Taking the horizon from grey to green: China’s forest cities

Could we be seeing more green in our skies? (Photographer: Paul Joseph).

by Caterina Dassie

When thinking of China, many tend to recall the idea of the most polluted country on Earth, but will this last for long? Italian architect Stefano Boeri wants to change this common view, switching the color of the horizon from grey to green.

In 2014, Boeri completed the world’s first vertical forest skyscraper compound in Milan. Furthermore, inspired by the Italian prototype, the architect has recently made plans for an analogous project in the city of Nanjing, China. The different buildings will be made of 2,500 cascading plants and 23 different kinds of trees, among which there will not only be offices, but also a museum, a luxury hotel and an eco-friendly architecture school.

The structures are presently being built. In no more than a year we may see green backgrounds in Chinese news reports, or at least in Nanjing. The memory of children not able to go to school because of the pollution in the air may therefore be left behind.

Boeri’s plans do not stop here. Indeed, later this year he intends to begin the construction of a ‘forest city’, which will be ready by 2020. The green complex, or ‘skin graft’ as Boeri named it, will have between 100 or 200 different sizes of buildings. The Italian architect is determined to change the quality of living for one of the most powerful, but unfortunately polluted, nations of the world. However, he is well aware that some skyscrapers covered in cascading plants will definitely not be enough to defeat China’s pollution.

By measuring how much carbon dioxide the Bosco Verticale, Milan, has absorbed, Boeri hopes the one in Nanjing will both remove 25 tons each year and produce 60 kg of oxygen each day. This project aims to help China’s struggle with pollution by improving the quality of the air, removing the urban traffic dust, increasing the production of oxygen, and absorbing as much carbon dioxide as possible.

In addition, diversity of trees and plants will produce more humidity, which will help the regulation of the temperature inside the building throughout the different seasons. Certainly, the way the vertical forest will be designed will help to save energy every year but will also provide a habitat for birds and insects pollinators, such as the endangered bees, which are seeking a more diversified environment.

Nanjing’s vertical forest will be the first in Asia, although other constructions following analogous concepts have already been built in the region. For example, Singapore’s Parkroyal on Pickering Boasts is made of over 15,000 square meters of terraces covered by gardens and waterfalls on the inside. But have those buildings the same purpose as Boeri’s projects? Have they just an environment purpose or are they just becoming a trend?

After the first vertical forest, in many luxury hotels around the world having similar ‘living walls’, on a smaller scale, is becoming more and more popular. An example is the Pershing Hall in the Champs-Elysees golden triangle, Paris, where there is a vertical garden made by botanist Patrick Blanc. Not to mention the Palace on Buckingham Palace Road in London, where The Rubens created a 10,000 plants ‘living wall’.

Whether vertical forests are being constructed out of fashion’s purposes or in order to defeat a pollution crisis, they are now becoming increasingly popular. As more and more ‘living walls’ will be built, the quality of life of both human and animal citizens will undoubtedly improve.

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