight: air pollution. This may be the most pleasing solution to a life-threatening problem.

In this same clip, you’ll be enchanted by a Parisian apartment building landscaped by Patric Blanc, the self-proclaimed inventor of “living walls.”

Blanc is both an artist and a storyteller. He leaves you with the impression that Green Building is not only good for our health (more oxygen, an easy way to destress) but like a scene from a modern fairy tale, where humans encounter magical plants and helpful animals.

How it All Works

Buildings with trees aren’t entirely new — they date back to the hanging gardens of Babylon. For a good primer in green building, we turn to the B1M, the world’s most popular video site on construction. Their expert explains all kinds of practical stuff; why tree-lined buildings reduce temperatures by several degrees, increase oxygen, how greenery combats stress. The way trees are tethered to a high-rise building by wires to help them sustain higher winds. It’s a fascinating tutorial in Green Construction.

New York’s Green Movement

The Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut has envisioned a vertical farm based on the wings of a dragonfly along the east river at the south edge of Roosevelt Island in New York. This imaginative approach to growing food has yet to be built, but it’s a wonderful new take on the urban farmer’s market.

rendering by Vincent Callebaut
Says Callebaut, “The tower is a true living organism being self-sufficient in water, energy and bio fertilizing, spanning 132 floors and 600 vertical meters. The dragonfly can accommodate 28 different agricultural fields for the production of fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy.” Though proposed for the East River, this intriguing design could be built on any waterway.

If you’re looking for a green project in New York that’s already flourishing, don’t forget the Highline, unveiled in 2009. Listen to architect James Corner describe the transformation of an old railroad track into a “secret magic garden in the sky.”


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