A Growth Spurt in Green Architecture

This article is part of our Design special section about innovative surfaces in architecture, interiors and products.

In the lineup of climate villains, architecture towers above many. The building and construction industries account for some 37 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Program. Three of the most commonly used building materials — concrete, steel and aluminum — generate nearly a quarter of all carbon output.

But there is progress. The use of renewable organic materials like wood, hemp and bamboo is expanding. Carbon-absorbing plants and trees are more widely integrated into architectural design. And even concrete is losing its stigma with the development of low-carbon varieties.

Sustainability-minded architects are adopting these materials in buildings that not only are more environmentally sensitive but also look and feel different from modernism’s concrete and steel boxes.

The Vertical Forest, a residential complex in Milan.Credit…Marta Carenzi/Archivio Marta Carenzi/Mondadori Portfolio, via Getty Images

One of the most potent symbols of the green building revolution — in the public imagination, at least — is the plant-covered high-rise. Building designs draped in vegetation can be found in the portfolios of international architects like Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, Lina Ghotmeh, Thomas Heatherwick and Kengo Kuma, to name but a few.

No one, however, has done more to promote this type of structure than the Milanese architect Stefano Boeri, who calls his creations Vertical Forests.

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