By Krista Atkins Nutter
I’m sure most people can recall the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, but beyond Michael Phelps’ historic performance in the aquatic center, there is another significant thing I remember about those games. I remember in the months and weeks leading up to the games, there was international concern over the air quality in and around Beijing. The evening news featured videos showing smog and haze engulfing the major Chinese cities – especially Beijing – and showed people wearing masks over their mouths and noses as they walked their daily commute. With China’s huge population, it is a country that has long been concerned with issues of sustainability, conservation, energy efficiency, and pollution. As early as the mid-1990’s the Chinese government was working with architects and urban planners to develop a strategy for sustainable growth. Despite previous failed projects (like this one), leaders in China continue to seek out the world’s brightest design-minds and sustainability experts to address the country’s growth, conservation, and sustainability issues.
A decade after the first prominent eco-village plans for China’s rural countryside, international architects are looking back into cities to implement the next “eco-revolution.” Sustainable urban revitalization projects from the United States (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati), Brazil, Sweden, and China have been featured in recent news. (Zajechowski, 2016) In fact, I’ve experienced the urban revitalization in coastal Sweden’s city of Malmö firsthand – walking through parks of native plants and visiting buildings with green roofs and living walls. I also visited an eco-village neighborhood there in the shadow of Santiago Calatrava’s Turning Torso high-rise residential building. Many sustainability experts feel that to fully address global sustainability issues, we cannot ignore urban cities.
Malmö, Sweden and Turning Torso building. Photo – Krista Nutter 2010
It appears that China’s next attempt at sustainable greatness has them pairing up with Italian architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri. Boeri is the creator of the “vertical forest” concept of urban eco-design, first unveiled in Milan, Italy (Frearson 2014) and now underway in Nanjing, China (Mairs 2017). Boeri’s vertical forest designs mix high-density, multi-unit residential or mixed-use designs with bio-habitat installations featuring trees, shrubs, and plants on the terraces and façades of the buildings. The plantings will then remove dust, particulates, and carbon dioxide from the air while providing oxygen to “de-pollute” the cities. Visually, the towers provide interesting vertical green-space to the cityscape. The affect is not unlike the many urban living walls that can be found in many cities across the United States, like this one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Boeri’s vertical forests increase biodiversity in urban areas – drawing a variety of birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to the area. This is good news for urban gardeners. The strategy also creates shaded, cooler and acoustically quieter interior spaces. The designs were created with the help of a botanist and horticultural experts to assure that the correct selection of trees and plants were made for each different façade of the building. Boeri’s Milan vertical forest project has received numerous awards, despite skeptics of the overall sustainability of the project due to increased structural requirements. (A true assessment of the project’s success from the standpoint of a resident post-occupancy evaluation would be valuable; however one could not be located.)In terms of indoor air quality, I can’t help but think back to a product I ran into a few years ago. Back in 2014, I wrote an article on a new product in development – a hardwood flooring product that purified the air. Lauzon Pure Genius flooring is still available overseas, but I’ve yet to be able to find it here in the U.S. It seems to be the perfect companion to the vertical forest and living wall projects happening across the world!