It's the building that everyone has been talking about; four years ago some critics called it "the most exciting new tower in the world." Stephano Boeri's two towers in Milan, with their giant planters cantilevered out from the building and filled with trees, were going to be a whole new kind of green building. Now it has been given the International Highrise Award 2014, given out biannually since 2004 by the City of Frankfurt and Deutsches Architekturmuseum.
Here's the rendering that launched a thousand blog posts, a wall of trees covering the building. Now it's built, the planters are planted, and here is how it turned out:
“Bosco Verticale is a marvelous project! It’s an expression of the extensive human need for green. The “wooded highrises” are a striking example of a symbiosis of architecture and nature,” pronounced the jury of experts.
“The Vertical Forest is an expression of the human need for contact with nature,” stated jury president Christoph Ingenhoven. “It is a radical and daring idea for the cities of tomorrow, and without a doubt represents a model for the development of densely populated urban areas in other European countries.”
Unlike Mr. Ingenhoven, I am not convinced that this is a model of development that can be replicated easily. That's a big honking planter full of a lot of heavy earth, way out on the end of an eleven foot cantilevered balcony. It is stunning to look at, but it is very, very expensive to do.
It's such a beautiful building that one hates to be a Debbie Downer, but I suspect that it will never look like the rendering; according to landscape architects I consulted, there just isn't enough room in the planters for the trees to grow much bigger than they are now. Tim de Chant of Per Square Mile noted that it is tough to be a tree:
Life sucks up there. For you, for me, for trees, and just about everything else except peregrine falcons. It’s hot, cold, windy, the rain lashes at you, and the snow and sleet pelt you at high velocity. Life for city trees is hard enough on the ground. I can’t imagine what it’s like at 500 feet, where nearly every climate variable is more extreme than at street level.
Now this is in Milan, not Minneapolis. The climate is benign, and trees survive in some pretty tough climates on the sides of mountains far higher than this building, often in very little soil, just hanging on by their roots. Perhaps the tree experts have picked those hardy varieties and maintenance people have figured out how to make them thrive. I hope so.
But given these constraints and costs, I do worry whether it is right to call this "a project that blazes the trail for greened highrises and can be considered a prototype for the cities of tomorrow." I hope I am wrong.