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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
completion.

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.