SAVVY: Forget green buildings – forest in a building is the way forward to keep our concrete jungle green!

Nanjing (close up)

GREEN Building. What‘s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this? Most people would probably assume that you‘re talking about eco-friendly buildings constructed to save energy. Actually, several architectural firms around the world today are taking the “Green” concept literally as they emerge with “vertical forest” concepts.

The idea is to design buildings where different types of vegetation can grow around it. This will not only increase biodiversity in an urban area (it will attract birds and insects) but will also help to combat pollution in a natural way. Plants can help to filter dust particles from the air while absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.

These forest buildings are also a sight to behold and will help to improve the aesthetics of an otherwise concrete jungle. Forest buildings and forest cities will allow urban dwellers to get back to nature without leaving the city.

Lizhou (top view)

Liuzhou and Shijiazhuang

One of the chief proponents of the “vertical forest” concept for buildings and cities is the Italian architect, Stefano Boeri, who has two “vertical forest” buildings in the works in Nanjing. He has also unveiled a “forest city” concept for a couple of Chinese cities.

Boeri’s Vertical Forest City Concept

His idea is to build a city in China which could act as a benchmark for other cities that want to not only go green, but to become full-fledged forest cities. Boeri‘s plans for Liuzhou Forest City envision a city where all its buildings are covered by trees and plants. His plans call for 40,000 trees and about one million plants to grace the skyscrapers spanning 175 hectares along the Liujiang River in the mountainous area of Guangxi.

Boeri estimates that the greenery will absorb nearly 10,000 tonnes of CO2 and 57 tonnes of pollutants per year, while also producing approximately 900 tonnes of oxygen. Construction is expected to start in 2020. Boeri has also proposed a similar concept for another Chinese city called Shijiazhuang.

Nanjing (from afar)

A vertical forest concept by Boeri that is already in the works is a pair of towers in the Pukou District of Nanjing, which is home to over 1,000 tress and 2,500 plants and shrubs. The two towers will feature a shopping centre, food market, restaurants, a conference hall and exhibition spaces.

This mixed-used development project has been described by Boeri as “a real vertical forest that will help to regenerate local biodiversity, provide 25 tonnes of CO2 absorption each year and produce about 60kg of oxygen per day.” These buildings are expected to be completed this year.

Shanghai

Shanghai

Boeri is not the only architect with forest building ambitions in China. The British architectural firm Heatherwick Studio is also currently working on a forest city-styled development, covering six hectares, next to Shanghai‘s contemporary art district.

Aptly named “1,000 Trees”, this mixed development project which will include housing, offices, shops, hotels and a school, will feature a staggered roofline with 400 terraces and 1,000 plant-topped columns.

“Conceived not as a building but as a piece of topography, the design takes the form of two tree-covered mountains, populated by approximately one thousand structural columns,” the company said in a statement.

“Rather than hiding the columns which provide structural support, the columns emerge at the top of the building as large planters, each holding a handful of trees.”

Paris Hotel

Luxury hotels in Sao Paulo and Paris 

French Jean Nouvel has designed a 90-metre tall luxury hotel in Sao Paulo, Brazil that will feature plants and trees planted on the staggered terraces of the building. Called Rosewood Tower, this six-star hotel will have 275 guest rooms and 122 apartments. It is scheduled to open in 2019.

Meanwhile, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has designed a plant-covered hotel located on the left bank of the River Seine in Paris. Dubbed the Eco-Luxury Hotel, it will feature wooden fins arranged vertically across the exterior of the building, leaving gaps for plants to grow in between them. There will also be a huge garden placed between the hotel and a nearby youth hostel.

“In the dense urban context of the Avenue de France, we felt the need to create a green lung for the city,” the architect had said.

Sao Paulo Hotel

A Trend for the Future?

These examples from around the world certainly give hope that cities can avoid being purely a concrete jungle. The forest city concepts in China are particularly interesting to observe. If such projects succeed, they may encourage more architects and property developers around the world to go green in a real and significant way.

And when that happens, our future generations may be able to enjoy the benefits of living in a thriving and busy city and still be able to experience the joy of having more of nature around them.

Oon Yeoh / New Straits Times