By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Former Milanese Municipal Counsellor for Culture, architect Stefano Boeri, has used his skills and love of green buildings to create an eco-residential area in the Italian fashion capital: Bosco Verticale, or the Vertical Forest.
Boeri, along with Gianandrea Barreca, Giovanni La Varra, and all their associates from Boeri Studio, are extremely proud to have created this pair of residential towers in Milan’s Porta Nuova district, which have been designed to green up a generally grey city.
At 119 and 87 metres, the buildings can host up to 900 trees and over 2000 plants from a wide range of species, creating a kind of mini-ecosystem. Of course, different types of plants are used depending on how they react to the sun and elements.
Besides being beautiful, the plants will help mitigate smog and produce oxygen. These eco-skyscrapers are ideal for metropolitan reforestation, since they regenerate the environment and the urban biodiversity without expanding the city towards the suburbs.
The plants also help capture CO2 and dust in the air, produce humidity, protect from acoustic pollution such as traffic and reduce the need to mechanically heat and cool the tower’s apartments. This helps mitigate the area’s urban heat island effect, especially during the summertime.
Plant irrigation will be produced through the filtering and reuse of the grey water produced by the building. Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will work together with the aforementioned microclimate to increase the degree of energetic self sufficiency of the two towers.
This urban forest ambiance has been created thanks to botanists and horticulturalists, who were consulted by the engineering team to ensure that the structure could bear the load imposed by the plants.
Some fear that the wind gushing through the trees will make the towers topple, but there’s no need to worry–these buildings are as strong as Sequoia–and as beautiful, too.
The project was conceived as “a house for trees that also houses humans and birds.” This philosophy not only defines the urban and technological characteristics, but also the architectural and expressive qualities of the Vertical Forest.
During the various seasons, the variety of nuances and shapes of the plant structure generate a large iridescent landmark, that is utterly recognisable in Milan’s skyline. In fact, the image of the Bosco Verticale has become the new symbol of this Italian city in just a few years.
The foundation work for the plant components was the result of three years of studies conducted together with a group of botanists and ethologists. Beginning in the summer of 2010, the plants destined to be planted on the towers were pre-cultivated in a special botanical nursery, near Como, in order to get them used to living in conditions similar to those of the Porta Nuova neighbourhood.
Still today the most fascinating trait for the maintenance of this mesmerising structure is the team of arborist-climbers, also known as “Flying Gardeners.” Through the use of mountaineering techniques, they are able to descend from the roof of the buildings to check the condition of the plants.
The Future of Bosco Verticale
The Milanese adventure began in 2014, and is still thriving to this very day. As a matter of fact Stefano Boeri was asked to bring his expertise in green architecture to China.
His firm was tasked with a bigger project: the Nanjing Vertical Forest, that is two new forest towers in the Chinese city Nanjing, which will serve as a model for expanding the style to three full cities in China. This construction will mark the first Vertical Forest built in Asia, with the hope that it will represent the beginning of a more sustainable approach for China.
In fact, Boeri plans on expanding the effort to the Chinese cities Liuzhou and Shijiazhuang. The Forest Cities represent a city of a new generation, capable of becoming a model of sustainable growth in a large country seeing, each year, 14 million farmers migrating to the cities.
Liuzhou’s project is incredibly ambitious, since this Chinese city of about one and a half million inhabitants — in the mountainous Southern province of Guangxi — is one of the world’s most smog-affected urban areas due to overpopulation. The Liuzhou Forest City will be the first of its kind in the entire world.
The whole urban structure will be covered in green, hosting about 40,000 trees and 1 million plants from more than 100 different species. The flora will absorb about 10,000 tons of CO2 and 57 tons of micro-particles every year, producing about 900 tons of oxygen, and will also generate a barrier against acoustic pollution and increase the biodiversity of living species through the generation of a rich ecosystem of living spaces for birds, insects and small animals that already inhabit the territory surrounding Liuzhou.
In addition, in terms of an inhabited settlement, the new Liuzhou Forest City has been conceived and developed as a real “porous model”: an urban organism that is sensitive and attentive to the specific qualities and values of the environment. This design approach develops naturally starting from the planimetric layout, designed to integrate harmoniously with the geography of the surrounding mountains, following their morphology and incorporating the qualities of the local landscape. This approach also corresponds to a careful study of the technological, infrastructural and distribution characteristics of the large urban complex.
Along these lines the Shijiazhuang Forest City has the aim to become a sustainable metropolis, with low energy consumption.
Sustainability Goes East
If the 20th century has been known as the era of Westernisation, the 21st century is establishing the phenomenon of Easternisation. The Orient has undoubtably become a cultural and economic role-model to follow also in the field of Sustainability. Stefano Boeri has fully acknowledged this, bringing his know-how and visionary talent to the Eastern side of the hemisphere to change the way we live in urban settings.
This architectural firm is working wonders with its focus on the geopolitical and environmental implications of urban phenomena, and paving the way to fix the Anthropocene’s mistakes.
Images: Boeri Studios