Listen to the twitter of birds, enjoy the flutter of myriad coloured butterflies and maybe, if you are lucky, see streaking tiny lights of fireflies at night — all without leaving the city.
Residential, corporates, hospitals and complexes are being constructed with trees growing on their walls, balconies and rooftops.
These aren’t small potted plants of herbs, flowers or shrubs grown in small balconies, terraces or rooftop gardens. They are vertical forests — trees growing up to three, six or even 20 feet, on 20 to 30 or higher storeyed buildings.
The number of trees exceeds 200 to sometimes 900 per building, depending on the height of the structure.
This trend of having a vertical forest is catching up all over the world — Milan (Italy), Nanjing (China), Egypt, Utrecht (Netherlands), Singapore, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Cebu (Philippines) and other Megalopolis. Closer home, they’re being grown in Bengaluru. Some are already constructed with people residing in them and others will be completed soon.
“When we were looking to buy a home, the idea of living with our own trees in our balcony is what attracted us to go for a construction with the concept of a vertical forest,” explains Preethi Maharajan and Nikhila Menon of Bengaluru, who have bought flats on the 6th and 12th floor of the first vertical forest of India — the 14 floored Mana Foresta in Sarjapur in Bengaluru, which will house 56 families.
They both want to give their kids a chance to grow amidst abundant greenery, a sort of their own home forest and fresh air.
It’s not only Preethi and Nikhila who crave for a pollution and smog-free atmosphere for their kids but also lakhs of metro city dwellers.
The credit for starting the trend of vertical forests goes to Italian architect Stefano Boeri. Influenced by the Baron in the trees, a book by Italo Calvino, in which the protagonist decides to spend the rest of his life in trees, Boeri hit upon the idea of designing the vertical forests for metro residents.
He designed two towers, the Bosco Verticale, measuring 111 meters and 76 meters tall with 26 and 18 floors, respectively, in Milan, Italy. Its construction began in 2009.
The towers were completed in 2014. Between them the two towers have more than 90 plant species with 900 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 perennial plants. If one were to plant these many trees on horizontal land, it would require acres of land which is absolutely scarce in metro cities.
When Boeri was talking about vertical forests in Manhattan in an interview, he emphasised that he hadn’t patented the designs of his biophilic architecture as he wanted architects and builders in other cities and countries to get inspired by this idea and design buildings to suit their own needs.
Forests in A Metro
Like Bosco Verticale, even Mana Foresta will have about 200 trees plus shrubs, herbs and small flowering plants. Depending on the size, each flat will get two or five trees plus other smaller shrubs. Some of the trees to be found will be lemon, Ficus, Bignonia, Magnolia, frangipani, among others.
“Our architects worked on a design to suit Bengaluru city, the climatic conditions and our clients. Additionally, we consulted botanists and landscape artists, to know which trees can grow here and the other details like the weight it carries, the speed of the wind the trees can bear at a height etc,’’ explains D Kishore Reddy, the CMD of Mana Projects Private Limited.
ANI’s report also mentions that the building will have a ‘wind-decelerator’ to ensure the safety of its inhabitants and the trees.
Before the advent of vertical forests in India, Bengaluru-based landscape architect and environment designer Mohan Rao and his team deployed comprehensive management of water resources at the Agilent Technologies campus in Manesar, near New Delhi.
“We had used a centralised irrigation system using recycled water for the plants. The entire premise of the pavilion was based on minimal consumption of non-renewable resources as well as potential for recycling water, once the life of the structure is over. This should be the underlying thought behind every building construction,” Rao stresses.
One of the main concerns of apartment buyers is the increased price of all these amenities and how they would maintain the trees.
“Most of these buildings will have an automated central drip irrigation facility. So the occupants, either residents, offices or hospital staff, won’t have to water the plants. Also, plants need a proper amount of water without any overflow on the lower balconies or the roads below the buildings. Pruning trees is also taken care of by the builder.
“There isn’t very high increase in the prices as, at present, these complexes are bought only by platinum or gold customers who don’t mind paying a little extra for such beautiful surroundings,’’ explains Mumbai-based Hiten Sethi of Hiten Sethi Architects and co-chairman of IGBC (Indian Green Building Council) Mumbai chapter.
The architect ruefully adds, “Skyscraper residents don’t mind paying Rs 4 to Rs 8 per sq ft to window glass cleaners but will question payment of Rs 1 per sq ft to a maali who maintains the gardens. There are also builders who categorically ask us not to design trees in front of the building that would hide the façade of their building.”
However, with increasing air pollution levels, one can argue that this model for sustainable buildings might perhaps be the need of the hour.