Growing Cities – Literally!
Plants and greenery can achieve impressive effects when used in architecture. Of course, there’s the traditional concept of a garden, which can frame a building nicely. Then there is the lush concept of the vertical garden, heralded by the French botanists cum artist Patrick Blanc. And then, there are architects beginning to embrace plant life not just as adornment but as integral part of their buildings.
Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA recently completed “house & garden”, a residence occupying a exceptionally small plot in Tokyo. It functions without any real façade and relies solely on plants to take the place of outer walls and to function as partition between private and public space. The highest of the four concrete slabs the building consists of even has a circular hole cut out of it to allow big plants on the floor below to outgrow his storey. Rather than our common living rooms, this airy and thoroughly green habitat resembles a vertical garden more than a house. Admittedly, the plants don’t grow in the actual construction of the building. They are potted plants positioned along the spacious balconies and terraces. But without this living green component Nishizawa’s “house & garden” would be an exceedingly naked structure. This way, however, it is a green sanctuary to its inhabitants.
A similar concept is the basis for the “Bosco Verticale”, the vertical forest designed by Stefano Boeri, which is under construction in Milan. And indeed, the two towers will incorporate a veritable forest on each of their 27 storeys. Each apartment in the buildings, stacked in an irregular pattern and some stretching over two floors, will have a balcony planted with trees and a range of different plants, providing shade in summer but allowing sunlight through their bare branches in winter. Considering that Milan is one of the most polluted cities in Europe, it is not just aesthetics Boeri is concerned with. With the vertical forest he hopes to build a healthy microclimate by filtering the air and ridding it of tiny dust particles, by absorbing CO2 and by cooling its surroundings thanks to the humidity the plants produce.
It doesn’t quite reach the same scale, but the Firma Casa store in São Paolo by the architects SuperLimão Studio and the designers Fernando and Humberto Campana follows a similar idea. Together they covered the whole building with a structure carrying thousands of pots planted with Espada de São Jorge (Sansevieria Trifasciata), a plant that a study by NASA found to be one of best plants to improve indoor air quality. Although this might not have been the reason this plant was chosen. According to SuperLimão Studio, Brazilian superstition endows it with strong protective powers.
China, in its role as test field for new architectural developments, has caught on to the idea of green facades as well. Only recently, the Dutch studio NL Architects was awarded the first price in a competition for a building project in Sanya on the island of Hainan in southern China. The place is graced with a subtropical climate counting an average daily temperature of 25° Celsius so the architects proposed to incorporate the local flora in protruding triangular balconies and along the edge of the roof.
Finally, the idea of “growing” cities has a green ring to it.