These Wild New Skyscrapers Are Building Forests in the Sky

We were just getting used to green roofs—those fascinating combinations of garden and architecture. But now two architects working at opposite ends of the globe are planning even more incredible feats by designing farms and forests designed to live on the face of a skyscraper.


One of the most dramatic of these new urbanized farm projects is the Urban Skyfarm currently under design by Brooklyn-based Aprilli Design Studio for a site in Seoul, South Korea. This prototype building project uses four major tree-based components—the “root,” “trunk,” “branch,” and “leaves” —to house more than 24 acres of space for growing fruit trees, tomatoes, and other sustainable vegetation. The trunk of the tree is intended to contain an indoor hydroponic farm for greens, while the root portion provides a wide environmentally controlled space for market places and public activities.





Meanwhile, turbines at the top of the tower provide enough energy to power the whole operation in a net-zero environment. The design also can capture rainwater and filter it through an artificial wetland before returning fresh water to the nearby Cheonggyecheon stream. Architects Steve Lee and See Yoon Park say the structure could support hundreds of environmental functions and serve as a model for how buildings are designed, constructed, and utilized in the future.


“Our version of the vertical farm was intended to become an independent, open-to-air structure which would be purely focusing on farming activities and sustainable functions such as generating renewable energy and performing air and water filtration,” the architects told Fast Company.


“With the support of hydroponic farming technology, the space could efficiently host more than 5,000 fruit trees. Vertical farming is more than an issue of economical feasibility, since it can provide more trees than average urban parks, helping resolve urban environmental issues such as air pollution, water run-off, and heat island effects, and bringing back balance to the urban ecology.”


Environmentally, the Urban Skyfarm acts as a living machine by producing renewable energy and lending the building improved air quality while reducing heat accumulation, storm water runoff, and carbon dioxide.


Mimicking the biological structure of a tree lends the design many structural and environmental advantages by creating a lightweight but efficient space to host different farming activities. Its designers also attest that the form creates a strong iconic image and represents a symbol of well-being and sustainable development.



Meanwhile, Back in Milan, Italy . . .


On the other side of the world, a wildly innovative Italian architect is plotting to apply greenery to the world’s most innovative buildings, including an already constructed project in Milan that has been named one of the the best tall buildings in the world.


The designer and architect is Stefano Boeri, and the dual skyscraper project in Milan is Bosco Verticale. His 256-foot and 344-foot towers are swaddled in more than 700 trees and 100 species of plants. In total, there are around 21,000 plants on the two towers, equivalent to five acres of forest spread over 1,300 square meters. It even has its own natural ecosystem with more than 20 species of birds nesting between the two towers.





The design really is “green” in more than color only. The massive amounts of plant life help reduce smog and carbon dioxide, dampen noise levels, boost oxygen, and regulate heat and cold within the twin towers. Inside, a sophisticated irrigation system redirects used water back onto the forested “porches” to sustain the plant life.


Boeri calls the concept the “Vertical Forest” design, a concept that won the firm, Stefano Boeri Architetti, second place in last year’s Emporis Skyscraper Award, beating out more than 120 competitors including One World Trade Center in New York City and Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid Tower in Abu Dhabi.


“It is a model for vertical densification of nature within the city,” Boeri says. “Vertical Forest increases biodiversity, so it becomes both a magnet for and a symbol of the spontaneous re-colonization of the city by vegetation and animal life.”


Meanwhile, Around the World . . .



Milan’s Bosco Verticale is far from Boeri’s singular vision, and is just one of a host of projects around the world that are using urbanized vegetation to make life better for the people who live and work in these buildings.


Boeri has already unveiled plans for two Vertical Forests in Nanjing, China, as well as “Liuzhou Forest City” in China, the Wonderwoods residential apartment project in the Netherlands, and the sprawling Guizhou Mountain Forest Hotel in Southern China. He also recently announced a 36-story tower in Lausanne, Switzerland, where “Tower of Cedars” will feature more than 18,000 plants and 100 trees.





