Vertical Visions

Translation By: 
Alice Kok
Stefano Boeri Architetti will see plant-covered skyscrapers popping up all across China’s urban land
Following on from his “vertical forests” in Milan and Lausanne, the founder of Stefano Boeri Architetti is working on his Forest City concept, which will see plant-covered skyscrapers popping up all across China’s urban landscape
Stefano Boeri is an architect with a difference. Trees and plants take centre stage in his designs, unlike most in his profession, he sees them as pride of place, rather than an afterthought.
The founder of Stefano Boeri Architetti (SBA), based in Milan, with offices in Shanghai and Tirana, Boeri is an author, artistic director, cultural curator and professor, amongst a number of other distinguished titles. 
He is also the creator of Vertical ForestING – a worldwide trend, generated by the first Vertical Forest built by Boeri Studio in Milan in 2014. When Boeri came up with the idea of giving back to nature the space we are taking from it due to continuous urban sprawl, he conceived Bosco Verticale as a prototype of the skyscrapers of the future. 
Today, the architecture practice has projects around the world, with a number of them situated in China, including: Liuzhou Forest City, Guizhou 10 Thousand Peaks Valley Project, Guizhou Mountain Forest Hotel, Nanjing Verticle Forest and Forest City in Shijiazhuang.  
Do you believe in biophilia?
I am an architect and my perspective, my work, is all about how to introduce life inside architecture. We are used to designing buildings and facades using stone, metal and other kinds of material that come from nature. But normally when we involve trees or plants in our buildings, they are seen as decorative or used with an ornamental approach. 
My perspective is totally different; I’m interested in having trees and plants inside my buildings, not as ornamental elements, but rather as an essential component of my architecture. I design buildings for trees, I design facades for plants. Trees and plants are the first users, the first tenants, of my buildings. 
I think this is a kind of new perspective. Architecture used nature, but only when it was non-living nature. When you use living nature you are seen as doing something which is not exactly architecture. I’m doing that; I would really like to involve the biosphere - living species – inside my buildings.  
How do you think living closely with nature affects us emotionally? 
In many ways. When I think of the reactions and experiences of the families and individuals who inhabit the Vertical Forest that we have built in Milan, I think it’s really great because from a structural point of view, trees transmit a type of calm and comfort, tranquility and relaxation. They are also great to filter the view one has of the urban panorama, of the skyline of the city. I really like it when you open your window in the morning and see the leaves and maybe even a nest and birds – it is amazing, it’s like being in a forest, in the sky, sitting on a branch, not on the ground. 
In addition to the emotional and aesthetic aspects, how does this design benefit the alleviation of pollution?  
Consider that 75 percent of CO2 present in our atmosphere is produced by cities. At the same time forests are absorbing 35-40 percent of that CO2, so my idea is to supplement the number of trees, increasing the forest surface in our cities, through parks, through green infrastructure and green architecture, such as the ones I design. 
I think moving forests inside cities is a way to fight the enemy, CO2, in that field where it is produced – inside the city. I think that is one of the most important steps for the future if you really want to reverse climate change.
Did the first Vertical Forest, in Milan, have any unexpected outcomes, or surprise you in any way? 
For every one inhabitant we have two trees, something like 10 shrubs and around 20 plants – that is more or less the proportion. People there are very happy, they like it a lot and it’s been a success. There is also a different kind of proximity of people through the balconies, there’s a community of people who share the experience of following the growth of the trees, of the birds in the nests, so it’s very interesting to see how they experience this kind of space. But the most surprising thing was about the plants, because they have been doing so well. 
Those sociological outcomes are interesting, how the birds and trees help bring communities closer together. 
Kids growing up in the middle of a metropolis nowadays have so few opportunities to come into direct contact with nature – not only with trees, but also with birds. 
In a more general sense, I find it very interesting how plants transmit a sense of community, of proximity with trees, its something unexpected and something we are only used to when we go out to the suburbs, where there are single family houses, with a garden – there you expect it.
I think we can now propose an alternative, in the centre of the city, in a collective house. We decided to make all that is green common space – so you buy your apartment, but you are not buying the trees, shrubs or plants – all that is green is a common group for the entire community. 
How does your work process address the uncertain times we are living in? 
I think that in China the idea of introducing a green environment has to become a collective awareness, this is important. In China, for example, we have been approached by Slow Food, that is food that is selectively grown and that works with local farmers, about creating the first Slow Food farmer village, and they asked us to design public services such as libraries and public schools, and that is something we are working on.
If you want to avoid climate change, you have to work with local communities, in Africa, in India, in China. Cities are growing everywhere, but the way they are growing in China isn’t comparable. 
As architects our professional responsibility has to deal with the complexity of an urban environment, not simply to build boxes, but to take care of the spaces within and between. It’s a very rich and complex world, but that’s the reason I like it so much.
What message do you have for future architects?  
Our job is to anticipate the future, and to adapt our visions to the present needs. It is so important to connect local needs with a vision of the future, to make things a little more complete and complex, and this kind of complexity is within us, it enables us to really imagine the future in a richer way.