The Vertical Forest comes to Toronto

Vertical Forest Toronto
Public Domain City of Toronto Planning/ Brisbin Brook Beynon

It looks like this will be more than just greenwrapping, too.

Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale in Milan is one of the world’s most famous, and now most imitated, residential buildings; everybody is hanging trees off everything these days. I have been a skeptic, given that they promise CO2 sucking trees while using tons of extra CO2 producing concrete to hold it up, and questioning whether the trees can really survive and thrive in those planters; and what kind of habitat for insects and birds you can get way up there. (Read an interview where I discuss putting trees on skyscrapers in ArchDaily)

But now I might really get to find out, as Toronto, Canada, gets its first Vertical Forest, designed by Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects, an appropriate choice for designing insect habitats since we used to know them affectionately as the Killer B’s. Because it is not just a building with trees; it is a bit of a test bed with a team including Robert Wright, the University of Toronto’s dean of the Faculty of Forestry and an associate professor in the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. [I am a graduate of Daniels.] Perhaps they'll do that math for me. According to the Toronto Star:

Every tree will be computer monitored for health and hydration in a program by the University of Toronto with Vineland Research and Innovation, providing a case study over the next five to 10 years that will set the base parameters for future buildings. “What we’re doing is prototyping how to do this and by monitoring it, we’re going to know where the strengths and weaknesses of the system are and, maintaining it, we’re going to do a better job of making sure these things survive,” said Robert Wright, dean of forestry at U of T.

top of vertical forestCity of Toronto Planning/ Brisbin Brook Beynon/Public Domain

I have sometimes been critical of sticking green walls, roofs and trees on buildings, deriding it as greenwrapping, a way of hiding noxious uses or adding it as greenwash to get through zoning. I am evidently not alone:

Wright acknowledged that there is skepticism about vertical forests being a marketing tool designed to sell more height in developments…. “There’s a huge proliferation of these buildings coming up. Architects love to put green stuff all over their buildings. But they’re all context based, so our climate and our situation means that we’ll need a built-in-Toronto solution,” he said.

middle of buildingCity of Toronto Planning/ Brisbin Brook Beynon/Public Domain

This one may be different. Professor Wright responded to me in a tweet that, while it is not quite a real forest, there is a real rationale and validity to it.

Like most ideas in design it is more metaphorical. Trees on a building while borrowing from the idea of a forest are a long way from having the true ecological structure of a forest. But the objective is to increase biomass, biodiversity and canopy cover.

vertical forest TorontoCity of Toronto planning/ Brisbin Brook Beynon/ it is still design- focused./Public Domain

It is on an interesting site known as Designers Walk, where back in 1980 Israeli-Canadian developer Joab Igra started turning old buildings into the focus for the design industry in Toronto. It is smack in the middle of one of the nicest, tree-covered residential districts in the city. It will be a slog getting approval; it is a tough crowd living around there.

Even the real estate developer admits there is a price to this kind of design:

“It’s not just the capital costs. On an ongoing basis there are maintenance issues, so you’re passing these costs on to the buyers and obviously this is going to reflect in the budget,” he said, adding that, “It’s the type of project that can withstand the additional cost and they’re substantial. I wouldn’t do this for run-of-the-mill, but it’s worth the cost for this development.”

base of building showing retailCity of Toronto Planning/ Brisbin Brook Beynon/CC BY 2.0

I am also impressed that this is not going to be a one-off. According to Brian Brisbin in the Star:

The team developing Toronto’s vertical forest — Vineland Research, PAO Horticultural, Vanden Bussche Irrigation, arborist Michael Ormston-Holloway and the university — “are now becoming basically a new business and all of those things will be available to all new buildings at a reduced cost because the level of research, development and program for this whole thing will have been done on this building.

truck on davenportTruck in bike lane next to Designers Walk, site of future Vertical Forest/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I am looking forward to this and hope that it lives up to its promise. I know the site so well (I used to live across the street, and it is on my bike route, one of my favourite truck-in-the-bike-lane photo spots. No doubt, during construction I will be taking pictures every day) and hope to report on that science and its ongoing construction. And, of course, the state of the bike lane.

The Vertical Forest comes to Toronto
It looks like this will be more than just greenwrapping, too.

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