Plant-Covered Skyscrapers to Fight Pollution in Cities

Despite what some world leaders might think, climate change is a real threat to our planet’s livelihood. To help combat the detrimental effects of pollution and overcrowding, eco-conscious countries and individuals are rethinking some of the most basic structures as ways to promote sustainability in our everyday lives. Milan is setting an example for how architecture and eco-friendly practices can coexist to change the urban landscape for the better. The Italian city is planting trees on their skyscrapers to create aerial jungles that reach high into the sky.

In 2014, architect Stefano Boeri made his buildings, aptly-called Vertical Forest, a reality. Comprising two residential tower blocks, the structures are covered with 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs, and 15,000 plants.

It’s a well-known design technique to build up rather than out—especially when space is limited. Because Vertical Forest takes advantage of height, it represents an impressive amount of space. If the vegetation was planted on the ground, it would cover three and a half football fields or 20,000 square meters of forces.

Vertical Forest has plants and trees built into terraces that jut out from the apartment homes. It adds a color into often-gray metropolitan areas, but its benefits go well beyond that. There’s greater biodiversity; the different vegetation fosters an environment that can be occupied by different birds and insects. Additionally, the plants produce humidity and absorb bad things from the air, like CO2 and dust. Noise is dampened by the plant’s presence and they act as a shield for harmful UV rays.

The concept for this aerial forest has sprouted well beyond Italy. Now, you’ll find similar projects in Lausanne, Utrecht, and Nanjing and Liuzhou in China. Each is slightly different, but the concept is the same—use trees in contemporary design to combat the negative effects that humans have on our environment.

Forest City in Liuzhou, China

Below the Shadow of the Vertical Forest

Milan’s Vertical Forest has benefits for people on the ground, too. At the base of it, there are communal gardens featuring fruits and veggies that are ripe for picking (and use in local restaurants). From there, a trail takes you to a “circular forest” of trees that are the beginning of the Biblioteca degli Alberi or Trees Library. In September 2017, the city planted seeds and intends to add trees and plants in November. There will be an astounding 450 trees (featuring 19 different species) and 90,000 hedges, shrubs, and climbers. When grown, it will create “natural rooms” of different foliage.

“They represent ‘vegetal pavillions’,” explained Petra Blaise, the designer of the Biblioteca degli Alberi project. “They define specific areas, rooms that can be used for different purposes such as sports or cultural events.”

Once it opens in 2018, Biblioteca degli Alberi will be the largest pedestrian area in Milan. In addition to the rooms, there will be aquatic plants and a flower garden to enjoy. It will be different than most other urban parks, and that’s a great development—it’s a way of thinking that adds whimsy and magic to concrete streets and high rises. “City parks are no longer conceived as classic gardens with monuments that serve large public buildings,” Blaise contends, “but as worlds—or destinies—in themselves.”