Category Archives: vegitecture

Hortum machina B

Really like this experimental project (spotted on a post on Architects Newspaper) by Interactive Architecture Lab.  Called Hortum machina, B it’s a “rolling ecological exoskeleton” in the shape of a geodesic dome, the “half garden, half machine” hybrid is able to move through the environment using plant electro-physiology to drive the machine.  The idea of plant intelligence is worthy of a much more expansive post, but the execution here is quite brilliant.


A quick breakdown of the idea, from the Interactive Architecture Lab website:

“Electro-physiological sensing of the state of individual plants collectively and democratically controls decision-making of the orientation of the structure and its mobility. In the near future context of driverless cars, autonomous flying vehicles, and seemingly endless other forms of intelligent robotics co-habiting our built environment. Hortum machina B is a speculative urban cyber-gardener.”



You get a feel for the scale of it here, which is part of the beauty.  The idea that these are larger than life, which gives them added presence.


There’s some more detailed ‘making of’ description, which delves into the prototyping, and further exploring the engineering and programming.



The controls are programmed using  Arduino, a scalable and programmable platform for hardware and software to make interactive objects.  Click on the screen capture below, and you can see the communication of ‘getting messages’ from the plant things like temperature, vibrations, humidity, lighting – and then being able to use that ‘intelligence’ for driving actions.


All Images above are credited to Interactive Architecture Lab – and accessed direct from their website or from the Architects Newspaper post.  Also, check out this video with it in action – more videos on their Vimeo page and website as well.

Hortum machina, B from Interactive Architecture Lab on Vimeo.


A recent post from CityLab delves into an on-going.  Entitled ‘Are ‘Treescrapers the Future of Dense Urban Living?’, explores the concept beyond the fantastical and thinks about this type of work in terms of reality and the more pragamatic elements.  Weird Dune references about Passive House designers (?) aside, having some critical evaluation the points that were brought up by the architect in the story are valid.

Tour des Cèdres, Lausanne, Switzerland. (Boeri Studio) – via CItyLab

I do think that the focus of the comments maybe relied a bit too much on the particular type of work (i.e. hyper efficient building envelope).  If you see everything through the lens of Passive House, and energy envelopes and embodied energy for structural upgrades, you may miss the trees and the forest.


Bosco Verticale – via CityLab

Admittedly, I am both a supporter and critic of the idea, which I’ve been referring to as Vegitecture (not Treescraping, for hopefully obvious reasons) for some time now.  Beyond being an aesthetic choice which has strong biophilic connections, there’s ecological and even, yes, energy considerations with integrating vegetation into buildings.  It’s definitely a key strategy for a less building centric idea of passive heating and cooling, which has to me has always included vegetation surrounding structures as part of the equation – using evergreen vegetation to block colder winter winds and shade for cooling and deciduous to provide summer shading and opening up during winter for additional heating/sun after leaf drop.  That diagram I think i first say in first year intro to landscape architecture.


Of course everything comes at a cost, so an accounting of cost to benefit is necessary, but that cost also much include other items in the ledger, like health benefits of access to nature, additional passive cooling and heating benefits that could be integrated with exterior and interior system integration.  The opportunity is to make these projects work and think of new ways to better integrate them into the buildings in artful and functional ways.

One Central Park, by Jean Nouvel with Patrick Blanc (Sydney, Australia)

I’ve discussed typologies before, and it’s interesting to see the evolution of the types, from building integrated living walls above, to terrace planters, roofs decks, more traditional green roofs, and much more.  The possibilities in photoshop, alas, are endless.  But in reality, there are some additional considerations, all of which should be taken into account.  Some more images of green on buildings – nothing new here on this blog.  More at the original post on CityLab as well

Vijayawada Garden Tower, by Penda Architecture and Design (Vijayawada, India)
The Diamond Lotus, by Vo Trong Nghia Architects (Ho Chi Minh City)

And these definitely trend towards the fantastic, which is part of the reconciliation between what can actually work and what looks cool in a rendering.  So, yes, that involves messy practicalities the additional structural loading, and how to incorporate thermal breaks, and many others like how to maintain vegetation, how to irrigation, issues of wind uplift, leaf litter, structural capacity, and many more.  Great discussions, and necessary ones, as we grow and evolve the concept.

Asian Cairns, by Vincent Callebaut (Shenzhen)


Worlds Largest

Via, Dezeen, a post about Rafael Viñoly design for The Hills at Vallco, along with landscape architecture firm Olin, to redevelop the “…Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino into a vast mixed-use development featuring a 30-acre (12 hectare) green roof.”  Billed as the ‘largest green roof in the world’, a title of which is somewhat arbitrary and ambiguous, it is still worth a little exploration. The integration of open space and development here seems grand and not restrained as you so often see, which is intriguing.

