Stop Putting Trees On Skyscrapers

Is "Put a tree on it" the new "Put a bird on it"? An architecture critic says the tree-on-skyscraper design trend is more of a fad than a plausible reality.

In the past, we’ve reported (with typical enthusiasm) about several skyscraper proposals that incorporate trees into the designs, including a "farmscraper" proposal for China and Milan’s Bosco Verticale back in 2011, which is now nearing

But an article on the architecture blog Per Square Mile by Tim De Chant (which was reposted on Slate), argues that for technical reasons, we might not really ever see the kind of thriving vertical forests these blueprints describe. De Chant kindly asks architects to "please stop drawing trees on top of skyscrapers."

From his post:

Want to make a skyscraper look trendy and sustainable? Put a tree on it. Or better yet, dozens. Many high-concept skyscraper proposals are festooned with trees. On the rooftop, on terraces, in nooks and crannies, on absurdly large balconies. Basically anywhere horizontal and high off the ground. Now, I should be saying architects are drawing dozens, because I have yet to see one of these "green" skyscrapers in real life. […] If—and it’s a big if—any of these buildings ever get built, odds are they’ll be stripped of their foliage quicker than a developer can say 'return on investment’. It’s just not realistic. I get it why architects draw them on their buildings. Really, I do. But can we please stop?

According to De Chant, who has studied plant physiology, there are numerous reasons why trees won’t thrive atop tall buildings, including fierce winds, extreme heat and cold, higher velocity precipitation, and logistical concerns like watering, fertilizing, and pruning the trees. "Trees just weren’t made for such conditions," he writes, adding, "All of this may sound a bit ridiculous coming from someone like me, an advocate for more trees in urban spaces. It probably comes from having seen one too many sketches of a verdant vertical oasis but too few of them actually built."

His post is an interesting reality check for idealistic, tree-loving urbanites and the architects who fuel their fantasies. But the Milan tower will be a good way to prove his theory right or wrong.

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  • CherryMandering

    ...there is a field of practice called "Landscape Architecture"... with professionals who understand the practical needs and effects of trees and plant matter (among other things), and their ability to thrive in certain conditions- eg while the proposed scheme is highly unlikely to work sustainably, certain shrubs could be planted on even shallow terraces, provided they have the right light, water, and air- /wind conditions suitable to their 'natural' habit(s). As De Chant suggests, it is highly unlikely that any one plant, let alone a tree, would fair equally well on all sides of the building since the North and South sides of the building will be vastly different conditions for plant growth...  but don't let that natural math stop a good idea, there are also traditional ideas like bonsai that could be applied... access expertise, figure out something worth implementing, and have fun bringing it into being!

  • Gfriend

    People, you're forgetting that you only see—and think of—PART of the tree. Trees have roots—sometimes with root zones as big as the tree itself. I don't see any architects drawing those...

  • Jacqueline Joseph

    We can have trees on tall mountains with wind, snow, sun, and without a gardener in sight. There has got to be a way to make it work. I enjoyed this type of architectural concept because it meant architects were beginning to think beyond themselves - they were beginning to think about the environment and our ecological footprint. It is crucial to think about what a new building means for the world in a long-term sense. Rather than just ruining the earth to build more and more unsustainable, carbon-emitting, energy-consuming buildings because "it will look good on my portfolio" and "it will sell/rent quickly for the developer".

  • Markthomson

    The considered ,well designed incorporation of vegetation into buildings is critical for our future to reduce the urban heat island effect,offset carbon emissions and providefresh air again for our cities.I agree that too many schemes are using vegetation for aesthetic and sustainable reasons without he full understanding of what may be required practically-however I await a future of city buildings that encourage biodiversity ,provide fresh air and give back to our environment . POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT as proposed by Professor Janis Birkeland in the book of the same name makes perfect sense to me. Bring on more trees to buildings -but understand new considered techniques are necessary to make them practical and sustainable otherwize dead trees on buildings will not be a good look !