Il Bosco Verticale (courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architects)
“Il Bosco verticale”, or “The Vertical Forest”, was one innovation in the integration of urban agriculture in architecture- known an ‘Agritecture’- in the last years, with a global acknowledgement winning the “ International High-rise Award” in 2014. This fact alone was a good promoter of the concept of ‘Agritecture’ that our cities undoubtedly need. So basically, the trend of urban agriculture that started to boom in the nineties, has been evolving since then, until architecture has gained its share through ‘Agritecture’. It is good to point that both urban agriculture and Agritecture are not new things.
But what are we seeking out of this? Food, because in the future we are in risk of hunger (can we believe this?) Environmental sustainability, because climate change is not a lie. Aesthetics, because our cities are transforming into an inconsistent, inhomogeneous, chaotic collage of structures. If Agritecture doesn’t encompass all its dimensions, on top the second one, the last dimension is not sufficient. What is the use of cultivating our buildings, producing food and probably beautifying them, if the practice doesn’t fully respect the sustainability aspects: is the agriculture practice using or producing harmful effects? What about the construction energy? The maintenance and use of resources?
“Il Bosco Verticale”: Milano to Nanjing (courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architects)
In his thought provoking article entitled:” Confronting the Dark Side of Urban Agriculture”, Francois Mancebo, professor of urban planning and sustainability at Rheims University, France, and Director of the International Research Center on Sustainability IRCS, Mancebo asks us to think more about the needs and impacts of buildings with agriculture. He stresses the need to ‘distinguish between the different types of urban agriculture and to denounce those which, under the disguise of promoting agriculture in the city, promote practices that are absolutely unsustainable’. He categorizes this practice into: one useful, where organic micro-farming is promoting community work and food production, and two others, conventional industrial farming land and “tree-like” skyscrapers with high-tech agriculture, with serious impacts on human and built environment. And more, he points that urban agriculture can have more political, social, and economic agendas.
And now it is our role to think into our Milanese artificial forest, that is being replicated in the other side of the world, in Nanjing, China. What we know certainly is that the design of ‘Il Bosco Verticale’ incorporated numerous collaborations between botanists, agricultural experts, construction engineers, and others. Still after seeing the towers during their operation life that didn’t seem performing well technically, we have to inquire about many aspects. What was the role of this urban agriculture integration in these high-rise towers that oversize overwhelmingly the urban fabric of Porta Nuova? What about the construction needs and later performance maintenance? What was the plan of energy use and energy cycle to minimize environmental impact and is it abiding by it? What was the role of food production and the type of agriculture practice and how sustainable these practices are?
These questions are open questions, we ask in this context about our favorite Milanese landmark building, but are intended to let us think of every piece of “Agritecture” that can pop somewhere. “Il Bosco” has already gained the fame globally by its innovation, and this fame will continue to be one driving force for architecture. However, the concept of Agritecture is a multidimensional one, that requires a strict adherence to sustainable measures. Otherwise, it will be another piece of architecture looking for fame.
Cover image: Bosco Verticale, Josef Grunig