The aerial rendering (above) is reminiscent of a sort of green Sim City, which connected vegetated corridors draped atop a series of building forms.  Evoking the concepts of underground cities or the parti of insertion of buildings under the existing landscape, the sheer amount of green space is impressive.  And from it sounds like, mostly public.  From the post:

“The Hills at Vallco features an unprecedented 30-acre community park and nature preserve, which will not only be the largest community park in Cupertino, but also the largest green roof in the world,” said a statement from Sand Hill Property Company, the developer behind the $3 billion (£2 billion) scheme.”

Some images of the skybridges at street level provide some drama, but I feel like they want to be more physically green themselves – with hints at the edges of a verdant escape, not a metallic skybridge.


The interior spaces also seem like traditional courtyards, perhaps more for the interior residents to have views of nature within their spaces. There are some hints at connections to the adjacent green belts via ramps and through buildings, but the logistics of movement is something that would be interesting to explore.  Again, the bands flying over make for sculptural forms, but one hope to see the green connections more physically within the site, not just from the air.



Another image plucked from The Hills at Vallco website shows some of these connections better, with vegetated slopes and pathways arcing up above buildings and providing a better feel for some of the ‘draping’ that connects ground plane to roof.  The architectural forms benefit from these green faces and provide an additional softness to what could be a traditional mixed use infill project.


The immersion is more evident in the larger open space zones, the ‘nature preserve’ zones mimicking the adjacent rolling hillsides that open up with mixed grassland and groves, which provide some counterpoint to the urban plaza zones above.  The ability to create these multiple landscape experiences


I really love the rooftop vineyard idea, both as a reference to the local regional landscape as well as a way to provide a destination and experience.  It would be interesting to see the viability of growing wine grapes on structure (dry soils with low fertility seem like a winner) and perhaps yield the first ‘green roof’ grown wine to complement some other green roof honey, rooftop greenhouses, and urban agricultural pursuits?  One wonders “What is the terroir of an engineered growing media”?


Like many grand, green schemes, it will be interesting to see how this comes together in reality beyond renderings.  The creation of multi-functional schemes like these have great potential in reducing the impact of development on habitat and management of stormwater pollution and runoff, and reduction urban heat island.  It also provides a visible and concrete connection to nature to visitors and residents.

It comes with an obvious cost, but one that may well be worth it.  And, probably much better than the previous mall.  Perhaps.

Vegetal Cities

Continuing the theme, I spotted this post on Treehugger, showcasing the amazing work of Luc Schuiten, a Belgian architect who offers “…a visionary approach to rethinking cities, in a biomimetic fashion. In his lush and fantastical renderings of what he calls “vegetal cities,” urban centers are transformed into living, responsive architectures that merge nature with the man-made.”

The Woven City (image above) is indicative of the type of work he proposes. These illustrations remind me of a combination of the illustrations of Malcolm Wells, the immersive vegetated architectural constructions of Hundertwasser  to and the botanical constructions like pooktre or botany buildings to name a few. These are solidly in the vegitectural lexicon, so surprised that i haven’t heard of Schuiten and his work before.   I’m glad i did now, as it expands the notion to the city scale, and provides compelling visuals to match the notion.

A few of the images from his website:

The Hollow Cities
The Lotus City


Sao Paulo

Tree House City (Habitarbes)


The City of the Waves

As a huge fan of the use of portmanteau to describe interesting concepts (i.e. Vegitecture) i stumbled a bit over Schuiten’s concept of Cite Archiborescente  (tree architecture) is maybe a bit of a mouthful – perhaps less so in French.  Better is the concept of habitable trees, noted as Habitarbres  or more simply ‘tree-house cities’.

Digging in a bit more to his site – so amazing stuff from a career focusing on this concept.  A video of his Ted talk from Nantes is found below for a bit more context on the approach.

Vegitecture Throwback

Oh, it’s been a bit since i’ve posted something in the category of Vegitecture (aka Vegetated Architecture).  I still follow the trend closely and although more ubiquitous, there are still some showstoppers here and there.  I thought it good to do a quick throwback to some interesting ones i’ve spotted recently, from an post from the Architect’s Newpaper on the Milan Expo 2015 Pavilions from various countries.


