Vertical Forests: Living in Green Skies

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Viewing our urbanised cities, comes with images of the daily bustle, bright lights and ever-growing landscapes of shiny skyscrapers. Collectively, these things don’t necessarily make for a sustainable city unless they’re constructed with the environment in mind.

We are now seeing our cities attempt to return to nature with an increase of green corridors (a linear space of greenery) and tree planting to create pollution barriers, encourage biodiversity (plant and animal life) and provide urban dwellers with natural areas for recreation.

Such green infrastructure has also been recently incorporated within our skyscrapers, adding nature to what was previously a general standard of grey, concrete and glass buildings. So next time you’re in a CBD, look up. You might see an abundance of green walls, plant lined balconies and vegetation sprouting on skyscraper rooftops.

One architect who is an environmental advocate recognising the growing disconnection between cities and the green landscape is Stefano Boeri.

The Italian architect is best recognised for his award-winning project, Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) – two residential skyscrapers in Milan which house over 800 trees and plants.

The Bosco Verticale skyscrapers rise to 80 and 112 metres individually, and were created with the intent of limiting urban sprawl and providing lush, breathable homes at vertical heights.

On his website, Boeri describes the project as the “prototype building for a new format of architectural biodiversity which focuses not only on human beings but also on the relationship between humans and other living species”.

I personally was able to physically view this architectural masterpiece upon its completion while on holiday and am now hopeful one might sprout in my hometown in Melbourne, Australia. Whilst the density of the greenery is something usually reserved for a suburban backyard, Bosco Verticale allows urban dwellers to be enveloped in nature beyond the ground floor.

Boeri has an array of vertical forest projects planned across other cities including Lausanne, Nanjing, Paris and Shanghai to name a few.

He is also bringing the concept to Eindhoven in the Netherlands for a social housing project. His website informs that the building will rise 75 metres and house 125 trees. This project will set a new standard for improving the living conditions of low-income citizens.

But for Boeri, creating oxygen-laden buildings marries up with combating climate change. The dense greenery offers noise pollution benefits, improved air quality, encourages biodiversity and contributes to carbon absorption.

Looking at research from The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), cities are battling. They report that “cities occupy only 2 per cent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface yet consume over 75 per cent of natural resources.”

While many “green buildings” focus on climbing plants, Boeri wanted to bring hardy trees to residential balconies for biophilic design (a design that reflects humans innate connection to nature) and for carbon removal.

And just how much? Well, One Tree Planted, a not-for-profit reforestation organisation reveals a mature tree “can consume 48 lbs. of carbon dioxide per year (among other greenhouse gases like ozone), and releases enough oxygen for you to breathe for two years”.

Further positive impacts reported by the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) report that “trees and vegetation that directly shade buildings decrease demand for air conditioning,” thereby reducing energy use.

In turn, this reduced energy use decreases “the production of associated air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. They also remove air pollutants and store and sequester carbon dioxide”.

Another climate change challenge remains the heat island effect (urban areas with increasing temperatures). Duncan et al. (2019) conducted a study in Perth (Australia) reporting that “an approximate 1 km2 increase in shrub (tree) cover within a location reduces surface temperatures by 12 °C (5 °C)”.

And for Boeri, Bosco Verticale is just the beginning, Boeri has a world first plan for his ambitious project – an entire Forest City in Liuzhou, China – one of the world’s most impacted cities by smog due to overpopulation. He plans to have all the buildings (over 175 hectares) entirely covered in a variety of trees and plants. The project is set to house approximately 40,000 trees and 1 million plants from more than 100 different species.

Forest City in Liuzhou, China Image via Stefano Boeri Architects

According to the architect, the project will work to combat air pollution absorbing “10,000 tons of CO2 and 57 tons of micro-particles every year, producing about 900 tons of oxygen.”

Each project demonstrates practical opportunities to contribute to climate change through high rise architecture with some promising results.

This combined with the biophilic benefits (improved mood, health and concentration) of living amongst nature could potentially see this prototype fuel healthier cities and healthier citizens.

I look forward to providing updates on this space but in the meantime, let’s all live green by incorporating nature to our living spaces and our green skies should follow.

Cover image: Photo by Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash

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