'Green Obsession': a compendium of architectural responses to the climate crisis

Green Obsession by Stefano Boeri Architetti brings forth a cautionary tale of the climate crisis and how architecture can respond to the rising concerns.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Aug 18, 2022

It did not take mankind many years to go from question to rhetoric, from intent to irony, from "we can reverse climate change" to "Can we reverse climate change?" While we are still at the cliff of hopes and assumptions, the best actions we take still seem to be discussions, talks, debates, and campaigns. At over a fifth of the 21st century passed, wherein global warming and the climate crisis are terms that you could find in any article and could fit in any conversation, we are, in fact, too late to act without haste. Amid the sizeable discourse of different industries and treaties between countries, the conspectus of climate change responses appears to be political preservation at best. Among the myriad responses to the climate crisis, incorporating sustainable practices in everyday life lay near the lower scale of the epoch. However, when interpreted for architecture, this soon leaned toward being a mere trend and narrowed into what is now widely called greenwashing. Even while paper straws replace plastic straws as “small steps” to help mitigate climate change, air travel, often seen as the vessel of the privileged, seems to be at an all-time high. Contrary to this pallidness of conglomerates, some efforts in the global architectural scenario have been laudable, and among them, Italian architect Stefano Boeri's propensity for installing vertical forests on his buildings, manifested first in Bosco Verticale, come to mind as early examples. Translating years of his signatory work into literary chapters that would narrate “a portrait of our era”, Stefano Boeri Architetti have released the book Green Obsession.

Green Obsession by Stefano Boeri Architetti wrapped in the minimal shades of green and white | Green Obsession | Stefano Boeri Architects | STIRworld
Green Obsession by Stefano Boeri Architetti wrapped in the minimal shades of green and white Image: Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

To be obsessed with something gives you immense power to understand it, observe it, and explain it better, and the book emerges as a physical manifestation of Boeri's obsession with everything living and green. Amid the many thought-provoking discussions on humanity, an urban framework, and natural habitats, the book begets an explanatory hypothesis of how the climate crisis should be dealt with using a holistic approach that starts from the cities. In the questioning of the present to derive solutions for the future, Stefano Boeri Architetti brings forward an array of multifaceted scenarios that have accelerated and may decelerate global warming. Through the many projects discussed in the book, Boeri remarkably explains how the climate crisis shouldn’t be branded as a threat but rather communicated in terms of a transition that we require to make for life on earth. The title, Green Obsession: Trees towards cities, Humans towards forest may initially allude to either bringing more trees into cities or expecting our populace to move into the forests. However, the structured narratives in the book clearly make you derive the opinion that both may be formulated by virtue of the same intervention. Though researchers from all backgrounds of study are finding ways in which we can undo some of the dire impacts of global warming, Boeri's book provides insight into the potential role of architects and urban planners to contribute significantly to the solution. The discussion spreads into multiple streams of knowledge - including botany, zoology, economy, sustainability, and even zoonosis - to frame an interconnected structure for the reader, and how the mitigatory approach may be nothing but holistic. From a degenerative present on earth, the book goes to imagining a kaleidoscopic future, in lines of Peter Frase’s perceptions of future rooted in the concepts of idyllic, anything but egalitarian, socialist, or a dramatic dystopia. While the current pace indicates the direction to be a dystopian one wherein resources are scarce and we are dramatically closer to extinction, Boeri’s approach of creating more vertical forests and urban forestry through architectural interventions professes to decelerate some of the adverse effects.

Vertical Forest in Milan, Italy by Boeri Studio | Green Obsession | Stefano Boeri Architects | STIRworld
Vertical Forest in Milan, Italy by Boeri Studio Image: Dimitar Harizanov, Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

Additionally, the concept of the urban forest is dealt with on a citywide scale mentioning projects like Tirana 2030, San Marino 2030, and The Green River. The holistic approach of connecting cities and villages, and complementing this relationship through the introduction of more green corridors are the basis of the projects. Furthermore, the discussions of Stefano Boeri Architetti's famous vertical forests take place where the projects turn into reflecting on an in-depth understanding of contextual flora and fauna along with the integration of technological practices. The book hails from Boeri’s over two decade long research in the field and collaborations with several scholars in multiple fields of research. The wide array of contents include interdisciplinary concepts from Paul Hawken, Guido Musante, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, Giorgio Vacchiano, Jane Goodall, and Giuseppe Sala, to name a few.

Amid the chapters of the books, Boeri puts forward new definitions of anthropocentrism and balanced cohabitation | Green Obsession | Stefano Boeri Architects | STIRworld
Amid the chapters of the books, Boeri puts forward new definitions of anthropocentrism and balanced cohabitation Image: Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

In five chapters with multiple sub-divisions, the book has interviews, essays, discussions, statements, practical projects, policies, and an active call for action. Starting with the chapter Environmental and Climate Crisis, the book introduces the concept of a 'green obsession' by stating multiple scenarios that point to why it's time to not just be considerate towards nature, but be obsessed with it. It discusses great acceleration and tipping loss in the backdrop of concepts from Simon Lewis, Mark Maslin, and Timothy M Lenton to create an initial understanding of what the earth is moving towards due to anthropocentrism. In a conversation between Stefano Boeri and Paul Hawken, it is arrived at how we look into "biodiversity detached from poverty, forest-related issues detached from hunger, and soil exploitation detached from a pandemic, while all of these are interconnected". While we may be confounded with the idea of life and nature as a circle, but in an excerpt, Hawken bursts that bubble stating that “nature is a spiral, which means you either spiral down or spiral up", thereby opening a niche not only to appreciate forests but to truly understand the complex ecosystem.