United States Pavilionby Biber Architects. (Courtesy Expo Milano 2015)


New Holland Pavilion  (Courtesy Ratti Associati)


Austria Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. (Laurian Ghinitoiu)

The header image above is the Vietnam Pavilion by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. (PHOTOGRAPHERS4EXPO – Saverio Lombardi Vallauri)

Bioclimatic Design

bioclimatic-design-feature3Good article in the USGBC+ magazine related to Bioclimatic Design and some projects that focus on the integration of vernacular strategies (and forms) to increase responsiveness to the local environment in which they are built.  This is nothing new for many designers, and builds upon centuries of knowledge, but I’m mostly interested in how it incorporates landscape and buildings in inventive new (old) ways.

The ability to transcend climate came with “…the advent of modern technology in the 20th century, contemporary design trends shifted away from being responsive to natural conditions and emphasized instead isolating buildings from nature to try to overcome those conditions.”  As mentioned, this opened up new frontiers for where we could live, but also lead to homogenization and reliance on heating and air conditioning (or maybe even overbuilding in climates ill-suited for development).   That said, bioclimatic design can include both the vernacular as well as rely on significant technological knowledge to realize – through modelling and other modern design tools.

bioclimatic-design-feature5-300The grass covered roof is a simple and archetypal form of the landscape and building integration – used for cooling and made from locally available, regenerative materials.  Plus, goats for roof maintenance is pretty sustainable.   This pre-cursor to the modern green roof was borne of necessity, but also perhaps can also aid in resilience and climate adaptive building strategies that start to creep into the vocabulary of designers – through the guises of biomimicry and biophilia.  Both work hand in hand as there are inspirations from nature revealed in design, and the planet, as well as building/city users benefit in multiple ways.   It’s a full circle of building based on our innate traditions beginning to feed our innate need for access to this nature.

A really stunning example of the process ( Autorité de Régulation de la Poste et des Télécommunications by Mario Cucinella Architects) is outlined in the article so i won’t go into detail, but has a subtle integration of landscape with building form.


The shape of the building is scooped to capture cooling winds, but the indigenous shape has additional benefit:

 “Another influence on the shape of the building was a desert structure used in antiquity in many arid parts of the world, called a tu’rat, Bruno says. These crescent-shaped structures, made of stones piled without mortar, captured moist winds and fog, which created condensation that percolated down to irrigate protected gardens.  “In the early morning, you can collect a little bit of water, and this allows you to grow plants,” he says. The tu’rat-inspired structure includes the enclosure of a small oasis of palm trees and other vegetation on the south side of the building.”

The relationship of water in the desert is key, and additional elements like  rainwater collection and phytopurification, using a constructed wetland), will dramatically reduce water use while providing comfort and verdant respite.

A more urban example is RB12, a building in Rio de Janeiro design by Triptyque.  Drawing from the bioclimatic concepts popularized by Ken Yeang, the building uses “Suspended gardens integrated into the façade, along with a green rooftop, also help control lighting.”


While ostensibly a form of climate control, in this case it is less successful, as there is supplemental systems for cooling, as mentioned, which makes it less of a bioclimatic model than one that is merely inspired as such.  My thought looking at renderings is that they didn’t take it far enough, or integrated the vegetation thoroughly enough, to make it more than a few plants on terraces.


bioclimatic-design-gallery-01 2The ability to integrate buildings and vegetation – as i’ve called it vegitecture, is a key element for bioclimatic architecture, and offers many potential opportunities for designers to collaborate.  The potential spans beyond the building-centric to also include potential for habitat development in the urban ecosystem, refuge for birds, and pathways for pollinators.  All while cooling buildings and making cities more livable.  Not bad.

Rooftop Agriculture

I’ve purposely steered away from the pure rooftop farms in discussions of vertical farming solutions recently featured (here, here, here, and here). This isn’t due to any particular reason other than I think that rooftop farms area a separate typology in it’s own right – as it is focusing on a separate area of emphasis including horizontality and openness to sun and air. For instance I mentioned the greenhouses at Zabar’s – but there is also a significant amount of traditional rooftop agriculture.

:: image via City Farmer

Otherwise, plenty of proposals abound for rooftop planters on housing, and event making it’s way into corporate campuses for use by workers. One example is the simple Sophos Vancouver Rooftop Community Garden – implemented on an office rooftop.

