The phenomenon of going vertical has always been a concern for architects and urban planners where there is an inversely proportional equation between urban density and availability of land. As people in urban areas are constricted to reside in cities full of skyscrapers made of concrete and glass, architects have started initiating ways to insert green spaces within the urban fabric to connect with nature and increase physical activities and psychological relaxation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many were confined at home due to lockdown or self-quarantine policy, craved for a quick escape to beaches or parks, somewhere close to nature after an exhaustive day sitting at the same place for hours.
There have been many creative initiatives undertaken by designers seeking the possibility of going vertical for vegetation in urban areas. Its basis is after understanding the crises faced due to the rapid growth of urbanisation, including the reduction of land area and destruction of living spaces for animals and plants, even the experience from the pandemic. Few alternatives for plant cultivation suggested are vertical gardens, vertical farms and forests, rooftop vegetable gardens and elevated structures. Each has distinctive attributes and an impact on the city and its inhabitants. Buildings like Bosco Verticale in Milan by architect Stefano Boeri, timber skyscraper modular housing with vertical farming by Chris Precht, Sasaki designed vertical hydroponic farms in Shanghai are few examples known to many. The advantages of vertical farming are numerous:
- Higher productivity in a much smaller area.
- Shorter growing times.
- Lower water use.
- Fresh produce grown much closer to where it’s eaten, principle-based on live and grow together.
Milan-based Stefano Boeri Architetti has proposed or developed various projects involving vertical forests that focus on humans and their relationship with other living organisms. One such building newly unveiled is the “Urban Vertical Farm of Brightfood” in the city of Shanghai. As mentioned earlier, the project comes as a response to the crises faced. It explored a novel method of urban production in metros by the amalgamation of green, food production and visual aesthetics over a 110,000-square meter structure. Along with the various ecological features of this agricultural complex, it offers commercial and office spaces for the city’s people.
As per the architects, cumulative emissions of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases largely determine the global mean surface warming of the planet, causing ice melting, biodiversity loss and rising sea levels. They also mention that forests and trees absorb nearly 40% of fossil fuel emissions produced by cities. The leaves and roots of mature trees absorb CO2 through photosynthesis and help reduce the air pollutants and urban heat island, thus reducing energy consumption. Imagine, if a single tree can benefit the inhabitants, then an urban forest can be a boon in disguise to increase the biodiversity of living species and improve the quality of living in cities. The three-system circulatory analysis was incorporated to create harmony in bio-diversity, green coverage, energy sustainability and atmospheric purification.
Boeri’ believes that global action on urban forestry will help prevent the rise in global temperature above 2° C, the maximum acceptable threshold defined by the COP 21 agreement in Paris (2015).
Boeri launched a manifesto in 2018 to join hands in establishing a global campaign for the outset of specific actions. Like transforming the city roofs into lawns and vegetable gardens, perimeter walls and urban barriers into green facades, promoting green oasis at courtyards or urban voids, community gardens to implement urban agriculture, and using tree roots to decontaminate the polluted soils and a few more. He considers the vegetation aesthetically ornamental and a fundamental building block of architecture.
Based on this ethos, the Urban Vertical Farm of Brightfood design is where the structure is to be an “anti-expansion measure” aimed at controlling urban expansion. The balconies will have vegetation, mainly fruits and vegetables, grown on a specially designed 45-degree southward retreat that interconnects with the network of structural columns and the site’s contour where the building stands. Unlike the usual facades, the plant-based armour does not magnify the urban heat island effect or reflect the sun’s rays. Still, it filters them, thereby welcoming internal microclimate without harming the environment. At the same time, the green indeed “regulates” humidity, produces oxygen and absorbs CO2 and microparticles. The emphasis is not on the simplicity of structure but on the spectacular idea of having a building that morphs with plants and trees growing, changing with each season.
The Facade is segmented in bifurcating the public visiting routes restricted to the bottom exhibition green bubbles, VIP guests with a separate private route taking them to the top exhibition bubble, remaining mid bubbles dedicated to the offices.
Shanghai’s climate conditions and seasonal variation of crops forced the architects to design 12 greenhouses on terraces to ensure the healthy growth of the vegetation. The greenhouses will be of ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene copolymer) membrane material, characterised by high light and UV transmittance, temperature resistance, lightweight, durable, transparent, and fully recyclable material. For more security and privacy, bushes and small trees were planted on the northern facade of the building.
“We think-and we hope that this idea of vertical forests can be replicated everywhere. I hope that what we have done can be useful for other kinds of experiments.” as stated by Stefano Boeri to the Guardian Cities.
Thus, to reverse climate change to benefit the survival of living species, healthier and more pleasant places to improve mental and physical health, then Urban Forestry should be a prime focus in the agenda plan of many governments local international institutions. Let’s Grow Green!