“I have always been attracted to trees,” says Stefano Boeri, an Italian architect who completed what he calls the world’s first vertical forest in central Milan in 2014. The two residential towers are planted with 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and 15,000 plants spilling over ceramic terraces, a ravishing billboard of urban forestry. These buildings, along with other projects such as a passenger lounge in Shanghai’s Pudong Airport that was inspired by a dense jungle canopy, are part of his mission to soften up our cities (and do his bit in the fight against climate change). “It changes every day, changes every season,” he says of the vertical forest, “creating an explosion of colour.”
Boeri’s desire to drench cities in green is echoed in the designs of Studio Ro Co, a firm founded with the intent of literally livening up industrial office spaces in London with plants. It is led by designers Rose Ray and Caro Langton, who are intent on “helping the green take over”. At startups such as Byte London and Fjord, and at Google’s London campus, Devil’s Ivy and Heartleaf Philodendron peek through spidery cracks in the ceiling. Or, as in Fjord’s open-plan office, giant Howea forsteriana palms in rolling carts serve as movable walls to make spaces for close conversation.
Elsewhere in London, designers are using foliage as a storytelling tool. The interior of Hide, a new restaurant on Piccadilly, evokes a fairy-tale house in the forest. It features botanical reliefs cast in plaster by Rachel Dein, their monochromatic surfaces alive with masses of prickly weeds, grasses, dandelions and brambles foraged near her studio in north London. “The challenge is getting all the details,” says Dein, who carefully presses the plants in rolled clay to leave impressions like fossils. Elsewhere in the restaurant there are moss-covered walls riddled with giant, saucer-shaped mushrooms. They are the work of Jeanette Ramirez, an artist from Manchester. She painstakingly glued pieces of bleached and inky-black lichen to wood panels and then blanketed them with golden fungi. “I’m always observing nature and trying to do something similar,” she says. “I’m trying to create textures you can really feel.”