Green Design: White Elephant?

Growing up the son of an urban planner and an architect I have seen my fair share of buildings, plazas, housing estates and urban centers.  Some have been innovative, ground breaking, awarding winning and stood the test of time. Others were innovative, ground breaking, award winning and are now desolate, derelict and leaky (think of all those flat roofed, glass and concrete buildings from the 1960s…..).

Vertical Forest in Milan
Vertical Forest in Milan

That’s why a recent article in the Atlantic Cities website caught my eye when my father forwarded it. It reports on a new green building proposed for Milan. These twin 250 foot and 360 foot high residential towers will be clad in shrubs and full sized trees — rendering them a vertical forests the height of a single giant redwood. It’s certainly an eye catching idea. Reminds me of a great talk I heard a few years ago by Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Institute. She challenged the audience to imagine a building like a redwood tree — able to capture its own water from the fog, clean itself, recycle the material, and make the air in the city around it cleaner for all the inhabitants. At the time it was a provocative idea that is now starting to go mainstream. I am not sure she had in mind a building clad in trees however…..

If it’s ever build I am sure it will win awards and be heralded as the way forward for green design. My hunch is that if I returned in 20 years it would have the feel of these previously award winning and now derelict spaces I visited with my parents. Time will tell!

What I do know is that some tried and true ways of greening are cities work. For instance,  bringing trees into urban areas at a human scale along the sidewalk and medians will always make sense. It’s good for the air, for  controlling storm water, moderating temperature and a host of other things. And who doesn’t feel better walking down a tree-lined street? But a tree lined tower? I say white elephant.

Photo credit: EliasSchewel courtesy Flickr and Creative Commons.

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