When the sky is not the limit

Is it possible to combine the convenience of apartment city-living with the benefits of a house in the 'burbs: greenery at your doorstep, a pool out the back?

Apparently so, with a new generation of high-rises boasting a built-in connection to nature.

Check out Milan's amazing Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), designed by Boeri Studio. The cantilevered balconies that extend around the perimeter of its two apartment buildings have been designed to host 480 larger trees, 50 smaller ones, 11,000 groundcover plants and 5,000 shrubs.

The team of architects and botanists claim this will be the equivalent of a hectare of forest.

It's a tall order for the trees that have already been craned onto the first three levels of the 26-storey and 18-storey towers. They are intended to provide shade in summer while in winter their bare branches should allow sunlight to penetrate the interiors. They are also expected to absorb the city's pollution, with irrigation supplied through the filtering and reuse of the building's grey water.

“The plants have been specially grown and cultivated to acclimatise to the conditions on the facades,” the architects say, although one can't but help wonder how well they will thrive in this harsh environment.

If it's that rectangular patch of blue you hanker for, take a look at the proposed Sky Condos, designed by Mexico's' DCPP architects for Peru. Still in concept form, the luxurious, 20-storey tower features 8-metre by 3.5-metre off-the-wall pools that appear like giant-sized diving boards.

“We wanted to get away from the traditional tower,” say architects Pablo Perez and Alfonso de la Concha. “Instead of piling up a series of identical apartments that lack exterior spaces, the apartments have dynamism.”

While definitely out-there, this project isn't as fantastical as the Parinee ISM, designed by Hong Kong-based James Law Cybertecture for Mumbai. A futuristic, 140-metre residential tower, each of its 64 infinity-edge balcony pools are planned to extend vertiginously right to the edge.


But what if it's not the garden or pool that you would miss if you opted for apartment living? What about your four-wheeled pride and joy? No need for separation anxiety at Hayden Properties' Hamilton Scotts, a 30-storey high-rise in upmarket Orchard Road, Singapore. A glass lift elevates cars to their own sky garage. From the comfort of their living room, residents can keep an admiring and watchful eye on their vehicular companion, showcased in its glass-walled en suite garage.

“This idea marries the benefits of landed property and high-rise living,” says the chief executive, Leny Suparman. Not surprisingly, getting up close and personal with your car doesn't come cheap – apartment prices start at $7.5 million.

Should residents wish to venture down from their eyrie, they'll soon be able to crack open the bubbly at the swish bar inside one of the 18 artificial “Supertrees” designed by Grant Associates for Singapore's Gardens By The Bay complex.

With trunks featuring a vertical display of tropical flowering climbers, the “trees” come alive at night with lighting and projected media.

Nearby, residents of Singapore's The Ritz-Carlton Residences might like to while away some time wandering around their manicured maze garden. The complex of 56 uptown apartments and two penthouses was completed late last year.

So is anything similar happening on home turf? Australians are enthusiastically following the trend for apartments that are more than vacuum-sealed boxes. The 2012 Husqvarna Global Garden Report studied more than 4,500 homeowners in nine countries. Of the 540 Australians surveyed, 65 per cent said that they were willing to pay more for a property if it was near a green space.

The traditional notion of green space is changing. Previously dead areas are morphing into gardens. Roofs are ripe for the picking. An early adopter was the 3000 square-metre communal roof parkland designed by Daniel Baffsky of 360 Degrees Landscape Architects for M Central apartments in Pyrmont. It's a let-go-of-stress spot for socialising, walking dogs or relaxing in the “secret” lawn spaces which are concealed among swathes of native grasses.

The traditional backyard is also being brought to the inner city, reincarnated as a vertical garden on the sides of apartment blocks.

The French botanist Patrick Blanc – renowned for his vertical green walls – created a spectacular 33-metre high living artwork from native plants on the side of Frasers Property Australia's Trio residential development in Camperdown.

Besides cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the plants provide a shield between the building's inhabitants and the outside elements. Loggias with adjustable louvre screens on the units also add value.

The business consultant Diana Blake and actuary Ian Brown paid $1.36 million for a 268 square-metre penthouse. “We love the indoor-outdoor [loggia] concept but what sealed the deal for us was our private rooftop terrace,” Blake says.

Most recently, Blanc has worked with the Parisian architect Jean Nouvel and PTW Architects for Frasers/Sekisui House Australia's spectacular One Central Park development in Sydney. It forms part of the 5.8-hectare Central Park precinct in Chippendale.

The facades of its two towers, which contain 623 apartments, will be screens of green, featuring vertical green wall panels and plants spilling from planter boxes and creeping along cables.

Landscaped, terraced levels will extend from the towers down into surrounding parkland. A rooftop garden will boast different “garden rooms”, outdoor spas, barbecue facilities, tables and seating.

Also in the pipeline are other sky-high gardens designed to bring the outside in. For Payce's East Village at Victoria Park, Hassell landscape architects have designed Sky Park 18 metres above street level. A backyard on steroids, it will contain barbecues, sheltered pods, lawn areas, and even a mini orchard and vegie patches.

Hassell's Angus Bruce says: “The value of the outdoor area has increased the ability to sell the apartments at a value beyond basic amenity and aesthetics.”

That all goes to prove that green space and high rise are not mutually exclusive.