architecture sustainability

The rise of the forest city

Here’s a nice update on a previous building of the week – Bosco Verticale, the residential tower blocks in Milan that were designed to create a ‘vertical forest’. After the success of that project, architect Stefano Boeri has had a lot of interest in the idea and a number of other projects have been suggested. Unsurprising, given that these forested towers reduce heating and cooling needs, improve air and noise pollution, lower the urban heat island effect and improve urban biodiversity. And they look brilliant.

Nowhere has shown more interest in the idea than China, where Boeri has worked on an airport terminal, hotels, parks, an office, and a series of large scale concepts. Work is underway on a new tower in Nanjing that will incorporate a museum, a hotel, and a school of sustainable architecture.


It’s appropriate that this has taken off in China. For one thing, it suffers more than most from urban sprawl and air pollution, so it could really benefit from more trees in the city. It’s got money to spend on architecture and cities that aren’t shy of prestige projects. But it’s something more than that: in its aesthetics, it feels very much at home in China. Some of the country’s most iconic landscapes are the limestone formations known as karst topography. These look for all the world as if nature has already built a city of forested towers, and perhaps they even inspired Milan’s in the first place. So there’s an authenticity to vertical forests in China, they look like they belong in the landscape, and I can see why there is so much interest.


As the Guardian reported last week, Boeri has grand plans in China, with a proposal to build whole forested cities as a response to the air pollution crisis. He may well get to do it, and in the meantime others are learning the techniques and applying them. There’s a forested residential block under construction in Melbourne, one in Cairo and in Taipei. Others have been working along similar lines for years, making Boeri part of a trend. WOHA in Singapore design forested buildings in quite a different style. Progetto CMR in Italy design green buildings under the philosophy ‘less ego more eco’. Vincent Callebaud’s visionary green architecture has been largely theoretical, but he has a couple of projects under construction and I look forward to writing about those another time.

I’m a big fan of these buildings. I’ve spent contented evenings building them in Minecraft.  I look forward to more of them springing up in real life.


  1. Would you mind if I reblogged this? Debbie over at Spaceship China recently did a post on pollution in China, would love to share this.

  2. Reblogged this on Blisters, Bunions & Blarney and commented:
    Recently, Debbie over at Spaceship China, talked about the problem of pollution in China, particularly Beijing. ( However, the political response hasn’t 1. to deny that it exists or 2. to bury heads in the sand. Debbie goes on to explain how policy is changing in response to the problem.

    Do you follow blogs that you don’t really follow? I’ve realised I’m doing quite a bit of that lately, so popped over to follow what Jeremy is doing over at Make Wealth History. I’m glad I did. His latest post complements Debbie’s very well. He’s kindly allowed me to reblog it.

  3. HI Jeremy, popped over here on the trail from Safar’s blog. The vertical forest towers could do a lot to contribute to the anti-pollution campaign, and certainly if any country can build a whole ‘forest city’ it would be China! They have the money and expertise to do such things and certainly don’t muck around when it comes to new projects; new buildings go up insanely fast over here. I like your point about these buildings fitting in with the karst landscape down in Guangxi.

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  5. I have seen this before. Not to be a nay sayer, but, I am wondering what kind of rodents the high rise garden will attract. Perhaps nothing. I have heard raccoons and rats will climb up the walls. With appropriate barriers it should not be a problem.

  6. Someone else said there would be an insect problem from all those trees. But would either insects or rodents be any worse than houses with trees in the garden outside? I don’t see any reason why it would be.

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