You’ll be surprised to find some of these!
Years and years ago, in the northeastern state of Meghalaya in India, the indigenous Khasi people came up with an idea to grow bridges out of trees. Meghalaya is home to one of the wettest places on Earth and the rainfall lashes the state every year. So, bridges that wouldn’t be destroyed by downpour were essential—and the solution was found in nature. The roots of the rubber trees were twisted and tied to shape them as bridges—it would take 10-30 years for them to be formed and they would grow stronger with time. The first account of living root bridges is said to be a century old, and these are a popular attraction, especially the double-decker root bridge in Cherrapunji.
Decades after this ingenuity, we’re still looking at nature to inspire us. Urban cities—often called concrete jungles—are finding ways to encourage biodiversity, improve green cover, and offer a chance to live better. If you can’t manage a camping trip in the forests or a getaway to the mountains (or India, for that matter) every few weeks, turn to these places in cities around the world that have a unique perspective on modern-day living. We’re talking rooftop farms, green walls, and vertical forests.
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Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farms
WHERE: New York City
A rooftop farming business, Brooklyn Grange operates 5.6 acres of rooftop farms in New York City. Their three farms are at Sunset Park, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Long Island City—bringing a yield of a combined 100,000 pounds of produce (you can find places to buy their produce here).
You can visit the farmer’s market at Sunset Park on Sundays for free and on Saturdays, you can learn the basics of urban farming at the Long Island City farm. There are plenty of events throughout the year on these rooftops, from beekeeping workshops to yoga classes and private tours—they host around 7,000 people on their farms every season. And of course, they have apiaries! Rooftop beekeeping is a popular trend in New York these days.
Rooftop Farm at Javits Center
WHERE: New York City
The expansive Javits Center in Manhattan hosts large events, conferences, and trade shows. It was also used as a field hospital last year when infection rates were surging in the city and this January, it became an inoculation center, offering vaccines round the clock. Now, work has been completed on its rooftop—part of a $1.5 billion expansion project which has increased its meeting space by 50%.
Home to 29 bird species and thousands of bees, the 6.75-acre green roof features a farm, an outdoor terrace, an enclosed glass pavilion, and more than 3,000 solar panels. The one-acre farm will have more than 50 crops and yield 40,000 pounds of produce that will be used to cater events at the center.
If you’re in the city, take a tour of the green roof and check out the upgrades.
Liberty Park at the World Trade Center
WHERE: New York City
The one-acre Liberty Park opened to the public in 2016. This elevated park offers views of the World Trade Center campus and overlooks the 9/11 memorial. It’s located above a garage and serves as a green roof with more than 50 trees and 1,000 shrubs. One of the highlights of the park is the 25-foot Living Wall, which has 826 panels to accommodate 22,356 plants in this vertical garden.
Lufa Rooftop Farm
WHERE: Montreal, Canada
Last year, Lufa Farms built the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse farm. It is the size of three football fields at 163,800 square feet and produces 25,000 pounds of tomatoes and eggplant every week. It has four rooftop farms in Montreal, with the capacity to feed 2% of the city’s population. The farms are hydroponic and energy-efficient, and use no pesticides. You can plan a tour of the farm and even attend events such as yoga and caramel apple making.
Gardens at Wimbledon
WHERE: London, England
The grass courts in London see a lot of action during Wimbledon, but the gardens are maintained all through the year. The whole “tennis in an English garden” experience is a nod to their commitment to sustainability. You will always see flowering plants, shrubs, climbing ivy on these grounds—30,000 petunias and 8,000 hydrangea bloom in the gardens.
But there’s another recently-added feature that’s complementing the green grass courts: two living walls on Court No 1 on either side of the big screen. Unveiled in 2019, these walls have 14,000 plants and cover an area of 245 square meters (2,637 square feet). It’s a soil-less vertical garden that uses an automated irrigation system—it sends data if there’s a fault in watering. Not just during the Grand Slam, the foliage covers the wall through all seasons. In fact, there are more living walls and green roofs planned by 2030! The grounds are off-limit right now, but you can still tour the museum and cafe.
