28-04-2021

GREEN URBAN OASES

Piuarch, WOHA Architects, Richard Bliah Associates, UID architects, Konodesigns,

WOHA , Lorenzo Barassi, Koji Fujii, Hélène Veilleux,

Hiroshima, Milan, Singapore, Tokyo, Japan,

Urban Farms,

When you are able to look at the world without seeing it simply as the playing field of the man, you can notice the ubiquity of the plants. They are everywhere and their adventures inevitably intertwine with ours”,--Stefano Mancuso.



<strong>GREEN URBAN OASES</strong><br />
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There is a nice story I'd like to share: a friend from university, who, as me, was part of a group of enthusiastic film-lovers, experimenting this medium with an extraordinary and wonderful fantasy, once decided to narrate the relationship between a plant and a gardener who was used to take care of it. A relationship made of so much love but also of moments of fear, like when the small green plant was trimmed and, seeing the scissors approaching, emitted accelerated beats or adopted defense strategies. At that time we considered his ideas a bit eccentric, certainly very intriguing but on the line between fairytale and surreal: the plant world, after all, in its silent dimension, wrapped by an extremely mysterious aura, is truly fascinating and charismatic, and frequently happens to establish mental, unspoken conversations, dreaming and imagining an emotional reciprocity.
 
Today, however, this short film would be absolutely reconsidered and reread with serious attention for its great relevance: never as before man appears thirsty for greenery as in these recent years. He seems no longer satisfied by the urban context where his existence takes place. A lot of literature, in between fiction and science, is proliferating and many are the professional groups born to fulfill this desire difficult to be quenched, making this situation of malaise the purpose of their planning. One of these, Pnat, an extension of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology, LINV, in Florence, practically applies the results of the scientific investigations conducted in the Institute during the research phase. A team made up of two architects and four botanists who, in their design approach, utilize principles based on biomimetics, aiming to mimic the behavior of plants in the vegetable realm, to improve the human environment. A few days ago I read an article about one architect of the group, Antonio Girardi, and I found really interesting his reference to a famous legend on the origin of the city of Rome, as example of the birth of the urbanization. He interprets the famous outrage of Remo, who dares to jump over the wall just erected by his brother, as the symbolic representation of the end of a natural environment, confined beyond the boundary of a new artificial world. From this break would derive the lack of interactivity between the two realities, an original fracture that would have developed into a real contraposition caused by the architects who, violating the symbiotic connection that bound man and plants, made use of the latter more as an ornament than as an integral part of people's lives. It’s perhaps for this reason that the desire for metropolitan green is so overwhelmingly and urgently growing.
Professor Stefano Mancuso, director of LINV is one of the founders of Pnat. His specialization, part of botany, studies memory, comprehension, communication skills and a possible social life of plants. From his researches, he found that, although not in possession, like animals, of nerves and brains, during their evolution, they have shown a certain sensitivity, a real sociability and the "ability to solve problems", a behavior which by definition corresponds to possessing an intelligence. According to experimental speculations they would be able to “'smell', 'listen', communicate between individuals of the same species and sometimes with other species and learn through a certain form of memory that allows them to better resist predatory and herbivorous insects". So if we decide to be more bio-inspired by the conduct of this vegetal universe and other forms of life to which many ties intrinsically connect us, as an expert suggests, who has been included in 2013 by the New Yorker in list of the World Changers, we could probably achieve a greater balance with this so much needed counterpart.
 
Many architects are working to create alternative urban environments, able to offer an interaction between artificial and natural. I would like the client and his real aspirations to address the choices in the extensive program for a green corner of a roof, a balcony, a residence or an office. The variety of types and arrangements of garden or vegetable garden, from a rigid geometric composure to an exuberant, freely spontaneous growth, must, in addition to improve the air quality, satisfy a purely individual demand, a very simple but fundamental requirement. Feeling pleasure and spending calm and light-hearted hours can depend on an intimate green corner, to be enjoyed alone or shared in the company of friends, or on a small patch of land and a mini flowery oasis, which require care and attention.

Urban Rooftop Farm, WOHA. Photo Courtesy of WOHA. Singapore. 

Even in the workplaces including those of many architects, for some time now all the minimum spaces available, allowing regenerating breaks and moments of conviviality, have been exploited with growing enthusiasm for alleviating the routine of a daily task. WOHA, a Singapore firm, that has always dedicated itself with unconditional and passionate involvement to the cause of a natural environment, against artificial cooling, particularly difficult to discourage in a tropical context, has transformed its multi-storey headquarters’ roof, once occupied by air-con compressors, into a productive garden.
 
Alongside the important projects, living and breathing façades of tall condominiums enveloped by green skins, megastructures perforated with sky-gardens and sky-parks, vast clusters immersed into landscapes intending to evolve into vibrant ecosystems, the tiny 2,100-square-foot urban farm doesn't want to be less relevant. Strictly organic with over 100 species of fruit and vegetables, attentive to detail, it dedicates an area to aquaponic planters, a perfect cyclic growing system which combines fertilization, filtration and water circulation in a closed circuit, aided by a pond of tilapias that allow the symbiotic association. The vegetation grows luxuriantly everywhere, between seats here and there, from where, taking a few moments of relaxation, employees can enjoy the surrounding view of the other roofs in between rocket, lettuce, pumpkins, chilli, sweet potato, grapes, strawberries, bananas, passion fruit, pomegranate, lime, bay leaves and basil, mint and aromatic herbs. Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell in an interview have not only emphasized the important advantages offered by a biophilic design, with the integration of natural elements within the buildings, improving the air quality thanks to ecosystems, controlling the temperature, and contributing to an urban ecology, but have also enthusiastically added that many members of the staff, are dedicating themselves, as 'farmers', to this small oasis of delights. Everything germinates rigorously without the use of pesticides and it is with pride that the couple tells that the birds have gradually helped to stem the damage caused by the insects.



Urban Rooftop Farm, WOHA. Photo Courtesy of WOHA. Singapore

Of course, the production is not enough to satisfy the daily needs of the team but it’s sufficient to celebrate some events, making them particularly proud to use what everyone has cultivated. In my opinion, someone has done a very objective consideration regarding the two co-founders of WOHA, arguing that in their decidedly prototypical work, in proposals ranging from macro-architecture to micro-urbanism, one can constantly detect a peculiarity that distinguishes them, the tendency to promote the normalization of what at first sight seem radical concepts, like this open-air roof converted into edible green that at the moment appears to be one of the most obvious decisions.

Vegetable garden between the courtyards, Piuarch. Photo Courtesy of Piuarch Cortesia/archivi. Brera, Milan. 

Several years ago on the occasion of a Fuorisalone I remember another quite special corner, one of the first that could be discovered among the rooftops of the city of Milan, which struck me for the romantic simplicity it exuded. In the heart of Brera, on the top of an old house, a platform of 300 square meters in old, faded wooden pallets with sunflowers sprouting here and there among tomatoes, wild flowers and aromatic plants, opened up in the middle of other buildings overlooking it. ‘Vegetable garden between the courtyards', as it was called, designed to be permanent, included also the production of medicinal herbs. Piuarch studio, whose offices are in the building, was the author in collaboration with the landscape architect Cornelius Gavril. Proposed as a model to be emulated, based on an economic modular system, easy to be replicated on a large scale, it intended to raise awareness on issues at the time not adopted with the same current receptivity: the importance of the building’s energy improvement and the functional recovery of unused urban areas, an aid to the protection of biodiversity, socialization and coworking.


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