Eindhoven’s Trudo Vertical Forest copies the iconic Bosco Verticale in Milan — but as public housing
John Last · CBC News · Posted: Oct 30, 2021 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: 1 hour ago
The Trudo Vertical Forest in the Dutch city of Eindhoven rents apartments in a building based on Stefano Boeri’s iconic Bosco Verticale in Milan for less than $1,000 per month. But critics say vertical forests aren’t as green as they seem. (Paolo Rosselli/Stefano Boeri Architetti)

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It’s one of the world’s most iconic examples of green design. To start, it’s literally green — encased in hundreds of trees and thousands of shrubs that ascend on ladder-like balconies 26 storeys into the sky.

Milan’s Bosco Verticale — “vertical forest” in Italian — opened in 2014 to wide acclaim from the design world. Its attractive vision of skyscrapers with leafy-green canopies has spawned dozens of imitations from France to Shanghai, including one underway in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.

But critics say these buildings typically share some not-so-green traits: their construction relies on vast quantities of carbon-intensive concrete, and they are very expensive to own.

“I think it’s completely missing the point of green design,” said Lloyd Alter, who teaches sustainable design at Ryerson University in Toronto and is the author of Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle.
The Bosco Verticale in Milan, the first of Boeri’s vertical forests, houses the equivalent of three hectares of forest on its balconies. (Dimitar Harizanov/Stefano Boeri Architetti)

For Alter and other critics, Bosco Verticale represents an exclusive, and expensive, vision of a green future, where the benefits of living closer to nature are accrued to an enriched few, at an enormous carbon cost.

All of which helps explain why Stefano Boeri, the Bosco Verticale’s celebrated architect, turned his attention to a different project: duplicating his iconic design as public housing in the Dutch city of Eindhoven.

“This is really the goal we had from the beginning of the vertical forest,” Boeri told CBC News, “to show … that it’s possible … to realize [a vertical forest] that is affordable for everybody, smart and sustainable.”
The Trudo tower is located in a former industrial site in Eindhoven. The goal of the project was to sell affordable housing to young self-starters who will build a creative community there. (Igor Vermeer Fotographie)

That project, dubbed the Trudo Vertical Forest, officially opened last month. The pared-back recreation of the Bosco Verticale features some 125 trees and 5,000 shrubs over 19 storeys, filled with 540-square-foot starter apartments for young couples and emerging professionals.

It’s Boeri’s hope that this tower answers critics that vertical forests are greenwashing for an elite few. But even though he’s succeeded in making his innovative design more affordable, there are reasons critics of the model like Alter remain unconvinced of its merits.
A forest in the sky, with sky-high costs

Boeri’s vision for Bosco Verticale, developed in the early 2010s, was a version of architecture that did not centre around sheltering human beings from the environment. In his words, “living nature is not an ornamental presence” but a “basic component” of the building.

The pair of Milan towers — standing at 18 and 26 storeys, respectively — house a staggering total of 800 trees and 20,000 smaller plants, equivalent to three hectares of forest.

The trees eliminate the heat-magnifying effect of glass-fronted skyscrapers, absorb carbon dioxide from the air, and act as an urban oasis for dozens of species of birds and insects — and they’re pretty nice to look at, too.
A patio space in the Bosco Verticale, where apartments sell for upward of $5 million. Critics say vertical forests like the Bosco Verticale privatize green spaces for use by the elite. (Giovanni Nardi/Stefano Boeri Architetti)

But all of that splendour comes at a cost. Carrying the weight of growing trees required enormous amounts of concrete, one of the most carbon-intensive building materials available.

“How many decades or centuries will it take for the tree to absorb the carbon dioxide that was emitted making the balcony and the planter that is holding [it]?” Alter said. “I didn’t think it would ever make sense.”

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Then there’s the question of who gets to enjoy this forest. A two-bedroom flat typically costs more than $5.7 million. Condo fees, used to pay for teams of specialized gardeners who rappel from the rooftop, run tens of thousands of dollars per month.

All to say, there is a reason the Bosco Verticale became known to Milanese as the “home of the elite.”
Nowhere to go

In recent years, critics have been more vocal about this issue with the vertical forest philosophy — that it privatizes nature at a high environmental and financial cost.

In an article for Artribune, an Italian art criticism magazine, architecture critic Fabrizio Bellomo drew a contrast between the Bosco Verticale and a Milanese park notorious for drug dealing, known as the Rogoredo Grove.

“This grove,” he wrote, “even with the facets of decay and marginalization connected to it — it still remains an environment to be lived in, a public space in all respects.”

As for the Bosco Verticale, he said, not so much.

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