“It’s something I’d been thinking about for a long time,” Boeri said recently. “I’ve always been fascinated by trees and architecture. In Lucca, Italy, there’s a 14th-century tower that has trees at the top. So I started to imagine how trees could become the main protagonist on a building’s facade.”


Boeri isn’t the only one thinking about how to build forests and gardens in the sky. His innovative, arboreal designs are inspiring and complementing other greenery-inspired architectural projects around the globe.


Rolex’s twisty future Dallas headquarters recently broke ground on its construction, featuring a design by architect Kengo Kuma that was inspired by Japanese castles and features landscaped terraces and a tree-lined rooftop event space.


Danish Architects Bjarke Ingels are hard at work in Los Angeles on 670 Mesquit, a 2.6 million-square-foot mixed-use project that features two massive concrete cubes topped with landscaped terraces.


Back in Asia, Vo Trang Nghia Architects are building a city complex in Ho Chi Minh City that will feature a 90,000-square-foot project with a communal rooftop garden. They’re also building a tree-lined campus at FPT University that will spread an elevated forest over the 14-square-mile site.


One Central Park in Sydney, Australia, hosts more than 190 plant species native to the country and features massive crawling vines that climb the building’s face.


Some critics have doubted the scientific veracity of the tree-building concepts, not to mention the aesthetics of simply propping a tree onto a concept drawing, but these innovative designers seem to be using green technology in a manner that is both ethically and tactically responsible.


Besides, some people just can’t see the forest through the trees.


Photo Credits: Stefano Boeri Architetti, Aprilli Design Studio.


The Latest Building Trend: Passive Energy Homes

One of the most interesting and exciting trends in modern construction is the implementation of passive energy design in the construction of all kinds of buildings, including residential, commercial, governmental, and other structures. From a new massive housing project in Canada to an off-the-grid “Solar Earthship” in rural Colorado, passive home design is quickly becoming the go-to concept for architects and builders throughout North America, and indeed the world.



Introducing Passive Home Design


Introducing Passive Home DesignFirst, let’s take a closer look at what passive home design really involves. The core of a passive home design is solar energy. In the case of structures that are built from the ground up, the design of the structure is inherently and intentionally planned to reduce the heating and cooling loads that the building must carry, and then meet those needs either in whole or in part with energy derived from solar panels. Homes can also often be remodeled to take advantage of passive energy benefits, starting with a home energy audit to identify the most logical improvements.



Choosing the Right Build Site


Because of the unique nature of solar energy, the positioning of a passive structure is critical. Most importantly, the south side of the structure needs to have unobstructed access to the sun. Obstructions can also be generated over time, as new buildings are built in a neighborhood or community, or small trees grow into big trees. The windows that collect solar energy need access to the sun during the majority of daylight hours during the heating season, and should be shaded during cooling seasons to prevent overheating the home.



Choosing the Right Build SiteEssentially, passive home design works because the home or building collects heat as the sun shines through the south-facing windows and retains it in building materials that store heat, known to designers as thermal mass. The materials that serve as a passive home’s thermal mass often include common building materials such as concrete, brick, stone, and tile, but can also include more unusual materials such as water. This heat is then distributed to different areas via different methods, including conduction, convection, and radiation.



Passive House Principles


Passive House PrinciplesIt’s important to understand the fundamental principles behind passive home design before embarking on a project. The Passive House Alliance U.S. is a good place to start both to delve deeper into passive home design and to help identify architects, designers, engineers, and construction professionals who understand and have experience with this unique concept.


Getting to the level of energy efficiency exercised by passive home design can be a challenge. Maximizing gains in energy while minimizing the loss of energy isn’t necessarily a natural function of most homes. To that end, passive energy projects utilize very specific principles of design, including:


  • installing high-tech insulation throughout the entirety of the home;
  • making the building envelope airtight. Because the home is sealed most of the time, condensation and mold risks are reduced, but passive home owners can still open their doors and windows just as they would in a “traditional” home;
  • employing high-performance windows with low emissivity window glazing to minimize energy loss and maximize energy gain;
  • installing smart distribution mechanisms to collect and store solar energy, which may include items like sun-heated floors, heat transfer via air or water, and the use of different color palettes to absorb or reflect heat at different places in the home; and,
  • maximizing solar energy during the heating season and minimizing heat gain during the cooling season.


