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Architecture Myths #4: Gardens in the Sky

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A recent burst of pre-completion publicity for the Bosco Verticale in Milan came with a strong sense of seen-beforeness. This image is from the website of the architect, Stefano Boeri.


The following press release can be seen on florafocuseuinhabitatjetsongreenearthtechling, etc. etc. Bosco is Italian for forest.

The Bosco Verticale consist of two towers covered in trees and shrubs. From April 2012 teams are planting the trees into the World’s first vertical forest. Milan is one of the most polluted cities in the world – the Bosco Verticale project aims to mitigate some of the environmental damage that has been inflicted upon the city by urbanization. The design is made up of two high-density tower blocks with integrated photovoltaic energy systems and trees and vegetation planted on the facade. The plants help capture CO2 and dust in the air, reduce the need to mechanically heat and cool the tower’s apartments, and help mitigate the area’s urban heat island effect – particularly during the summer when temperatures can reach over 100 degrees.

Now, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon may have done that and more – if indeed they  existed – but here’s a nice picture of them and the Tower of Babel too for good measure.

A 16th century depiction of the Hanging Garden...
A 16th century depiction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, by Martin Heemskerck, with Tower of Babel in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one of the wonders that may have been purely legendary. They were purportedly built in the ancient city-state of Babylon, near present-day Al HillahBabilprovince, in Iraq. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are documented by ancient Greek and Roman writers, including StraboDiodorus Siculus, and Quintus Curtius Rufus. However, no cuneiform texts describing the Hanging Gardens are extant, and no definitive archaeological evidence concerning their whereabouts has been found.

More recent myths of “gardens in the sky” are closely related to those of “streets in the sky” as both attempt to load high-rise real estate with some of the selling points of proper land. We could start anywhere and still arrive back at the same place but Bosco Verticale immediately brought to mind this 2004-ish idea of MVRDV – 

mvrdv cantelever

which prematurely resurfaced in 2010 as the Torre Huerta in Valencie, with added struts for the more challenging times.


Like OMA’s Death Star first papped in Ras Al Khaimah and then Waterfront City, images such as these become part of the collective memory of architects. (It’s a bit like when someone’s name is mentioned and you’re surprised they’re still alive since – as far as you’re concerned – it didn’t really matter as they’d already impinged upon your life the most they were ever going to.) Next up is Edouard François’ “Flower Tower” in Paris. Thank you untappedcities for this natural shot of the building. Like most of Edouard François‘ output, you get the idea.


This next is Foster+Partners’ 2012 Bow Tower in Calgary, Canada.

fosterbow_3ArchtiectureList says that its

additional green features (often found in Foster + Partners’ designs) include a system of interior green spaces, and three sky gardens.

Indeed. And in much the same shape and form as F+P’s 1996 Millennium Tower proposal for the site currently occupied by a certain gherkin-shaped building.


Current “gardens in the sky” or “sky gardens” as they are now known, are becoming a bit of a staple in architectural projects, especially tall ones. They can be justified as public garden space as in this exuberant render of London’s 20 Fenchurch Street “affectionately” – according to e-architect – known as “Walkie-Talkie”. Ugh.

photo RV via

Sky gardens are also proposed as relaxing retreats for busy workers as with Foster + Partners’ 425 Park Avenue

photo F+P via

or Rogers Stirk Harbour Partners’ Waldenesque proposal for the same site. Thoreau would have approved of its proximity to Times Square.

425 park avenue rogers

We must not forget that many sky gardens are proposed to obtain planning permission by providing a fanciful amenity space for residents. The Vauxhall Sky Garden scheme by Amin Taha is typical. What is it with these mature trees?

vt3Another project of this type is Libeskind’s 2008 proposal for One Madison Avenue.

one madison avenue

We’re now moving into Kenyeangland where the point of enclosing all this outdoor space within a structure seems to shift between occupant landscape amenity and how a climatically-responsive building should look. Here’s his Fusionopolis [from greensource] in Singapore.


The 15-story building will be 1.4 Km high, and boast of a ‘green infrastructure.’ The building will be home to the longest continuous vertical stretch of vegetation of any building in the world. A vertical spine of planting will rise up through the building, and landscaped garden terraces will be located on each floor of the building. The vegetation will help in passive cooling and insulation. The vegetation will also improve the sense of well being of the residents.

Natural daylight will be directed into the building interior by prisms which deflect the sunlight as it hits them. The drainage and irrigation system will also integrated green features. The whole building will function as an ecosystem, and strive to strike a balance between the organic and inorganic elements so as to make the building work like a living system. [Thanks inhabitat]

And this is Yeang’s Solaris that also forms part of the same Hadid-masterplanned (no less!) complex.

solaris_fusionopolis 2b_r210612_a1

* * *

I can’t help thinking that plants grow well in Singapore, and that it’s easy being green.

The relative humidity typically ranges from 62% (mildly humid) to 98% (very humid) over the course of the year, rarely dropping below 54% (mildly humid) and reaching as high as 100% (very humid). The air is driest around February 18, at which time the relative humidity drops below 66% (mildly humid) three days out of four; it is most humid around November 11, exceeding 95% (very humid) three days out of four. [weatherspark]


Trees are up in the air looking pretty yes, but there isn’t any need to make use of one of their most brilliant properties – evapo-transpiration. 


  • nice link, Curtis
    interesting that improving the quality of a person’s stay in hospital increases their recovery rate.
    reminds of the studies that have found that improving the quality of person’s diet whilst in hospital also seems to improve their recovery rate.

    • Thanks for that Curtis – I’m looking forward to reading it thoroughly. I approved of the prominent quote from Edward O. Wilson because I’ve just read his “The Social Conquest of Earth” and have a lot of respect for the man. It’s easy to imagine that people like being around plants and that, as a result, there are economic gains to be made – for someone. I’ll be interested to read if those plants add value to property as well as to workers. I suspect they will. Win-win – again, for someone.

      But I also couldn’t help but notice the image of the Johnson Wax Building’s tree-like-canopy-like-columnar-roofy bits. I inadvertently frowned when I read the accompanying caption. Biophilia is probably a good thing but, before it even gets off the ground as an architectural concept, it’s being conflated with Wright’s yesteryear spin on organic. Once pretend plants are okay (and they will be because they’re permanent and zero maintenance) then Nouveau Art Nouveau and Gaudi reimaginings and all sorts of similar horrors will surely follow. I just had a horrible thought – they might be here already!