As more of the earth’s surface is swallowed up by the built environment, architects are increasingly looking to integrate urban flora into their designs. Whether developing green roofs, living walls, abundant indoor courtyards, or balconies that connect interior and exterior spaces, the urge to intertwine nature and architecture has never been more apparent.
Today, over half of the global population lives in urban areas; a figure the UN predicts will rise to 68 percent by 2050. To counteract the considerable burden that our expanding cities place on the planet, architects are turning to green innovation and sustainable practices. Heightened competition for land in urban settlements has seen the popularity of green roofs and rooftop gardens skyrocket. By repurposing spaces that would otherwise go unused, they offer unique, biodiverse oases that filter rainfall pollutants, contribute to effective water management systems, enhance the energy efficiency of the buildings they adorn and help to mitigate the urban heat island effect. Studies also indicate that expanding tree cover in metropolitan centers could help reduce temperatures by almost 5°C, in part through their canopies providing streets with shade.
Hence, around the world, a plant-led approach is taking root. Embracing this ubiquitous trend, Evergreen Architecture surveys a broad spectrum of residential, institutional, urban, and rural spaces. From Heatherwick Studio’s design for Maggie’s Leeds, a cancer support center, that embraces a range of biophilic features exactly for their therapeutic reason, to high-rises like Milan’s Bosco Verticale, an artificial forest equivalent to 30,000 square meters of woodland that has been a pioneering prototype and Brisbane’s soon-to-be constructed Urban Forest, a carbon-neutral 30-story building set out to demonstrate green architecture’s potential to solve climate problems as it’s not only covered in plants, but every element of its design and construction has been weighed from an environmental perspective.
To design sustainable green spaces, though, architects must move beyond aesthetics to consider the financial, practical, and environmental implications of their endeavors: Will the building be strong enough to bear the weight of the plants? How much additional infrastructure does this require? Where do the species come from, and what care do they need? Is the design environmentally friendly, or does it just look “green”?
At surface level, green architecture offers us an aesthetic reprieve from the concrete continuity of the built environment, providing a connection to nature, and imbuing spaces with its healing benefits. If you look deeper, it has the capacity to reimagine our cities and our lives, in ways that are both sustainable and beautiful. This book explores recent examples of a movement that is now well underway and provides glimpses of possible futures where—as people once wrote of ancient Babylon—towers resembling tree-covered mountains populate the skyline.
Authorgestalten, Introduction: Rosie Flanagan, Project Texts: Aoi Phillips