Examples of Smart Passive Energy Buildings


As builders continue to embrace passive energy design and net zero concepts, the number of passive design builds in North America and Europe continue to diversify.


In recent years, Canada has joined the Smart City movement in the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. To that end, a massive passive home project is underway in Vancouver, with the goal of creating a six-story mixed-use building that combines street-level retail with 85 units of rental housing.


The project is called The Heights, and when complete will be one of the largest passive energy projects in North America, and the largest in Canada. The project uses a simple single envelope design to retain and distribute heat, meaning that each unit can be heated using a simple electric baseboard heater running on just 300 watts.



Examples of Smart Passive Energy BuildingsAnother interesting passive home project is nestled in the San Juan Mountains in southeastern Colorado, where the so-called “Solar Earthship,” is not only energy efficient but net positive, meaning it creates its own energy. In addition to implementing the passive energy principles detailed above, the home’s walls are nearly 100% thermal mass, having been constructed from 2,000 recycled tires packed with dirt, then covered with adobe.


Some inspired homeowners sometimes even retrofit their homes to fit the passive energy home design concept. From Quonset huts to antique farm homes, almost any structure can be assessed, reconfigured, and redesigned to take advantage of solar energy and passive home ideas, although introducing recycled materials into an existing structure may take more time and cost. Passive energy design has also been utilized in all kinds of non-residential structures including schools, office buildings, and even public swimming pools in order to better capture and utilize solar energy.



The Benefits of Passive Energy Design


The Benefits of Passive Energy DesignPassive energy buildings offer their occupants tremendous short-term and long-term benefits, not only in cost but also in comfort. Passive homes in general cost five to 10 percent more to build than traditional homes, but the long-term savings in energy costs more than offsets that investment. It’s worth keeping in mind that federal, state, or community tax credits or other tangible benefits may apply to your passive home project.


Regardless, the incredible efficiency of passive home design provides homeowners and occupants with unmatched comfort, excellent indoor air quality, extremely resilient construction, and the best opportunity to reach net zero and net positive energy standards.


Is This the World’s Greenest Home?

Out in the high desert outside of Bend, Oregon, sits perhaps the most extraordinarily designed home ever built in the United States. Desert Rain is a five-building residential compound consisting of three residential units—and they’re currently the greenest houses in America.


The architectural project is the first residential compound in the world to be certified under the hyper-strict Living Building Challenge, as well as carrying certifications of LEED Platinum and Earth Advantage Platinum. How green is Desert Rain? To start, it makes more energy than it consumes. That’s pretty green.


This one-of-a-kind project was built as an experiment by Oregon-based Tozer Design to demonstrate the viability of sustainable and resilient communities. Lead designer Al Tozer Jr. designed Desert Rain with shades of the southwest desert as well as the home’s current location in the wilds of Oregon. Owners Tom Elliot and Barbara Scott first simply wanted to design and build a LEED-certified home that employed green technology. But they were later catalyzed by the Living Building Challenge to build the compound that would eventually become Desert Rain.



Inventing the Future Home


Inventing the Future HomeThe boundaries set by the Living Building Challenge meant a complete re-design of the project by Tozer. While a LEED certification is extreme, the Living Building Challenge takes green design to another level.


The home had to be 100% net-zero energy, allow for 100% self-contained collection of rainwater, 100% processing of waste water, and carbon neutral. The project could not contain any materials from what its organizers dub “The Red List,” consisting of dangerous substances like asbestos, mercury, and lead. But the list also includes some chemicals that are widely used in home construction including an ingredient in nearly all plastic water pipes as well as a common welding element. That meant Tozer and his team not only had to surmount challenges; sometimes they had to invent their own solutions.


