Vertical forests missing the point of green design?

Milan's Bosco Verticale - "vertical forest" in Italian - opened in 2014 to wide acclaim from the design world. Hundreds of trees and thousands of shrubs ascend on ladder-like balconies, 26 stories into the sky. However, critics say these buildings typically share some not-so-green traits: their construction relies on vast quantities of carbon-intensive concrete, and they are very expensive to own. 

"I think it's completely missing the point of green design," said Lloyd Alter, who teaches sustainable design at Ryerson University in Toronto and is the author of Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle. For Alter and other critics, Bosco Verticale represents an exclusive, and expensive, vision of a green future where the benefits of living closer to nature are accrued to an enriched few, at an enormous carbon cost.

All of this helps explain why Stefano Boeri, the Bosco Verticale's celebrated architect, turned his attention to a different project: duplicating his iconic design as public housing in the Dutch city of Eindhoven.

"This is really the goal we had from the beginning of the vertical forest," Boeri told, "to show that it's possible to realize a vertical forest that is affordable for everybody, smart, and sustainable."

That project, dubbed the Trudo Vertical Forest, officially opened last month. The pared-back recreation of the Bosco Verticale features some 125 trees and 5,000 shrubs over 19 stories, filled with 540-square-foot starter apartments for young couples and emerging professionals.

It is Boeri's hope that this tower answers criticism that vertical forests are greenwashing for an elite few, but, even though he has succeeded in making his innovative design more affordable, there are reasons critics of the model like Alter remain unconvinced of its merits.

In some of the dozens of vertical forest projects now underway around the world, Boeri says he is using carbon-friendly timber framing and shorter balconies that minimize the use of concrete. But, he says, those critics who see his vertical forests as an impediment to real green design are missing the point. "What we've done is absolutely more radical," he said. "It's become a manifesto of a new modern conception of what architecture could do."

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