One Central Park. Photo: Murray Fredericks

One of the tiny dilemmas for us apartment dwellers is how far to go with our balconies, our way to show our personalities to the neighbours and the world. A hardy Yucca plant maybe. A few pots with flowering plants. Or no greenery, just furniture for us or the fur kids. Architects are increasingly helping with our decision making by turning the outside of apartment blocks into vertical gardens. And Australia is part of the push.

One Central Park in Sydney has led the way with the tallest vertical garden in the world, rising over 1100 square metres down one side of Frasers Property’s 33-storey tower in Chippendale. It’s hydroponic and soil-less, and its 38,000 plants of 350 different species grow, sprout, flower and change colour with the seasons.

In 2014, it was named the Best Tall Building in the World by the global Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. But there is now a massive green swathe of new treescrapers being designed around the world.

“Ten to 15 years ago, it used to be called ‘parsley around the pig’ but now it’s not just there for decoration, it’s an important part of the building. And the sky’s the limit, literally.”says Daniel Bennett, national president of The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

Bosco Verticale under construction
Bosco Vertical when finished








In both Europe and Asia, the treescraper is beginning to take off. In Italy, the Bosco Verticale, Milan, won the 2015 top building award, with the two towers planted with 900 trees, 11,000 plants and 5000 shrubs from the start of the design.

Architect Stefano Boeri is now working on another apartment project in Lausanne, Switzerland; a building which will have 100 cedar trees over 36 levels, aptly named Tour des Cedres, or Cedars Tower.

Matt Dillon, the president of Green Roofs Australasia says the catchword today is “biophilia” – the extent to which humans are hard-wired to nature. “If we increase vegetation in our cities, we increase biophilia and with that comes biophilic design to incorporate nature into our buildings.”

Advantages include mitigating urban heat from so many hard surfaces and improving insulation to reduce energy use, air quality – capturing dangerous air particulates from pollution – and biodiversity. In addition, it can reduce noise for apartment residents and stormwater run-off.

Rising like an overgrown Inca pyramid out of downtown Fukuoka, the 14-story ACROS building was designed by Argentine architect Emilio Ambasz.
Each level reveals natural wonders normally found in the forest, from glossy ponds to waterfalls.
The entire project contains more than 50,000 plants and trees.
On the way to the top visitors pass through a vast atrium, which extends into a semicircle of glass paneling. OK, it’s not an apartment block but inside are exhibition spaces, shops, offices and a symphony hall.
Future Shinzen – Like something out of Avatar

In China’s Shenzhen, there are plans for five futuristic non-linear towers by Vincent Callebaut, planted on every level with trees, while in Chongqing, there’s Urban Forest by MAD, also thickly vegetated with trees.


In Australia, we’re starting more slowly with plants and shrubbery, graduating on to incorporating trees into design.

In Melbourne, there’s Illura, the low-rise development close to the CBD, with green walls, trees and shrubs.

“They have a great sense of identity, of home and of address,” says Daved Lambert, director of developers Manhattan Hanson.



Coming up soon will be the high-rise Tower Residences in Waterloo, from environa studio, Collins and Turner, with developer JQZ. Its 20-storey facade will be punctuated by internal planting and green lobbies at every level, which provide natural ventilation and leafy outlooks, while there’s also a large communal roof terrace with an organic vegetable garden.

“Backyards are now being replaced by rooftop gardens and balcony gardens,” says Tone Wheeler, of environa studio. “People like Indira Naidoo are now encouraging them to be used for growing vegetables.”

Currently, Sydney has more than 100,000 square metres of elevated grass and plants, an area the equivalent size of more than 230 basketball courts. It now receives one new development application a week for a green roof or wall on a building.

Senior landscape designer with company Secret Gardens Robbert Finnie says roofs are seen as increasingly valuable spaces. “So greening those roofs is a trend that’s definitely going to continue,” he says.

Ok, I’m feeling overwhelmed by biophilia… it’s time to grow some sage on my balcony and get myself a beehive!

This article was previously published in


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