The Green River proposal by Stefano Boeri Architetti envisioned to create a continuous system linked by green corridors in Milan | Green Obsession | Stefano Boeri Architects | STIRworld
The Green River proposal by Stefano Boeri Architetti envisioned to create a continuous system linked by green corridors in Milan Image: Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

In the second chapter dealing with Taxonomies of the Earth, Boeri shifts to dealing with the problems and solutions in parts beginning with "the new agreement", which calls for creating a new definition for 'anthropocentrism' and the need to study animals as well, especially the ones that live with us in the city, so as to establish norms for a balanced cohabitation. Gradually, while the reports of the climate crisis and drivers of change are imbibed by the reader in their mind as a potential future threat, the book jumps into the COVID-19 scenario etching proof that the discussed implications of the climate crisis aren’t fictional but a reality waiting to happen. In that context, Boeri describes how he and his team went through the lockdown and the insightful thoughts he came across with respect to time, space, and movement. By the culmination of the chapter, wherein the readers (even the ones with a casual stance on global warming and the need for action) are convinced that the climate crisis is very real and near, Boeri goes into introducing proposals like the World Park by Richard Weller and Half-Earth by Edward Osborne. As a ray of hope, he discusses attempts like Green Urban Oases inspired by the Green Great Wall to create green corridors in response to the crisis. Towards the end of the chapter, Boeri opens new notions in regard to the necessity of reciprocity contracts between villages and cities.

The proposal for the Smart Forest City in Mexico by Stefano Boeri Architetti took into account the principle of Non-Deterministic Urban Planning | Green Obsession | Stefano Boeri Architects | STIRworld
The proposal for the Smart Forest City in Mexico by Stefano Boeri Architetti took into account the principle of Non-Deterministic Urban Planning Image: Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

Once the importance of the current situation, the need for action, and possible interventions are engraved in the reader's mind, the book moves to the third chapter where urban frameworks are discussed. Boeri, as mentioned earlier, communicates practical solutions to the climate crisis along with identifying the root causes that accelerate the degradation of nature. But this chapter comes with an introduction to three possible dystopias regarding sustainability that require re-thinking and acceptance. Cities are considered to be the cradle of social interaction, but living in an urban age, it is rather important to realise that cities are a prime aspect accelerating the deterioration of natural resources. Therefore, changes in cities should be of utmost importance starting from holistic urban planning encouraging carbon-positive buildings and urban forestry. This is where Boeri actually starts talking about 'Urban Forestry' as one amongst the most effective solutions to the climate crisis. Combining the Technosphere concept with green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, urban forestry, and eco-system services seem to be his approach to creating better cities. A wide discourse of Stefano Boeri Architetti’s notable projects like Tirana 2030, San Marino 2030, and The Green River are discussed in light of how cities can contribute to the action.

The visualisation of the Forest City Manifesto by Stefano Boeri Architetti in Shanghai | Green Obsession | Stefano Boeri Architects | STIRworld
The visualisation of the Forest City Manifesto by Stefano Boeri Architetti in Shanghai Image: Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

The dialogue then takes a turn into the rise of vertical forests, a concept that Stefano Boeri shares the eponymous obsession with, translating design approaches on the proposal to create practical functioning spaces. The narration of Emanuele Coccia about his experience of living in Bosco Verticale in Milan brings the datum line between living in the woods and a vertical forest to an uncanny close. In an explanatory comparison of vertical forests to dissociative disorders, Boeri mentions that, in this context, the Jekyll and Hyde of architecture communicate with each other creating the setting for a bipolar character in the built. Stating that "vertical forests aren’t any more a utopia", the book moves into the titular chapter Trees towards cities, Humans towards the forest, where we come across multiple projects, proposals, policies, concepts, and theories which made the earlier statement possible.

Greenhouses #2, El Ejido, Sounther Spain, 2010, from the photograph series of Edward Burtynsky which explored anthropocene | Green Obsession | Stefano Boeri Architects | STIRworld
Greenhouses #2, El Ejido, Sounther Spain, 2010, from the photograph series of Edward Burtynsky which explored anthropocene Image: © Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy of Stefano Boeri Architetti

The last chapter is about re-instating the wider possibilities and learning about urban forestry and vertical forests. Boeri talks about the importance of trees in a wider understanding and how we must at all costs protect, invite, and respect nature in an urban setting. Along with analytical explanations of Stefano Boeri Architetti's projects in China and the Forest City Manifesto, he introduces 'Forestami'. The book concludes with an informal note from Boeri that can be translated into a rather dire call for action. The past, present, and future take turns in making the reader understand to the core what the climate crisis is doing to the world. While the wide discussions in the book prove the practicality and necessity of vertical forests, it also opens the conversation of how this approach can be adopted in every city from a regional perspective. However, what truly distinguishes Green Obsession from other books related to the climate crisis and global warming is the distinctive explanation of the problem with the intention to introduce the reader to the solution as well. While most manifestos discussing the current condition of the earth put forward statistics on the current situation, Boeri presents a book that, to a certain level, may be taken as a research-instruction manual on how to act on the problems, urbanically speaking.

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