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LUXURY NOW / THE CALL OF NATURE / URBAN UTOPIA

High rise horticulture puts a spring in the step of the city's flourishing architectural scene.

Modern architects take a tip from nature as outdoor spaces and vernal backdrops top the criteria among today's urban dwellers.

More than half of the world's population are city dwellers. Hailed as "the urban era" experts predict the figure will rise to more than 75% during this century. To accommodate the massive migration, former sprawling low-level towns are being transformed into towering metropolises. While previous generations enjoyed the personal retreat of their own backyard, Corbusier's high-rise housing solution of the early 20th century has not only reinvented the urban landscape, it has changed the lives of today's city dwellers.

As outdoors becomes the new indoors, a retreat beyond the city limits has become the solution for many as urbanites flee to the open spaces of country homes, but as lack of time and fuel resources become increasing clear and present dangers of the 21st century, architects and urban planners are addressing the need for green spaces in innovative new ways. Geometric cantilevered structures, such as Chad Oppenheim's Cube in Miami's Design District and Santiago Calatrava's South Street 80 in Manhattan are already tipped as becoming the cities' most desirable addresses, despite the fact that both are still under construction. As each gravity-defying cube of what is being hailed as an architectural opus of New York's new skyline looks out to its own private infinity pool and massive outdoor terrace, you can't help but wonder; who needs the Hamptons?

In Paris, French botanist and artist Patrick Blanc has been creating Babylonian style vegetal wonders for over two decades. From the courtyard walls of the Pershing Hall hotel, to the vertical jungle that adorns the façade of Jean Nouvel's Musee Quai Branly, he has created countless living masterpieces - both home and abroad - that have inspired architects worldwide to incorporate lush verdant spaces into the most oppidan developments. Though botanical tableaux such as Blanc's are aesthetically stunning and commercially alluring, such green initiatives are more than a horticultural showcase commissioned by savvy marketers.

According to landscape architect Xavier Loup, there are three factors behind the flurry of urban foliage; commerce, eco-awareness and wellbeing. Jean Marie Massaud's ongoing Life Reef condominium project in Guadalajara is the perfect case in point. Through layered levels interspersed with plant life that flourishes all year round in the temperate climate, Massaud aims to create the ultimate high-rise haven. "The towers look alive, like a tree or a reef, so you don't feel enclosed. The way that it is laid out, you don't see your neighbour, which is quite comfortable. Through this alternative way of thinking I'm trying to make the experience a pleasure." Says the architect, who also hopes that his project will change the current mindset of the region, inspiring local developers to think vertically rather than horizontally.

Organisations such as Green Roofs for Healthy Cities – North America share similar hopes of change. Each year the Association acknowledges the most abundant roofs of cities throughout the United States. Although the environmental and social benefits of green roofs have long been recognised in parts of Europe such as Germany, France and Switzerland, in the States the concept has been slow to catch on. Green roof systems not only turn redundant space into areas of beauty, away from the bustling streets below, they have been proven to improve the building's insulation, bringing energy costs down. In China the world's first eco-city (planned for 2010) developed by UK engineering giant Arup will boast green roofs throughout, which, again, will offer public and private spaces in addition to outstanding eco credentials. As land for development within the world's most cramped cities becomes scarce, for planners and architects the only way is up.

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