Atop the Salesforce Tower, a garden grows… vertically

Sourced from the Jewish News of Northern California

From the 61st floor of Salesforce Tower — that is, from the tippy top — the 360-degree views of San Francisco and the Bay Area are blue with water and often grey with fog, but not very green.

Outside, that is.

Inside, the glass-walled circular space is punctuated by 24 floor-to-ceiling columns of living plants, like half-hour increments around a clock. Employees, clients and visitors lounge around on comfortable chairs, looking out on the cityscape while nestled amidst greenery that would do any jungle proud.

“I’ve always been interested in how plants affect people, the beneficial effects they have on our moods and well-being,” said David Brenner, founding principal and lead designer at S.F.-based Habitat Horticulture.

Brenner and his company worked with Salesforce Tower’s architects to create what is certainly — at 1,070 feet — the highest garden in San Francisco.

It’s safe to say a lot of people will be seeing these horticultural displays. Salesforce founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff opened the tower’s top floor (the Ohana Floor) to the public early in the year, but visiting proved to be so popular that now public visits are limited to tours one Saturday per month, starting Feb. 23. (As of now, reservations are already full through August.)

Brenner, 35, has long held an interest in vertical gardening, and the fact that he was awarded this plum contract may reflect his success at dotting the map with his previous work all over the Bay Area, and beyond.

In fact, after studying horticultural science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he experimented with methods of building living walls, the San Jose native created his first non-academic project in Tel Aviv. After completing a Birthright Israel tour in 2011, he stayed on for an extra 10 days to build a 9-foot wide vertical garden on an available commercial wall on Shenkin Street, where his cousins own a restaurant.

Before that trip, he long had admired the work of pioneering European botanists, such as Patrick Blanc (credited as the modern inventor of the living wall), and done an apprenticeship at the famous Kew Gardens in London, focusing on epiphytes — plants that grow on trees or other vertical surfaces but are not parasitic.

So when his trip to Israel left him in the mood to give something back, a living wall came to mind.

“I was just starting out and was inspired,” he recalled during an interview at Salesforce in downtown San Francisco.

It was two years after college when Brenner founded Habitat Horticulture, in 2010, while working at a tree and plant nursery in San Francisco.

“I’ve always loved plants, and my thought was that cities, in general, have too much concrete and not enough parks,” he said. “I saw this as the best way to bring the most greenery into the places where people work.”

In 2013, the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park offered him a platform for his ideas — literally. It was an 18-by-12-foot wall called “the living stage” that put plant life on display in a new way. A wall in a Financial District bank followed, along with a South of Market exterior wall at Foundry Square.

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