Milan’s skyline to add another ‘mutant building’ covered in plants

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This image shows how the development in Milan, Italy, could look once complete.

From its cavernous medieval cathedral to the elegant beauty of La Scala, the Italian city of Milan is home to some of the world’s most interesting buildings.

While the aforementioned structures date back hundreds of years — La Scala was inaugurated in 1778 and work began on the cathedral in the late 14th century — Milan also boasts a broad range of modern architecture.

These include towering skyscrapers serving major firms such as UniCredit and Allianz as well as the iconic San Siro soccer stadium.

If all goes to plan, the city will soon add another striking development to its skyline. At the end of January it was announced that Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Stefano Boeri Architetti had won an architectural competition to redevelop the Pirelli 39 tower and area surrounding it.

Their proposal involves modernizing the existing structure and building an entirely new residential tower. The design for the latter includes 1,700 square meters of vegetation that will, if images of the design are fully realized, be spread across its façade from tip to toe.

According to a statement published by investment and asset management firm COIMA SGR, the building’s “flora and fauna” will change color with the seasons and absorb 14 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year while at the same time generating 9 tons of oxygen.

The tower will also integrate 2,770 square meters of solar panels, which it’s claimed will help meet 65% of its energy needs. In a bid to reduce CO2 emissions during the building’s construction, 1,800 cubic meters of wood will be used on its floors.

The above plans closely resemble another project in the city also designed by Stefano Boeri. The Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, is a development of two towers standing 80 and 112 meters tall.

According to Boeri’s architecture practice, the buildings’ “green curtain” can generate oxygen, regulate humidity and absorb carbon dioxide and microparticles.

In a previous interview with CNBC, Boeri described the Bosco Verticale as a “mutant building,” a term which gives an insight into how urban environments could, in the years ahead, integrate artificial design and nature.   

From London to Paris and Madrid to New York, the notion of covering buildings with flowers, plants and associated greenery is beginning to gain traction as municipal authorities attempt to improve air quality and create environments that encourage nature.

The importance of electrification and new ways of thinking

The exteriors of buildings may be changing, but if the world we live in is to become more sustainable, their interiors will also need to undergo a systemic shift focused on decarbonization.

At a panel discussion moderated by CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick last month, this point was hammered home by Jan du Plessis, chairman of telecoms giant BT.

“The one issue we haven’t yet cracked, and nobody wants to talk about, is the problem of domestic heating,” he said.

“I’m going to be quite outspoken,” he added. “We have to get rid of gas boilers, we have to get rid of these fossil fuel boilers, gas and oil in the homes.”

Acknowledging that he didn’t have the answer to achieve such an ambition, du Plessis did state that the solution would be connected to electrification.

This, he admitted, would pose its own challenges, especially if renewables were to become mainstays of electricity generation going forward.

“As the electricity industry is changing, as the supply is changing towards renewables, we’re going to have to become smart and more flexible on the other side of the equation in terms of how we use electricity,” he said.



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