A solution for urban green space

The rising skylines of America’s urban epicenters currently serve as a reminder of the synthetic and artificial “nature” of the city. Sunlight either reflects dully on the cement exoskeletons of these behemoths, or brightly on the glass and steel, but except for a few blushes of forlorn green on the rooftops of vanishingly small number of buildings, the skyline remains a completely manmade and alien landscape.

As more and more people crowd in to the urban area, there will be an increased market for the green experience: our disillusioned society will delve in silk plants, astroturf parks, fake dirt, and genetically engineered organic fruit. They will be faced with the commoditization of grass, the death of birds, brown air, erosion, landslides, disappearing insects, garbage dust, disease, and heat islands. In short, nature will be experienced in derivative form, where people buy and trade and market the valuable tranches of the green experience while exacerbating the overall problems that come with increased human distance from nature.

The simple truth is that American cities lack green spaces. There is seemingly no room to accommodate new parks. We need to rethink how we create green space in the city.

Globally there are approximately 60 trees for each person.

In New York City, there is ONE tree for every 160 people.

As urban cities slip further and further away from their biological connection to the earth, the city dweller will transform into a disoriented city nomad in search of the natural but unable to find it.

There is no substitute for nature.

American cities are very good at creating allusions to nature = we attempt to brand our cities and neighborhoods and streets with nature labels, to convey and ascribe some attribute of the pastoral. We have cities – Babylon, Wildwood Beach, Garden City – neighborhoods and subdivisions – Babbler Meadows, the Pines, the Palms, Sahara Springs – street names – Pacific, Green Pines Drive, and Palisades Parkway. We commute from those areas in vehicles that are mockingly named in a similar fashion – we own Tauruses, Talons, Touaregs, never mind the El Dorado or the Eclipse. We then spend our days in cubicles that are mounted with fake wood and posters of nature.

We attempt to “go green” by eating organic produce, community gardening, using public transportation, LEED certifying ourselves and our buildings, riding bikes, driving a hybrid, buying free trade, making a compost pile, planting a roof garden, cultivating our own vegetables, recycling, buying a wind mill, joining a co-op, using green materials, and planting a tree… but most if not all of these are attempts to establish a relationship with a nature that isn’t present – our energy efficient car is no more natural than the gas guzzling one, and our organize produce still travels from miles away. In many ways these are mental trick we perform on ourselves that are no more real than the naming of our building “The Dakota” or “The Galaxy.”

Are Americans allowing their cities to so easily forget about nature? Are Americans hiding behind the illusion of going GREEN? Why is nature feeling more and more like a nostalgic place?

In large urban areas, access to green space, urban farms, and community gardens is still very limited—and even more limiting are roof gardens, a space that is accessible only by those in a given building, and only visible by those in buildings above. The average city dweller has to go out of his way to find a park, to share a moment with nature. Accessibility prevents most people from finding a connection to the natural habitat – there is simply not enough space. We need to rethink the way we approach nature in urban cities. The solution is to reconsider density and work with the flows of the city, the rules of urban. We have to re-examine why we have green spaces where we do – are we too strict about keeping our parks on the ground, our trees on the sidewalks?

Americans need to re-establish their biological connection to the earth by having more contact with the natural environment on a daily basis, especially the populations living in large urban areas. In the last century, city dwellers of means would escape the cities for the country side, to escape the press and stress of city life, and to re-establish their connection with nature.
Since the buildings are not going to let us compete with the ground, and roof gardens are too far and few between, we must create a new way of experience green space in the city, a place that everyone can see and a place the greatly effects the way we use the buildings in this city. A simple solution to what we do every day.

BOTANITROPE will bring more green space to the vertical spaces of American cites. In such a dense environment, we must start to consider the vertical space for parks and bring nature back to the city.

BOTANITROPE is a project addressing the need for more urban gardens and trees in NYC and other urban American cities. BOTANITROPE takes monumental architecture combined with a mobile greenhouse transforming the standard steel and glass façade of a skyscraper into a window of nature, bringing together exotic landscapes, experimental architecture and natural elements to dense vertical cities.

Derived from the story of the tree and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, BOTANITROPE is a pair of single floored greenhouses that live and move along the exterior of skyscrapers. BOTANITROPE is designed to randomly visit different floors at different times of the day, bringing nature to and creating biological surprise for both the inhabitants and those on the outside. Outside BOTANITROPE ascends and descends slowly, amplifying the desire and dream of the Hanging Gardens and ownership to nature in the form of a fantastical roving greenhouse.

BOTANITROPE is a sparkling, glowing, garden designed to be simple and allow the sunlight in by combining materials with maximum transparency and minimum weight.

On the inside the BOTANITROPE exhibits a lush garden full of plants that purify the air and species that are native to the city it lives in. The interior is complete with self-irrigating watering systems as well as a few insects, reptiles, and mammals. Plants in this environment will also produce food.

A colorful array of green plant life growing at great heights and a thriving living system will all contribute to the vibrant scene inside of BOTANITROPE.

In the evening BOTANITROPE will be lit dramatically creating a cinematic botanical scene, a radiant kingdom in the night.

Buildings and urban environments differ most greatly from nature at night, when lighting literally highlights the buildings’ existence and statement against the darkness. It is at night that urban environments live in their grandest moments; it is a night that the city becomes alive; it is at night that the urban becomes so dramatically different from the suburban. At night the BOTANITROPE will participate in the most magnificent skyline on earth. The night of electric lights will bring attention to the botanical greatness of BOTANITROPE.

100% recycled materials, landscape design, theatrical sensibility, a pulley elevator system, and robotic control will be used to install BOTANITROPE onto the skin of an existing skyscraper. BOTANITROPE takes advantage of the remaining dimensions of the city and re-invigorates it with a sense of the chaos of the forest and the jungle while providing a reconnection with nature that is not confined to the building residents. Much like the magical village Brigadoon, BOTANITROPE’s appearance at a given floor will delight, but its arrival or disappearance will be a mystery that adds liveliness to the perfunctory work day.

The window washing-inspired structure will be engineered to facilitate all vertical movement with minimal energy expenditure – the two-unit structure allows each garden unit to act as a counter-weight for the other and allow economical movement of the gardens. Live motion control software written in Max/MSP/Jitter will control and randomly design the position of the BOTANITROPE pair, robotically controlling the vertical positions and generating a different surprise location for the garden to visit throughout the day.

Serving as a new type of strategy for establishing green space in an urban/vertical environment, BOTANITROPE investigates the relationship between urban landscapes and garden habitats. BOTANITROPE brings nature and society together by reimaging the environment at the scale of the vertical city.