A Vertical Forest
Having seen the vertical forest (bosco verticale) towers in Milan’s Porta Nuova district on a UDG study visit a few years ago, and after they appeared on the front cover of issue UD149 of Urban Design, I wished that I had bought a copy of this book when I quickly scanned it in a Milanese bookshop. Intriguingly peppered with images of the species and microsystems created by the wild inhabitants of the bosco verticale, a proper review of this book proved just as inspirational, and given the other reviews on taller buildings in this issue, one from which we could all learn more.
Published as parallel English and Italian texts, this is more than a booklet. It opens with seven inspirations by Boeri on how and why the two towers came to be designed and built with such a strong commitment to natural systems. Boeri had witnessed the domination of glass skyscrapers in global cities, and set out to create an ‘ecological and sustainable tower’ persuading his (subsequently very sympathetic) client of the value of this design ‘quirk’. The underlying principle is to make the ecosystem of the towers more sustainable by modifying their microclimate with planting; two trees are included for each inhabitant, ‘a Tower for trees which incidentally housed human beings’. His vision is that all tall buildings could adopt the bosco verticale principles and make whole cities with a far better environmental future.
The following section is a series of vignettes on the interactions between residents, the flying gardeners who maintain the forest, and their wild neighbours, in similar terms to Jane Jacobs’ sidewalk ballet, but many storeys up. The statistics section seems convincing, and leads onto an illustrated dictionary of 100 elements, which is the main part of the book. Being alphabetical, this section is not very helpful to the reader as it mixes influences (e.g. the German artist Joseph Beyers), technical information (anchor systems), species (blackbird) and planning principles (anti- sprawl device) in a way that makes the messages frustratingly hard to assimilate.
Sections 1 and 2 are simpler on how to learn from VF01, these first two boschi verticali, how they would work in different climates, and which species would work where (i.e. exporting the towers to other contexts or grafting the principles onto existing cities). The basic principles behind the concept may not be new to urban designers, but the means are fascinating, and they are beautifully illustrated in this book. However the most critical information that we need to begin a similar dialogue with others is missing: the floor plans, how the vegetation relates to the interior spaces, the cost of construction and maintenance, etc. This data is no doubt available elsewhere and it is a fundamental part of the evidence base that we need to take this great vision further.