Architecture inhabits the space between art and utility. In American cities, the exteriors of many buildings are not aesthetically provocative, but lean heavily on the austere grace of repeating horizontal and vertical patterns. In these steel jungles, the natural world has become segmented, controlled, and relegated to a small portion of the urban landscape. A stark departure from the prevailing architectural approach could positively impact the aesthetic appeal, environmental impact, and the proportion of urban green space.
Rooftop green spaces are becoming more utilized in new buildings across Europe. These spaces positively impact the environment through absorption of carbon dioxide, reducing the urban heat island effect, and the creation of oxygen. As an added benefit, these spaces also act to reduce the energy required for climate control systems within the buildings, as they act as an extra insulation layer. The benefits extend to the inhabitants of the buildings as well. Gardening has been shown to decrease blood pressure, elevate mood, and stave off mild depression. Instead of living in an environment separated from natural elements, these rooftop gardens serve to break down the dichotomy of urban life, allowing for integration of green spaces into an individual’s daily experience.
More recently, the vertical real estate of cities has become a place for experimentation with artistic gardening. Several ambitious projects are in the planning stages or have been completed. A stunningly innovative project is called Green Heart in Singapore. The architectural firm Gustafson Porter designed a space that integrated traditional terracing techniques within the vertical framework of the adjoining two skyscrapers. This design includes reflecting pools and waterfalls in addition to the many trees and other varied vegetation. This project is the first of its kind to integrate the green space project and the architectural elements at the outset, and it is slated for completion within the year.
The world’s first vertical forest is in Milan, the Bosco Verticale. Completed in 2014, this pair of towers is lush with almost 21,000 trees, shrubs and perennial plants. In a city known for its air pollution, the aerial arboretum acts as a sponge while providing a striking addition to the Milan skyline. The architect, Stefano Boeri, has also been commissioned for a similar project in Nanjing, China.
Projects such as these have the potential to vastly reshape the urban environment. Not only do they create beneficial microclimates, filter air pollution, reduce urban sprawl and increase biodiversity. They force humans to interact and surround themselves with natural elements and integrate these interactions into the fabric of their daily lives. Our fundamental approach to urban areas has yet to shift away from the industrialization paradigm that created the urban boom in the late nineteenth century in the United States. Projects that integrate green spaces within architecture boldly stride into the new era of urban design.
-Katherine Tipton, Campaign Field Director