Imagine a world where instead of concrete blocks of buildings with the occasional tree dispersed on the footpath below, we had cities covered in living, breathing plants that cleaned the air, absorbed CO2 and transformed our quality of life.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if our cities were full of living plants instead of concrete? 

Sounds like a futuristic dream, but one architectural studio is already transforming modern buildings into breathing organisms to regenerate urban biodiversity and ultimately mitigate climate change.

Fully completed and already housing its first tenants as of this year, Easyhome Huanggang Vertical Forest City Complex is the first Chinese Vertical Forest designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti. 

This is the latest iteration in a series of Vertical Forests around the world, following the completion of the world-famous Bosco Verticale in Milan’s Porta Nuova district in 2014. 

Located in Huanggang in Hubei province, China, the building incorporates alternating opened and closed balconies that are home to living greenery which create a feeling of movement and a natural aesthetic of irregularity in the façade design.  

“Vertical Forest is an experiment to reintroduce living nature inside architecture, so nature is not simply used as an ornamental presence or as a decorative theme, but as a component, a basic component of a building,” architect Stefano Boeri of Stefano Boeri Architett said.

Boeri said the design of the Huanggang Complex: “allows an excellent view of the tree-lined façades, enhancing the sensorial experience of the greenery and integrating the plant landscape with the architectural dimension.”

“Thus, the inhabitants of the residential towers have the opportunity to experience the urban space from a different perspective while fully enjoying the comfort of being surrounded by nature.”

The City Complex combines residential, accommodation and large commercial utilisation with five towers covering 4.54 hectares, two of which are residential Vertical Forests to house 500 residents and 5000 plants. 

The Huanggang Vertical Forest City Complex in Huanggang, China by Stefano Boeri Architetti.

The buildings are planted with 404 trees, including ginkgo and sweet osmanthus (known in China for their medicinal and symbolic meaning), 4620 shrubs including confederate rose and nandina, and 2408 square metres of perennial grass, flowers and climbing plants such as Chinese lilyturf and carpet sedum. 

The chosen plants are indigenous to the region and capable of absorbing 20 tonnes a year of CO2 and producing 10 tonnes a year of oxygen.

Stefano Boeri Architetti has designed Vertical Forests in various cities including Nanjing, Paris, Milan, Eindhoven, Utrecht and Antwerp. 

In the Netherlands, the 19-storey Trudo Tower is the first Vertical Forest built for low-income social housing, with 125 apartments in total.

The Trudo Tower Vertical Forest in Eindhoven, Netherlands by Stefano Boeri Architetti.

Each iteration of the Vertical Forest design requires a unique design tailored to its urban ecosystem.

“Each time we are invited to do a Vertical Forest, we don’t replicate the original prototype in Milan, but we do our best to innovate,” Boeri says.

“This is because the bio-climatic conditions are different. Also the biodiversity and the species of plants that are used are different. So this diversity helps us to do something new every time.”

“To act as a designer, as an architect, means first to anticipate the future of spaces. Second, to transform this anticipation in the materialisation.” 

The first of these structures, Bosco Verticale opened in 2014 five years after construction started, is in Milan, Italy. 

The Bosco Verticale consists of two towers housing roughly 320 inhabitants, “but with 21,000 other inhabitants” including 780 planted trees that shelters inhabitants from pollution, dust, acoustic pollution and harsh wind. The building features rooftop photovoltaic panels, while greywater from the building is reused as irrigation for the flora. 

“In a very dense and polluted urban environment like the centre of Milan… this building is capable of absorbing 30 tons of CO2 a year. It produces oxygen, absorbs the dust and other urban pollution.”

The Bosco Verticale Vertical Forest in Milan, Italy by Stefano Boeri Architetti.

Bringing gardens into skyscrapers also creates habitat for other creatures, including birds and insects.

“It’s an ecosystem [that is] very complex, because more than15 species of birds are nesting there,” Boeri says. “So, I think this combination and competition of different living species in the same vertical settlement is quite new.”

Incorporating flora into building design elements is also used by architects such as Patrick LeBlanc, who has designed vertical gardens in cities including Paris’s Quai Branly Jacques Chirac Museum and Pershing Hall Hotel, and Sydney’s One Central Park. 

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