Planted Buildings: Is This the Future of Our Cities or Just an Eco-fantasy?

The trend for “green” eco-fantasy buildings is sweeping the world of architecture, with designers now integrating gardens, terraces and all manner of vertical planting in their specifications for office blocks, apartment buildings and even skyscrapers. “Starchitects” such as Daniel Libeskind and Philippe Starck, who a few years ago would have scoffed at the idea that their sleek and shiny building might incorporate something as embarrassingly domestic and “unmodern” as a garden, are now getting in on the act, and displaying a new-found zeal for horticulture.

The world’s tallest vertical garden – One Central Park in Sydney, Australia – was opened earlier this year and “green” buildings, which are often literally green thanks to vertical planting and tree balconies, are springing up in countries across the globe where corporations and civic authorities are keen to trumpet their eco-credentials (that is: pretty much everywhere).

Singapore, which as long ago as 1967 decided to brand itself as a “garden city”, has established itself as a centre for this kind of work, and now China is also enthusiastically adopting both the green technology and – crucially – the green look for new city developments. But it’s a trend with tentacles that reach far and wide; Google’s plans for its new headquarters in King’s Cross, London, specify a long, low building – a “landscraper”, no less – with a massive and complex roof garden element.

The idea of a “green building” is not particularly new, of course. The Sixties saw the first buildings designed to take into account their environmental impact and energy performance. But even into the Nineties these buildings were considered rather specialised and self-consciously “progressive”. And they often looked – paradoxically – intimidatingly industrial, with their arrays of solar panels, visible pipes and complex window arrangements.

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