Vertical Landscapes

The Text “Vertical Landscapes” by Ignacio Montaldo, has been published the book “Interdiscipline and Sustainable Development. Sustainability in Architecture and Urbanism: Conceptualization and application of sustainability criteria in the built habitat”. Compiled and Edited by Silvia de Schiller, Dra Arq. Wolkowicz Editores. Buenos Aires November 2019. CIHE Editions. Habitat and Energy Research Center. Investigations Secretariat. Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism of the University of Buenos Aires.



One of the concepts developed in this paper is the understanding about the origin of the high-rise building construction as a system capable of multiplying the ground and, together with it, the relationships that imply itself in terms of inside-outside, artificial-natural, public-private, street-housing. This way to understand the high-rise building construction allows us to review the relation of the building with the street and the public space, and the relation of the interior use with the gardens and the squares. The concept of Vertical Landscape opens the possibility to create new and different exchange relationships with the environment.


Landscape, Gardens, Skyscrapers, public space, passive air-conditioning, Power, Environment.


The general consensus considers that the world urban population in practical terms will be doubled by the year 2050, a fact that poses urban development as one of the most life-changing trends for the 21st. century. The populations, the economic activities, the social and cultural interactions as well as the humanitarian and environmental effects are focused more than ever on the cities. It is within this context that the interest is put on thinking the city growth and its densification starting from the architecture, searching new forms of design that redefine the relation between architecture and environment. Densification of the high-rise-built city becomes of great interest as a way to solve the habitat construction due to the economic trouble to sustain a sprawled and scarcely dense city and the devastation of the territory that produces the expansion of the city towards the fringe areas. Density and high-rise building is one of the possibilities to focus on supporting rational infrastructure, more efficient and economic, and to solve the mobility with clean means of transport, etc.

In this context there is no doubt that it is not possible to think the high-rise construction of the compact city in a way different from one that does not start from the thought of a city which can grow in the same vertical direction, public space and nature.

Thus we can understand high-rise construction, not as tall and big buildings, but as “indefinite multiplication of the ground”, an infrastructure for the high-rise multiplication of the city, of its public and private spaces, of its closed spaces and its natural spaces. A way to provide shelter and comfort to the different activities of people, shaping a new habitat, embracing inner and outer spaces, the construction of a new nature by way of “hanging-in-the-air gardens”. That is, conceiving high-rise construction as the city construction, considering it as a public space without interruption from the first floor, the construction of streets in the air which organize the different programs and uses also producing apart from the accesses, meeting places for encounters and socialization of people.

The idea de vertical landscaping is a way to name the incorporation of public spaces in the development of high-rise building, that add organic matter with the introduction of plantation and vegetation with which the regulation of selective-non selective cross-ventilation is possible as well as to collaborate with sun control, and also generate an ecosystem which contributes to the passive thermal and power conditioning of the building.

This paper intends to analyze several cases of constructed or designed buildings, where the incorporation of vertical landscapes in the building helps the environmental development and the power efficiency of the Project and redefine a way to understand the relation between architecture and nature in the city.


“At the time of stairs, all the stories above the second one were considered inappropriate for commercial uses; and above the fifth one, uninhabitable. In Manhattan, from the 1870 decade the elevator has been the great emancipating element of all the horizontal surfaces located above the first floor … In the early 1880’s, the elevator meets the steel structure, capable to sustain the territories recently discovered, even without her occupying space. Thanks to the mutual reinforcement of these two advances, any given plot may then multiply indefinitely to produce that proliferation of useful surface referred to as skyscrapers”. Koolhaas, “Delirious Nueva York”, 2004.

In the book “Delirious New York. A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan”, written by the architect Rem Koolhas in the year 1978, an illustration appeared made by a caricaturist for a “Life” magazine in the year 1909. Koolhaas sees in this comic strip a theorem that describes the ideal operation of a skyscraper, and he calls it “1909 Theorem”.




“A slender steel construction supports 84 horizontal stories, all of them being the size of the original lot. Each one of these artificial levels is dealt with as a virgin lot, as if the other ones do not exist, in order to establish on it a strictly private environment around a unique country house and its ancillary spaces … The use of each lot may never be known prior to its construction. The villages can be raised and thrown down, other facilities can replace them, but this will not affect the framework.” Koolhaas, “Delirious Nueva York”, 2004.

One of the concepts developed in this paper is the understanding about the origin of the high-rise building construction as a system capable of multiplying the ground and, together with it, the relationships that imply itself in terms of inside-outside, artificial-natural, public-private, street-house, empty-complete. This way to understand the high-rise building construction allows us to review the relation of the building with the street and the public space, and the relation of the interior use with the gardens and the squares, which now will be able to structure the different programs from different points and heights within the inhabited structure. From this approach, a possibility is opened to generate diverse exchange relations with the environment from these spaces in several points of the structure.

¿Can this artificial outer space shape a way of climatic and environmental relation of the inner with the outer spaces, be it by means of gardens, greenhouses or another type of devices?



