Article Wednesday, June 8, 2022
“Green, I love you green / Green wind. Green branches. / The ship on the sea / and the horse on the mountain,” sang Lorca, the most universal Spanish poet. He was terrified of that cold, skyscraper-strewn, gray, cruel New York. The artist wanted to feel the breeze, the moon, the stars, the lilies, and the jasmines. That is why his work is impossible to separate from nature. It is impossible to think today of a future without it. Life, greenery, vegetation, orchards, natural textures, and so on. This is the goal of those who advocate for cities to stop being glass jungles and opt to become natural, also known as naturation, a process that seeks to incorporate vegetation into urban spaces to cushion the existing imbalance between urbanization and the environment. Lorca would have been fascinated.
“Introducing nature as a building element is one of the most interesting tools in architecture today. Today, naturation is an exciting area of research that will bear spectacular fruit in terms of improving environmental quality and the way urban space is better inhabited,” says Joaquín Sicilia, architect and member of Pronatur, the Spanish Society for the Promotion of Urban and Rural Naturation.
Lungs for the city
The operation is simple. Plants naturally absorb solar radiation through photosynthesis using chlorophyll—they convert CO2 into oxygen—and moderating the environment by raising the humidity in the air. In this way, they facilitate the creation of conventional currents that renew the atmosphere and that, when properly placed in asphalt landscapes as vegetation covers, would make it possible to put an end to the well-known heat plumes and, consequently, to pollution. It is estimated that one square meter of vegetation cover produces the oxygen needed by one person in a whole year.
Another phenomenon that arises from painting roofs green is the increase in biodiversity and the reduction of noise pollution. Again, this green surface would trap up to 130 grams of dust in one year and reduce bothersome urban noise by 8 to 10 dB.
In addition, the effect of plant cover also provides a powerful response to temperature extremes. Vegetation can regulate and reduce the ambient temperature of cities by up to 5°C, since green (plant life) absorbs 50% of sunlight and reflects 30%. The energy savings from thermal insulation, both in summer and winter, can be added to this. As if these benefits were not enough for the ever-growing metropolises, where the temperature has risen more than 1.5 degrees on average due to climate change and the heat island effect, “we must consider the emotional aspect, the feeling of wellbeing, stress reduction, and the improvement of the landscape that greenery implies,” says Sicilia. It is not only health, it is also tranquility.
The vertical garden of the Caixa Forum on Madrid's Paseo de Recoletos; the Santander Ciudad Financiera, with 137,000 m2 of green space; the Wellington Hotel in Madrid, which boasts one of the largest urban gardens in the world on the roof of its building; the Vivers Ter installation in the Tabacalera building in Tarragona; the courtyard of the Hotel Mercure de Madrid Santo Domingo, with one of the largest hanging gardens on the planet, and the Torre de Cristal in Madrid headquarters of the professional services firm KPMG, with a facade on whose dome hides a real garden above, a green lung with more than 24,000 species. These are some examples of this healthy way of building. However, green roofs are still mostly stories in Spain.
Because, although the idea of putting a plant cover on the facades and roofs of cities is in the plans of municipalities such as Madrid and Barcelona, there is a lack of political will, according to experts. They advocate that fiscal incentives and public tenders, in which plant covers are seen as an investment in the city, could be the way forward. In France and Denmark, for example, all roofs of newly constructed buildings are required to be fully or partially covered with some type of vegetation. Because greening our facades means we must insulate the walls and waterproof in a special way, but everyone’s health is at stake, and it is becoming increasingly evident that desert begets desert... And green begets green. “It's the intelligence of nature," says Marina Garcia, an expert in installing rooftop gardens. It is bringing logic to our growth. It is the green of Lorca and the cry to these inhumane cities.
“I denounce all the people / who ignore the other half, / the irredeemable half / who raise their concrete mountains / where the hearts beat / of the little animals that are forgotten. / (...) There is a world of broken rivers and ungraspable distances / In the paw of that cat / Broken by the automobile, / And I hear the song of the worm / In the heart of many girls...”, sang the writer in 'Office and denunciation, New York'.