For the last few years, "put a tree on it" seems to be the unofficial rallying cry of architects—never mind the problematic logistics behind growing plants on tall buildings. Still, firms insist on mocking up sylvan skyscrapers that may never get built as designed. Jean Nouvel, however, has actually completed an 18-story tower in Cyprus that manages to get greenery right.
The building features open balconies on the north side to give its residents sweeping views of the city, while the eastern and western facades feature terraces that are partially enclosed by an architectural screen to offer some protection from high winds—a major problem for growing plants high above the ground. This move protects plants from the worst gusts, and also protects people using the gardens, but provides the air and light they need to thrive.
Nouvel, working with local firm Takis Sophocleous Architects, designed square cutouts of various sizes into the walls, giving the facade a pixelated look. Once the plants are strong enough, the cut-outs offer room for them to expand. Unruly and lush plants and vines explode from the internal gardens, offsetting the austere white expanse of the facade and proving that the concept leads to very robust botanicals. This is more than slapping a tree on the top of a skyscraper—it's a sound strategy for integrating the natural and built worlds.
Jean Nouvel has been described as "an architectural genius" and "an egomaniacal sculptor" in the same breath. But this building clearly fits the mold of former description best, thanks to its deft use of plants.