However, simply meeting the technical specifications of the Living Building Challenge isn’t enough. The certification also requires projects to maintain a human scale, nods to democracy and social justice, and carry a design that integrates beauty, spirit, inspiration, and education.

Only 49 other buildings worldwide have earned the certification, and Desert Rain is the first residential project to earn the distinction. The Desert Rain home has even inspired a book about its eight-year journey to fruition.



The Costs and Benefits of Sustainability


The Costs and Benefits of SustainabilityCreating this remarkable home also wasn’t easy, or cheap. Because of the complex nature of the experiment, Tozer had to assemble a network of sustainability experts, contractors, specialists, and landscape architects, not to mention sourcing the home’s unique materials. The eventual final price tag of Desert Rain is $3.48 million, roughly three times the cost of a new, high-end modern home in nearby Bend.


Desert Rain’s owners finally fully moved into the home in 2014. In Desert Rain’s first two years as a residence, its owners used nothing but water from their rain collection system, which is recycled in their 30,000-gallon cistern. The home also generated over 13,000 kilowatt hours of power, which is enough energy to power another home for a year.


Inspiring Others to Action



Inspiring Others to ActionFor its owners, Desert Rain is meant to be an inspiration; demonstrating to homeowners, designers, and builders that it really is possible to build a better, healthier, more sustainable home, as reflected by Barbara Scott’s recent comments to Oregon Public Broadcasting.


“I think if I were to do it again, I would do it in a way where people would look at it and say, ‘Wow, maybe I can do this.'”


Find out more about the Desert Rain House by visiting


Interested in a Solar Powered Air Conditioner? Here are the Pros and Cons

Air conditioning comprises a huge portion of American energy costs. According to the federal government, American consumers spend $29 billion dollars per year regulating the temperature of their homes, pumping 117 million metric tons of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide into the air in the process. Solar powered air conditioners may be an alternative to the expensive, fossil fuel-intensive conventional air conditioners. But are they a good option for your home? Let’s explore the pros and cons of solar powered air conditioners.



Pro: You may decrease your utility costs


The greatest thing about solar power is that it utilizes one of the most abundant natural resources we have. When you’re getting energy from the sun, it means you don’t have to pay for energy coming from some other source. You simply don’t need a power company to point some panels toward a giant ball of gas. According to Lennox, one solar powered AC could save you as much as 50 percent on your monthly energy bill.



Con: Some units may not work at night


One of the unfortunate things about solar power is that it utilizes one of the most abundant natural resources we have . . . for approximately half of the day every day. Battery-run units and models with energy storing capabilities can overcome the basic problem of utilizing energy from the sun overnight, but solar power’s nighttime challenges are stubborn. The basic fact is that most people like to have a cool home while they sleep.



Pro: Solar powered air conditioners may not be connected to the grid


If the energy storage function of your solar powered air conditioner works properly, it can do wonders for your energy lifestyle. As Green Builder Media points out, solar powered appliances are not necessarily connected to the grid. Thus, when storms knock down power lines, your solar powered air conditioner may not be affected.



Con: Not every state is solar friendly


Energy companies are threatened by solar power. The idea that people can independently store their own energy is an affront to utility companies’ core business model. As a result, several states, including Florida, have been slow on the uptake of solar. If your state has not passed legislation that makes it cost effective to install solar panels, it may be difficult to consider a solar powered air conditioner.


Skylights: Where Interior Design Meets Energy Savings

It’s no secret that a skylight can draw a lot of positive attention to a home. They’re stylish, provide beautiful natural light, and add a modern touch to the traditional ceiling. However, they do much more for a home than amping up its interior design. Skylights do a lot for energy savings and have become a favorite amongst “green” homeowners.


Skylights have become such a popularity because of their ability to provide the warmth and brightness of natural light. Lightening up even the darkest of corners, skylights are a great source of light for large living areas. Using more natural light can lower an electricity bill significantly, not to mention the benefits of losing that harsh iridescent light in a home.


