Surveying an Urban Wilderness: 10 Buildings That Grow


A few weeks back we stumbled upon a fantastic essay in ART LIES by the exceptionally talented Chris Sauter titled Wandering the Back Forty: Some Ideas About a Rural Avant-Garde. In the piece, the Texan artist offers his expert opinion as to why we’re now collectively obsessed with “the rural.” He explains this nostalgic renaissance by observing a renewed interest in things like community gardens, vernacular architecture, and taxidermy. You don’t have to look much farther than Brooklyn, with its collection of rooftop farms, modern agrarian dining experiences, and obligatory deer antler decor to see that Sauter’s on to something.

Because what’s happening in the art world is always mirrored by what’s going on in design, we thought we’d take a look at the architecture of what we like to think of as the new urban wilderness. From a home in Saigon inspired by a custom of stockpiling flower pots to architecture with its own microclimate, click through to check out the future of the city as we know it. Then, let us know in the comments what you think about these country in the city hybrids.

Stacking Green by Vo Trong Nghia — Saigon, Vietnam

Image credit: Vo Trong Nghia via dezeen

Saigon is one of the highest density urban environments in the world, forcing its residents to cram flower pots into every concrete nook and cranny. As the Vietnamese architects state, “this interesting custom has defined an amusing aspect of the city over a long period of time. Saigonese love a life filled with a large variety of tropical plants and flowers in their balconies, courtyards, and streets.”

Casa Grecia by Isay Weinfeld — São Paulo, Brazil

Image credit: FG+SG via KNSTRCT

Believe it or not, this house sits within the city limits of São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern hemisphere. With 1,900 square meters of plants worked into the design, the home maintains its own microclimate. The perfect marriage of nature and architecture if ever there was one.

Organic Building by Gaetano Pesce — Osaka, Japan

Image credit: naturoids; freshome

Built almost 20 years ago, this mixed use building by avant-garde Italian architect and furniture designer Gaetano Pesce, may just be what started the “living wall” craze that we know and love today. Covered in orange, fiberglass pockets, the façade features more that 80 types of indigenous trees and plants. As a student of inhabitable urban agriculture in the Architecture Department at the Royal College of Art in London writes, “the growing pockets show off the beauty of plants carefully chosen in collaboration with Osaka horticulturists to present beauty within a grey, intensely built environment.”

Flower Tower by Édouard François — Paris, France

Image credit: Max Gerthel

The simple, more affordable living wall: balconies lined with large flower pots.

Kofunaki House by ALTS Design Office — Shiga, Japan

Image credit: STYLESIZE; Yuta Yamada via Spoon & Tomago

OK, so this gorgeous, nature-filled haven sits in an eco-village near a pristine lake, but the design approach could easily be applied to a home in the city. Inspired by traditional Japanese construction that often incorporated a dirt floor, each room has its own indoor garden. More like a zen garden with four walls and a roof, this is perhaps the most perfect example of bringing the outdoors in that we’ve ever seen.

Firma Casa by Fernando and Humberto Campana with SuperLimão Studio — São Paulo, Brazil

Image credit: Maira Acayaba via Yatzer

A building covered with 3500 vases with 9000 seedlings of Espada-de-São-Jorge, a plant with African origin known for its protective superstition power.

Harmonia 57 by Triptyque — São Paulo, Brazil

Image credit: dezeen

São Paulo appears to be winning at the urban wilderness game. This building literally breathes, sweats, and modifies itself thanks to large plant-filled pores. Completely self-sufficient, rainwater is drained, treated, and reused, creating a complete micro ecosystem independent of the larger urban system.

Filene’s Eco Pods by Höweler + Yoon Architecture — Boston, Massachusetts

Image credit: Höweler + Yoon Architecture

We always like to include conceptual, unbuilt projects because they show the potential of boundary-pushing design thinking. This project in Boston is a prime example of creativity and innovation. Proposed to stimulate the economy and the ecology of downtown Boston, the futuristic white pods are a space-age, prefab addition to the historic public Commons. Defined as “instant architecture,” they can be adapted to work on any building, spawning cities encrusted with modern, white, carbon net positive barnacles that nurture productive plant life. Two words: crazy cool.

Museum of Modern Art by Camilo Rebelo — Warsaw, Poland

Image credit: inhabitat

We thought this concept also deserved mention for an exterior carpeted with crystalline vegetation intended to “meld with the shrubbery of the surrounding park.”

EDITT Tower by TR Hamzah & Yeang — Singapore

Image credit: inhabitat

Pending construction, this gorgeous skyscraper was “designed to increase its location’s bio-diversity and rehabilitate the local ecosystem in a ‘zeroculture’ metropolis.” That word zeroculture really makes us shudder. Hopefully our great nation never sees that day!