Exploring the merits of a vertical forest: has it a lasting place in Melbourne?

A reader rcently forwarded details of a completed residential complex in Turin, Italy. 25 Verde holds 63 apartments and sets itself apart from the existing streetscape via the use of 150 trees and plants placed almost haphazardly over its facade. The healthy amount of greenery provides environmental benefits by way of producing 150,000 liters of oxygen each hour, while absorbing 200,000 liters of carbon dioxide an hour at night.

While a design such as 25 Verde is less practical than the norm, it does raise the question: is Melbourne dragging its feet in the drive to green existing and new urban spaces?

25 Verde. Image © Beppe Giardino

Prior to addressing that question, below is a description of 25 Verde:

A potted forest of trees and branching steel beams disguise this 5-story apartment building in Turin, Italy. Designed by Luciano Pia, 25 Verde brings plants up off the ground in an attempt to evade Turin’s homogeneous urban scene and integrate life into the facade of the residential building.

The undulating structure creates a transition from outdoors to in, holding 150 trees that absorb close to 200,000 liters of carbon dioxide an hour. This natural absorption brings pollution protection to its residents, helping to eliminate harmful gasses caused by cars and harsh sounds from the bustling streets outside. The trees’ seasonal progression also creates the ideal microclimate inside the building, steadying temperature extremes during the cold and warmer months. The plants’ full foliage block rays of sun during the summer while letting in warm light during the winter.

The building holds 63 units, each benefiting from the terraces and vegetation just beyond their windows and walls. Each species of plant has been chosen purposefully from deciduous plant life in Turin to provide the highest variety of color, foliage, and blooming. This innovative design provides a childlike dream while also instilling real world benefits to those who live in this urban treehouse.

Kate Sierzputowski, Vertical Forest: An Urban Treehouse That Protect Residents from Air and Noise Pollution (Colossal)

A Melbourne context

Certainly form a policy perspective City of Melbourne are proactive in the area with an abundance of information available online, in addition to the Canopy public forum which brings together developers, students, practitioners, engineers, designers, industry members, researchers and building owners. Canopy is dedicated toward the sharing of ideas and experience for greening our cities through green roofs, walls and other green urban infrastructure.

A collection of current and future green Melbourne facades

There is a smattering of green projects both existing and planned throughout inner Melbourne, with Council House 2 considered a catalyst in the endeavour of greening our buildings upon its completion during 2006. Yet would a project like 25 Verde progress beyond fantasy in Melbourne almost a decade after CH2 was delivered?

Where there's no onus upon the developer to do so, more times than not the answer is no. Green facades are still an anomaly, albeit a pleasant one with numerous benefits.

I'm not advocating that every new building in Melbourne mimic the likes of Milan's Bosco Verticale, but perhaps it's time that minimum green requirements were implemented over the ground plane/podium levels of new developments. Easier said than done but the majority of Southbank and large areas of Docklands would have been all the better for such a scheme.


Bilby's picture

Bosco Verticale looks incredible - the way the plants are integrated is spectacular (and a feat of engineering, it seems). Unfortunately, all the Australian projects shown, while promising in their use of planting, are just architectural wallpaper by comparison - surely we can do better than stuck on green walls here?

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Justine DiBella's picture

Personally, I think the potential for nature integration is huge, however at this stage Melbourne seems to struggle to keep its existing green façades alive and healthy. I would want to see an improvement with the maintenance of existing projects, before suggesting designs with forest level greenery.

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Mark Baljak's picture

I'm reminded of Dock 5 at Victoria Harbour where the podium plantings continually struggled and were replaced over and over for the best part of 5 years.

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Bilby's picture

Yes, it's a tough climate for green walls here. The key is in the design of the watering system coupled with an appropriate light weight growing medium and appropriate plant selection. Not an easy equation in Melbourne! The most sensible thing is to look at existing sites where plants have colonised structures and buildings in the area where you wish to develop your green wall. A classic example would be the 'Fox Car Collection' heritage warehouse at 749-755 Collins Street in Docklands - you could hardly find a more exposed, north facing, windy location, but when I had a close look a few years back, there were masses of fishbone fern growing successfully on the building at key locations, such as next to and behind the down pipes. That sort of information is gold for designers in a tough area like this - but I haven't heard of anyone doing the groundwork to learn from the existing (heritage) environment when new developments are proposed.

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johnproctor's picture

I was watching a TV program about green walls and balcony planting and the guy suggested that it was very much like a coastal cliff top environment fully exposed to hte elements wind/rain/sun etc and looking to coastal grasses and plants was a good place to start for a green wall.

seemed like a logical suggestion to me.

also agree Bilby if something has managed to do it naturally then its probably worth picking up and plonking it on a building too.

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