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under the eye of Semiramis

Tree house — for many it remains the epitome of childhood dreams, a synonym for private space hidden in the foliage from the parents’ watchful eye, or a little haven to play with friends and be carefree. As time passes and we grow up, many move to larger cities for university and professional opportunities, and our childhood dreams and memories become a thing of the past. The question is — do they really have to?

Thanks to the efforts of contemporary architects and urbanists, big city life and green oasis are no longer mutually exclusive. Green architecture and buildings covered with vertical gardens are becoming an increasingly common sight in bustling metropolises around the world, reminiscent of the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

This literal, growing trend is best illustrated by two residential buildings in Milan known as Bosco Verticale. Both staggering towers, measuring 111 and 76 meters respectively, feature a complex design of overhanging terraces and balconies stacked with live vegetation. Hundreds of trees, shrubs and other plants have been carefully selected and placed to provide each variety with optimal light conditions to thrive. Bosco Verticale can serve as a model for a symbiotic relationship between people and flora in the urban setting. Indeed, the digitally monitored and controlled irrigation process largely relies on the filtered effluent produced by the buildings’ inhabitants. 

In Singapore, where another spectacular example is to be found, modern urban architecture marries tropical forest. The Interlace is a large residential complex consisting of individual buildings stacked irregularly like Jenga blocks. Its green roofs and courtyard gardens tucked in between buildings create a lush quiet oasis in this bustling multi-million city. 

The majority of existing green architecture structures are office buildings and hotels — most of the residential projects so far only exist on paper. For instance, a particularly interesting concept was unveiled last year in Brisbane, Australia: the Urban Forest. This residential tower designed by the architect Koichi Takada evokes a mythological horn of plenty oozing with an abundance of colourful trees and shrubs.

Other green designs proposed recently by renowned architecture studios are equally bold and ground-breaking, embodying a brand new vision of urban development. Once utopian, hydroponic walls and elevations are now feasible solutions increasingly used in contemporary realizations. 

Living buildings not only adorn and transform our cities visually, but more importantly, they have a positive impact on our environment. Indeed, their plant-studded walls absorb carbon dioxide and microparticles, helping to clear notoriously polluted air of large agglomerations. Reduced stress, improved mental and physical well-being are some of the additional benefits of living buildings that should not be overlooked.

Despite the growing awareness of the designers and developers, green architecture still represents a small percentage of buildings constructed every year. However, their warm reception by city dwellers and positive impact on the environment lead us to believe that more will be erected in the upcoming years.Perhaps in a few decades, the phrase “urban jungle” will take on a whole new meaning.

transl. Paulina Kralka

  • Bosco Verticale, Milan (Italy), by The Boeri Studio, 2007 - 2014
    The two towers were planted with thousands of carefully selected, air-purifying plants. The architects themselves refer to the project as a prototype for conceptually similar buildings erected in cities around the world.