Living Wall at The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences
WHERE: London, England
The living wall on the facade of The Athenaeum is an impressive sight. It was designed by the famous French botanist Patrick Blanc, a name you’ll see many times when you search for living walls. This vertical garden was installed in 2009. Covering the building from the street level to the 10th floor, it’s a massive undertaking—around 329 square meters (3,541 square feet)—with 12,000 plants! Not only does it look pretty, but it’s also a boon for the environment, for it produces 559 kgs of oxygen annually and removes 757 kgs of carbon dioxide, according to the hotel website.
Patrick Blanc is also responsible for the living wall in the lobby of Hotel-Icon in Hong Kong. It’s like a floating cloud in the lobby and restaurant—the largest indoor vertical garden in Asia with more than 8,603 plants.
Living Wall at The Rubens at the Palace
WHERE: London, England
It’s fascinating to watch the transition of this London hotel’s facade, from a vanilla color to a deep green. It claims to be London’s largest living wall—it is 21 meters (69 feet) high and proudly gives roots to 10,000 plants. It also has a smart watering system that stores water during rainfall. Not just seasonal flowers and evergreens, this living wall also features wild strawberries and lavender to attract wildlife. The green focus also checks the sustainability box because this wall keeps the building cooler in summers and reduces heat loss in winters, saving on energy costs.
Green Wall at Quai Branly Museum
WHERE: Paris, France
The Quai Branly museum in Paris has had its fair share of controversies—from critics condemning the stolen Indigenous works displayed at the museum to activists trying to steal an artifact as a form of protest. While France (and other European countries) are struggling with reparations of goods plundered in the colonial era, the museum maintains a steady flow of visitors—around 1,350,000 a year according to the website.
What’s inside may be objectionable, but the outside is a marvel designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc. The green wall at the museum is one of Blanc’s most popular works. It stands 40 feet tall from the sidewalk to the roof and covers 800 square meters (8,611 square feet) with 15,000 plants of 150 species around the world. You’ll see ferns, wallflowers, willows, and irises blooming on the wall. The museum also houses an 18,000-meter-square garden with 169 trees!
Vertical Forest at Bosco Verticale
WHERE: Milan, Italy
It’s unbelievable what Italian architect Stefano Boeri has achieved with Bosco Verticale, or “Vertical Forest.” Completed in 2014, the two residential buildings—27 stories with cantilevered balconies—are covered in trees and shrubs. It was an experiment that has gained such success that it’s a prototype of green buildings around the world.
There are 900 trees and 2,000 plants and shrubs on these towers, keeping the buildings cool and attracting wildlife. It absorbs carbon dioxide and reduces energy consumption, and the design has redefined how the world thinks about green buildings.
Vertical Forest at Nanjing Green Towers
WHERE: Nanjing, China
Asia’s first vertical forest is coming up in Nanjing. Designed by Boeri and modeled on his uber-successful Bosco Verticale, this pair of buildings will have alternate balconies and plant containers. In all, the 200-meter (656-foot) building and 108-meter (354-foot) building will have 600 large trees, 200 medium-sized trees, and more than 2,500 shrubs. Native species will be used to increase biodiversity in the area and the two towers will be occupied by businesses, restaurants, a museum, a green architecture school, and a hotel.
Living Tower of Oasia Hotel Downtown
It’s pretty leafy at the Oasia Hotel Downtown, where a green cover hugs the 27-story hotel building. It’s such a stark contrast from the buildings you normally see in Singapore, but it doesn’t end with the exterior—it also has sky gardens and terraces. More than 1,500 planter boxes, with 21 species of creepers, decorate the facade of the building, while 33 species of plants and locally-grown trees can be found within the building.