:: image via City Farmer

Recent proposals (and there have been many along with a lot of press) incented me to look through a number of these rooftop examples past and present as a way of rounding out the vertical farming survey. First, via The Architect’s Newspaper: “The Fifth Street Farm Project has it all: It addresses childhood obesity, stormwater runoff, and climate change. Conceived by a grassroots organization of teachers, parents, and green-roof advocates, the project’s plan calls for a roof farm atop the Robert Simon Complex…”

:: image via The Architect’s Newspaper

A troubling quote I think brings up some inherent issues as we drive towards implementation of rooftop farms – and some of the challenges that are necessary to address. As quoted in the article: “In spite of all the good intentions, there are formidable technical hurdles and political challenges to building a farm on top of a school. “There’s a lot of bureaucratic craziness,” said Susannah Vickers, director of Budget and Grants in the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, “…Things as arcane as the warranty of the roof—they have to do boring samples and engineering reports—and oftentimes the roof substructure is not able to support the new use.”

:: image via The Architect’s Newspaper

These aren’t arcane or minimal issues – but fundamental to proper technical installation that meets project goals while protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community – and specifically the kids at these schools. A recent example of a project gone awry in Vancouver, and a related story of the Brooklyn Grange installation in Queens getting a stop-work order for not filing necessary permits reinforces the need for these project to both have the energy of urban farmers, but also the technical backup and processes necessary to ensure they are appropriate. (The stop-work order has subsequently been lifted after permits were filed and a fine paid, which is good news as this project is gonna be pretty awesome).

:: image via Brooklyn Grange Farm

The Brooklyn Grange Farm was preceded by the amazing Greenpoint, Brooklyn rooftop farm ‘Eagle Street Rooftop Farm’ – which features 6000 s.f. of rooftop growing and 200,000 pounds of soil – not in containers, but as monolithic soil based growing – lessening initial investment and maximizing productivity.

:: image via NY Magazine

A local precursor on the west coast isn’t the Rocket in Portland – but rather the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. which has been in operation since around 2000 – making it one of the very first examples – and also one with some good economic data: “Hotel accountants say the roof garden produces fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey worth about $16,000 annually.”

:: image via City Farmer

:: image via City Farmer

Japan has been looking at rooftops, as limitations in the amount of arable land . City Farmer shows a photo of one example: “Wasted space in the modern metropolis may become productive “farmland” thanks to advances in waterproofing green roofs. Some of the rice used to brew Japan’s popular Hakutsuru sake grows atop the company’s Tokyo office.”

:: image via City Farmer

The first issue of Bracket with the topic ‘On Farming’ offered some One of these is Long Island City: Farming Park.
A bit of project description:

“All too often we see land being taken away for parking and at the same time the reclamation of abandoned parking lots to turn into viable land, specifically farms in urban environments. The project, which is a park and ride facility and urban agricultural farm attempts to combine these two typologies to co-exist on one site, bringing the process of food production and consumption in contact with a major multi-modal transfer point between the car and NYC’s existing public transportation network. The project will provide an alternative option for those accessing NYC by car and also challenge the conventional function of a park and ride facility to provide a greater good for those users and the surrounding neighborhoods; connecting Long Island City and Sunnyside Queens with a much needed public green space. “

:: image via Bustler

As [BRKT] showcases, there are plenty of zoomy architectural options out there – some of these simple and brilliant, others a bit overwrought with possible maintenance and installation issues. One very cool example (that may lean towards the overwrought side of the perspective) – comes via Pruned is Taebeom Kim’s Gastronomic Garden – including: “…allotment gardens hovering over — perhaps are even propped up by — compost tanks used for recycling garden scraps as well organic waste of local residents.”

:: image via Pruned

Vertical Agriculture (Back to Earth)

Digging through the archives based on the last couple of posts, I was definitely struck by the myriad shapes and sizes that these vertical farming proposals take and the overall excitement that has grown in a short amount of time. This caused me to want to dissect them a bit further in terms of form and function for growing food in efficient ways. First a bit of background from the ‘invention’ of vertical farming on this video featuring Dr. Dickson Despommier.

Discounting for a second those proposals that incorporate indoor hydroponics using artificial light – the idea of growing in buildings using sunlight is the focus (some info about the indoor varieties) of many other projects out there. A few additional proposals worth noting – just to include them in the overall catalogue (as previously mentioned, the best assortment of ideas in this genre is found at the Vertical Farms site – under the auspices of Despommier – which has been interviewed multiple times (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here to name but a few) – call him the mother of this particular invention.

These proposals include this one from last year which got a lot of attention, Harvest Green by Romses Architects, featuring vertically integrated food production.

:: image via Treehugger

Via Treehugger: “The concept of ‘harvest’ is explored in the project through the vertical farming of vegetables, herbs, fruits, fish, egg laying chickens, and a boutique goat and sheep dairy facility. In addition, renewable energy will be harvested via green building design elements harnessing geothermal, wind and solar power. The buildings have photovoltaic glazing and incorporate small and large-scale wind turbines to turn the structure into solar and wind-farm infrastructure. In addition, vertical farming potentially adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals. Furthermore, a large rainwater cistern terminates the top of the ‘harvest tower’ providing on-site irrigation for the numerous indoor and outdoor crops and roof gardens.”

