Hurrah for Edwin Heathcote, the architectural critic for the Financial Times, for writing about The curse of green fuzz on buildings that you see everywhere these days. He raises the question I did about Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale: whether it will ever actually look anything like the rendering. Heathcote thinks it is a worrisome trend.
That is the question that plagues all these green towers. Will they really ever look like they do on the billboards? The question is important because what this outbreak of green means is that architects and developers are hiding ugly, ill-considered buildings behind curtains of foliage and if the green doesn’t grow, all we’re left with is the dumb, naked towers, blank and expressionless with the fig leaf of a few, well, fig leaves for cover.
We all like green, everybody loves trees, but that is the weakness that is being exploited here. In cloaking their proposals in fluffy flora, developers and architects are attempting a sleight of hand, a misdirection. Even worse, this fashion reveals a collapse in confidence in the language and power of architectural expression. It is an admission of defeat, a retreat from the responsibility of designing elevations to enhance a city through an architecture of intelligence, elegance and intent rather than a kind of straggly green comb-over.
Reading this feels like a bit of a vindication for me. Back in 2008 I wrote in How Green Was My Balcony that “ lovely renderings of buildings that show a consistent green envelope require a lot of technology and attention and do not often come out looking like the rendering.” I complained about one project which never got off the drawing board, covered with what Heathcote calls “green fuzz":
One really cannot tell if there are planters in front of the handrails or if it is just sorta stuck there like Christmas decorations. Nor do you know who maintains them, whether each owner is responsible, whether gardeners have rights of entry, or whether they rappel down the exterior of the building.
In fact, on Boeri’s vertical forest, that’s exactly what they do- rappel.
Heathcote is right, green fuzz is growing like black mould on buildings around the world, even in cities where it is probably too cold for it to grow. The usually talented Zeidler Partnership just fuzzed Toronto with this execrable proposal to sit a condo on a table on top of the historic York Square and yes, it has stuff on the balconies. In Toronto, where the roots will freeze solid.
Over the years I have taken a lot of abuse for what I called greenwrapping, or using green roofs or planting to essentially hide buildings in plain sight, to put them where they don't belong. Heathcote put it better: "Trees are not a substitute for architecture. Next time you see a billboard or a glossy magazine ad featuring a pubic fuzz of foliage and overflowing vines, look carefully at what is underneath."
Really, this trend should be nipped in the bud.