Thanks to architectural firm Ecosistema Urbano, Madrid’s Vallecas neighborhood has three Air Trees, oxygen-producing resources for clean renewable energy and an unusual social gathering place. The raison d’être of this Eco-Boulevard is twofold. Belinda Tato, founder of Ecosistema Urbano, explains, “One is of a social nature, aimed to generate activity, and there is one of an environmental nature—the bioclimatic adaptation of an outdoor space.”
Each Air Tree is a 72–foot–high circular structure made largely of living trees, recycled and recyclable materials, and has a simple climatic adaptation system to cool its interior space to below the outdoor air temperature. The idea is to make Air Trees comfortable multipurpose meeting places in an otherwise inhospitable social environment. The Air Tree is self-sufficient energy-wise, due to its ability to capture solar photovoltaic energy.
With his distinctive green-colored hair, Patrick Blanc is a walking billboard for his passion—plants. The French botanist’s patented vertical gardens have draped Milan’s Rolex showroom, a Kuala Lumpur skyscraper and even Stella McCartney’s runway.
London’s hip Pacha Club is one of the 15 upcoming installations he has planned for this year and he ensures that each living wall goes to a loving home. “I agreed to do it as long as it will be kept alive after the show,” Blanc says, referring to the cascading garden he created for McCartney. “It was donated to a housing project outside of Paris.”
With at least three plants needed to fill each square foot of vertical garden, Blanc trolls the globe for varieties that can thrive without soil and in the shadows cast by skyscrapers. For Paris’ Quai Branly Museum’s 2,500-square-foot façade, for instance, he used 15,000 plants from Japan, China and the U.S.
The species, planted either as seeds or cuttings, feed on a layer of felt affixed to a PVC sheet on a metal frame, all of which are camouflaged as the plants flourish. Water will be stored in underground tanks.
Tokyo-based Mindscape aims “to establish a denser and more aggressive relationship between men and plants, exceeding conventional ways of planting and gardening,” according to company designer Hiroshi Yanagihara. Its Peddy collection is considered “live furniture,” since pieces sprout actual grass. Of course, the benches, stools and other pieces are designed for outdoor sunny spaces. Instead of soil, the furniture uses layered felt fabrics that give more of a spring and make returfing easier, should the grass die, according to the company. Mindscape specializes in broader green space design, as well, from huge parks to private gardens.
Robin Reigi, founder and head of New York-based Robin Reigi Inc., which has for the past decade sold sustainable interior materials, said of the category’s popularity, “From zero to 10, it feels like a 10 right now. The trend has almost reached the mainstream.”
Among Reigi’s novelties is Durapalm—flooring, basketweave panels and plywood—made from multiple layers of coconut palm. The products contain no added urea formaldehyde. There is also Plyboo Squared Flooring, made from the end of bamboo strips, which gives a checkerboard effect.
Verelli’s founder and president Larry Wright, meantime, has noticed a steady uptick in his Belton, S.C.–based company’s business for recyclable woven wall-covering fabrics. These are made of polypropylene, which the company has been selling for three years to the hospitality industry. “This is a modern-day tapestry, like those hung in castles from the 15th to 17th centuries,” he says, adding the sky is the limit in terms of wall fabric designs. The company works with designers on a case-by-case basis.