:: images via Treehugger

Another smaller scale example from Romses Architecture features the idea integrated into a eco-community. From Arch Daily: ““Harvest Green Project-02′ as a part of Vancouver ‘The 2030 Challenge’. Harvest Green Project is rooted in a concept that challenges the status quo of how energy and food is produced, delivered and sustained in our city, neighbourhoods, and individual single-family homes. Taking cues from the citys eco-density charter, and in particular, it’s new laneway housing initiatives, the Harvest Green Project proposes to overlay a new ‘green energy and food web’ across the numerous residential neighborhoods and laneways within the city as these communities address future increased densification. The city’s laneways will be transformed into green energy and food conduits, or ‘green streets’, where energy and food is ‘harvested’ via proposed micro laneway live-work homes.”

:: images via Arch Daily

Some others you’ve probably seen over the years:

Vertical Farm by Mithun
Architects at Mithun, a Seattle architectural firm, proposed a small-scale vertical farm design for a Center for Urban Agriculture in downtown Seattle. The design won an award in the Living Building Challenge of the Cascadia Region’s chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council in 2007.”

:: image via NY Times

Food Pyramid (Eric Ellingsen & Dickson Despommier)

:: image via NY Times

Atelier SOA Vertical Farm

Via NY Times: “A vertical farm has to be adapted for a specific place,” said Augustin Rosenstiehl of Atelier SOA Architects in Paris, whose firm has created renderings of the crop-filled skyscrapers.”

:: image via NY Times

Another version from Atelier SOA – with a woven ribbon of gardens throughout the slick black facade.

:: image via NY Times

Gordon Graff’s Skyfarm for Toronto
Via Inhabitat:Instead of soil, Skyfarm’s plants float on trays of nutrient-rich water, growing hydroponically over 59 stories stacked half a dozen storeys deep. Farmed within a controlled env
ironment, crops will no longer be subject to the vagaries of climate, infestation, or disease and the dense hydroponic agriculture can guarantee considerable yields. With the potential to operate year round, one indoor acre has been estimated to be able to yield the equivalent of between four and six outdoor acres, or enough food for 50,000 people a year. With the installation of several Skyfarms in the neighborhoods of especially large cities, the prospect to dramatically transform local food production is there.”

:: images via Inhabitat

“The Living Skyscraper: Farming the Urban Skyline” by Blake Kurasek

:: images via Urban Greenery

Urban Agriculture: Hybridized Farm Bridge as City Garden – Kenny Kinugasa-Tsui & Lorene Faure

:: image via Bustler

A more technical proposal, I covered this previously, but the breakdown of the elements of a vertical farm as imagined in NY Magazine – which shows the interrelated elements of a possible project – complete with robots to maintain them on a 24-hours a day basis.

:: image via NY Mag

I think the much more exciting news is the implementation of large-scale rooftop farms (more on this soon) – which seem to be analoguous to terrestrial farming. As other bloggers may have noticed, any post related to urban agriculture and vertical farming will inevitably lead to a comment by Charlie – there’s been a few, who undoubtedly is paid to plug Valcent whenever the opportunity arises. The message is simple and sweet: ““I can’t think of any technology that addresses more urgent issues than Valcent’s vertical farming system”, says Robert F Kennedy Jr.; Reuters Video features Valcent’s VertiCrop vertical farming system: Not that I’m wholesale against this form of promotion, but 1) is shameless promotion, and 2) it’s not applicable to the content that was posted. Regardless – there will be more of this as companies fight for market share and prominence in this fledgling territory.

:: image via Inside Urban Green

Finally, as I mentioned there’s some interesting (and necessary) debate happening, which is worth a read as the pendulum of vertical farming swings back to reality. There’s the debate on Treehugger“Vertical Farms, a Tower of B.S.” about high-rise farming. Also of note is this recent article in Fast Company entitled which references a story on EcoGeek with some cautionary lessons entitled: “Let’s Make This Clear: Vertical Farms Don’t Make Sense “.

The vertical farming movement isn’t useless by any stretch – but it’s important to realize that these proposals – although provocative, aren’t the only answer to our issues of feeding people in ever growing urban areas. The discussion is good, although interesting that – not as a mode of discounting the concept – but of placing it in it’s proper context around the viability of growing food in cities – and by most importantly making it a catalytic movement in inspiring actual small-scale solutions that will actually work.