High climber: is Milan’s Bosco Verticale really a model for sustainable city living?

Words by Joey Gardiner

Bosco Verticale, Milan

Milan's Bosco Verticale is one of the most famous examples of high-rise urban greening — but not everyone is convinced of its benefits

Picture of Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale in Milan

Perhaps the most striking — and influential — attempt at biophilic architecture to date has been the Bosco Verticale in Milan by Stefano Boeri Architects. It is also one of the most controversial.

The development consists of two towers of 27 and 18 storeys, clad in 700 trees, 5,000 shrubs and more than 15,000 smaller plants. The architect claims the luxury towers are a “model for a sustainable residential building”, sucking up 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide and delivering 20,000kg of oxygen each year, while providing a home for an estimated 1,600 bird and butterfly species.

Boeri describes the development as contributing “to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without expanding the territory of the city”. But some have questioned whether the exclusive towers, which require nearly 7,000m3 of water irrigation every year and demand a high service charge, contribute much to the city as a whole and are easily repeatable. “The examples built so far use a mix of rainfall and mains water, which is not sustainable under climate change predictions,” says WSP’s Tom Butterworth.

The other problem is one of social equity. These developments require a disproportionate share of the local water supply, and the green spaces are only accessible to those who can afford the apartments. “This means that we would be creating green places for the rich while removing the chance of green space for those in the surrounding area. We could argue that looking at the building from the surrounding area is good for you, but that is still not the same as accessing the green space. There is a significant risk that the rich will get the green spaces and all the health benefits that come along with them, and that the divide between rich and poor will widen. This is simply not acceptable and we should not be designing something that increases this divide.”

Photos by Riccardo Sala / Alamy Stock Photo, Olivia Nitaji / Alamy Stock Photo

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