These ceiling windows are also a great source for both heat and crisp air. For those who live in colder climates, a skylight can provide warmth during the winter months by emitting heat from the sun into a living space. They can also be opened and closed, allowing a home to be filled with colder air, lessening the need to run the air conditioning.



Types of Skylights


Skylights- Where Interior Design meets Energy Savings - VentedVented: this is what most would consider the “traditional” style. This skylight can be opened to provide ventilation to a room and also allows natural light to fill the area below. The vented style is often sold in the more traditional square and rectangular shapes.



Skylights- Where Interior Design meets Energy Savings - TubularTubular: rather than the traditional square or rectangular style windows, tubular skylights are rounded and meant to emit smaller amounts of light. This style ranges from 10 inches in diameter to 21 inches in diameter. Tubular skylights are not used for ventilation.



Skylights- Where Interior Design meets Energy Savings- FixedFixed: this style does not open to allow ventilation, but does, however, still provide a beautiful natural light to any room. The fixed style is used mostly for design and warming abilities and can vary in shape.



These beautiful windows can make a very efficient and stylish accent to any home. Not only are skylights perfect to modernize and increase the interior design of any living space, but they also provide energy savings, which in turn, means monetary savings as well!


Enjoy even more energy savings by adding Madico Window Films to your skylight! To find a dealer in your area, call 888-887-2022 or email



Image credits:
Veluxusa, Solatube


5 Reasons Why Your Company Should Go Green

Going green and saving energy has become quite the trend in businesses today. Companies everywhere are adopting safer practices for the environment and making strides to better our ecosystem. Reducing waste and preserving energy not only benefits the world we live in, but can build a better business as well. Take a look at these five compelling reasons to take the first step in helping your company go green and start saving energy!



1. It’s going to save YOU money!


It's going to save YOU moneyThere isn’t one business owner out there that doesn’t want to save themselves money. Going green is a great way to keep some extra change in the bank to put back into the company.


For example, try switching your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). This can save up to 70% on electric bills! Also, going paperless cuts costs for buying paper, sticky notes, agendas, and notebooks. Try using natural light, and decreasing electricity usage in the summer by using blinds, curtains, or window film to block out heat.


Adopting small habits can potentially save your company thousands of dollars per year, while also saving the environment.



2. Consumers are looking for green companies.


Consumers are looking for green companiesProtecting the environment is a strong goal in society today, which probably means that a large majority of your customers are hoping to preserve the ecosystem whenever they can. Going green and saving energy is going to attract a strong customer base. According to Environmental Leader, about 53% of consumers prefer to buy from a company with a green reputation. And, not only are green companies a preference for customers, but for potential employees as well!



3. Stimulate company innovation…


Stimulate company innovationFinding more efficient means for production forces you and your employees to be innovative and to start thinking outside of the box. Brainstorming ideas on how to become more environmentally sound allows for creative stimulation. The ideas don’t have to be larger than life to be useful and thought-provoking. Simply thinking of more efficient ways to travel to work or reduce waste can evoke ideas and strengthen the thought process of employees.



4. Go ahead, decrease your taxes!


Go ahead, decrease your taxesDid you know that companies can take a tax credit of 30% for the use of solar and/or wind energy? Believe it or not, there are a lot of federal tax credits available for energy efficient buildings. Plus, at the state level, there are laws that provide a lot of tax credits and incentives for companies to adopt more environmentally sound practices. Check out this guide that provides tax incentives for all 50 states!



5. You’re helping the environment, which is reason enough.


You're helping the environment, which is reason enoughIt’s no secret that our environment is in need of some help. By employing different tactics to reduce waste, preserve energy, and conserve water, you and your employees will help to make a positive impact on a large global issue. Reduce your company’s carbon footprint by cutting pollutant and chemical use. Not only will this make for a healthier environment, but a healthier staff as well.



There are endless benefits to preserving our ecosystem. No matter how large or small your company is, finding more efficient ways to run your company will make an incredible difference.