Forests can heal, and you feel the effects after taking just a few steps into the woodland: your heartbeat slows down and your breathing becomes deeper. A Japanese therapy known as “shinrin-yoku” (literally: forest bathing) is taking over the Western world, and since its rise to prominence, multiple studies have shown that surrounding oneself in greenery increases creativity, extends periods of concentration and strengthens the immune system.
Facade with a garden – the butterflies flutter about.
Tree house reloaded: the “25 Verde” complex in Turin. The architect: Luciano Pia.
It’s no wonder, then, that urbanites frequently yearn for more nature in their lives. After all, it can be hard to come by within the confines of city life. And yet most cities have done little to address this yearning of its residents. “The demand for organic architecture goes back over a century,” says the New York architect Mitchell Joachim. “But cities are made of concrete, steel and glass.” Joachim doesn’t often stop for breath when he talks about his job as an architect and about his passion for nature, but in this case he takes a moment to reflect. “Organic construction,” he says, “has been possible for a few years. The technology has finally come so far.”
Biophilic building, biophilic design: for Joachim, this concept is more than just an architectural fad. Incorporating nature into every nook and cranny in the city is the only conceivable – indeed, the only reasonable – approach. Not just because it makes ecological sense, but because being in the presence of nature lets us slow down and be more aware of our surroundings.
It enables us to be kinder to ourselves and those around us, creating a better climate in every sense of the word. But it doesn’t take a whole forest to do this. In 2015, researchers in Canada discovered that streets lined with individual trees in densely populated residential areas lead to improved health among residents.
Double effect: Stefano Boeri’s pair of green residential towers has been an unmistakable feature of the Milan skyline since 2014.
People need nature. Especially in the city, where residents often spend most of their day behind closed doors. But green living is beginning to establish itself there, as well. In fact, it is taking root everywhere from New York to Berlin to Buenos Aires, from train stations to urban areas, indoors and outdoors. The architect Stefano Boeri has incorporated 900 trees into the two residential towers that form his spectacular “Bosco Verticale” – or “vertical forest” – project. The forested facade absorbs over 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 80 kilograms of particulates every year while cooling the interior by three degrees. A skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur boasts increased energy efficiency in much the same way: here, as well as on the facade of a building in Paris, the French landscape architect Patrick Blanc has harnessed the potential of incorporating flora into buildings.
This shift can be witnessed at a much smaller scale as well: small flower meadows can be found at over 300 bus stops in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Utrechters endearingly refer to these as “bee stops”. It’s no coincidence that Tatiana Bilbao from Mexico City was awarded the Marcus Prize for architecture. As an architect, she is committed to sustainable living solutions that meet the people’s needs. Nature plays a leading role in her innovative concepts. Like the holiday home in Monterrey, Mexico, whose mirrored glass reflects the trees to assimilate into its forested surroundings.
Tatiana Bilbao’s house in Monterrey (Mexico) offers a fluid transition from nature to living space.
Sustainable: the Mexican architect uses regional materials in her innovative works.
“Design with Life” is the credo of the Terreform One consultancy, at the helm of which is the New York architect Mitchell Joachim, introduced at the beginning of this article. Here, architects are working with engineers and biologists to develop visionary urban solutions that see trees giving rise to homes, benches made from fungal spores, and walls made from bones grown in a laboratory. What may seem at odds at first becomes completely plausible upon a closer glance: Joachim wants to bring technology and biology together. He envisions city, people and nature in perfect harmony with one another. In other words: maximum sustainability.
A multi-storey building with a butterfly garden built into the facade is currently in the works. The idea came to Joachim upon hearing how monarch butterflies – those stunningly beautiful butterflies with vibrant orange and black wings – are dying off. “We’ve lost billions of monarch butterflies in recent years, despite New York being their home. The city has become their enemy, so we want to give them their own biotope in Manhattan.”
Mitchell Joachim’s architectural vision in Manhattan brings nature and architecture into perfect harmony.