In 1922 Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeaneret design the Immeuble-Villa “as a new formula of a building for a big city. Each apartment is a small house with a garden, located at a height no-matter-how tall above the street …” Boesiger, Girsberger, Le Corbusier 1910-65, 1971.

Le Corbusier names them hanging gardens, where he mentions with special emphasis the presence of “Trees and flowers around the yard, in the street and in the hanging gardens…” Boesiger, Girsberger, Le Corbusier 1910-65, 1971. While the project determines a great amount of activities which being produced inside the house can be taken to collective spaces, (this group of houses in the air has a great quantity of centralized services, such as the cleaning service, water treatment, food shopping, etc.) The aerial gardens, of private use for each house, show the importance of the outer spaces and the landscape inside the room, not only as a place from where to view, but also as a space of outdoor activities, related to physical activity, sun and pure air access.






In 1952 Alison and Peter Smithson design a housing group, “Golden Lane”, for the competition organized by the London City Corporation. What is interesting in this Project for this paper is the idea of the corridor, of the horizontal circulation at the different access heights, realized as “a street on the air”. In this case it is no longer an internal circulation of the building, but there is an idea taken to (different) heights, that of the street in the first floor, of the public space, of the city. Then the corridor is oversized for the minimal requirements that the regulations fix, so as to turn this space of functional connection into a public space, a meeting and enjoyment space for all the community of the group inhabitants. The oversizing is compensated because from this “corridor street” there is access to the houses in different levels through the stairs. The group density is 500 inhab/Ha. (In Buenos Aires we can cite the housing group called Barrio Juan XXIII, in Flores, City of Buenos Aires, Work of the Architect Juan Molinos, built in 1967. Project planned with one access street in three levels in between.)

“The program planned the realization of the major quantity of houses possible, attending to types of differentiated dimensions, with place for two, three and four people. For that purpose we proposed three levels of outdoor streets, and we called platforms each one of them. On each platform an adequate number of persons -90 families- must live so as to be finally a social entity and the outdoor streets would turn in this way into places with their own identity …

In opposition to their unique height, the intersections have a triple height that invites to remain and let time elapse… All the houses entrance doors open to the platform, and that is the reason why their main rooms meet in levels above or below it. If not all, the majority have gardens-backyards, visible from the platform, which move to it the life of the current home –gardening, cleaning of the bicycle, carpentry, doves, children’s play areas, etc. The absolute insertion of the gardens-yard dilutes the blind-wall effect, which is usual in the blocks longitudinal to the use and produces vignettes of life and sky in constant change….”

Vidotto, Alison & Peter Smithson, 1996. P34.






The National Commercial Bank is a project of the studio-group SOM (Skidmore, Owings / Merril) -the main architect in charge of the project was Gordon Bunshtafy- and it was developed between the years 1977 and 1979. Designed to be used as the corporative headquarters of the bank, it was asked by the National Real State Company and built between 1979 and 1983 by the Samwhan Corporation of Korea. Covered a total area of 56,300 m2 plus 15,000 m2 for parking and developed on a plot of 11,700 m2. It is situated in Jeddah, a city on the east side of Red Sea, at North latitude 21,5.

The building is located on the mouth of Al Manqabah lake, limiting to the east to King Abdul Aziz Street and to the west to Corniche street. Part of the building is directly connected to the water. The Project is planned through an office tower with an almost-60-degrees triangular plant, an equilateral triangle, with 27 stories, and a building with a 6-story circular plant designed for a parking lot. The climate is warm and humid, temperature can rise to 40ºC in summer and a 90/95% humidity. The prevailing wind blows from the west, from the sea, but occasionally it can blow from the east, coming from the desert. The project is framed as a building which hides from the sun, the dust, the radiance and the heat, obtaining the most natural lighting, as much as possible, and views to both sides of the Red Sea coast. To that end this compact triangular building is designed as an inverted-inside glass building with yards and hanging gardens. According to the designers the Project is the combination of two typologies, the modern office building with a free flexible plant, and the Arabian architecture of a yard with solid walls to the outside.

The building was founded on reinforced concrete piles. The main structure is made of steel covering 15-meter spans and Steel deck-type or collaborative plate floor slabs. In the outside surface, the finishes are Roman travertine with matte finishing and glass in grey color. The refrigeration system is solved with three 750TN Ref chillers each one and with a fan room in each story. The power installation counts with a 600kw emergency generator, capable to operate 60% of the total building in case of line drops. The sanitary installation has a water storage capacity able to operate during 5 days in case of failure in the provision; the tank also works as a storage container before fires. The estimated power consumption is 4150 BTU/M2 per year.

Regarding the climatic aspects, the building was solved a design in which the glazed facades do not have direct sun incidence. The solid outer walls have high thermal insulation and their surfaces are reflective. The natural ventilation of the inner space takes place by means of the hanging gardens producing ascending currents that contribute to the ventilation. The green gardens help the evaporation through the vegetation and the irrigation water.






The Commerzbank Tower, project of Foster & Partners architecture studio-group, the engineering of Ove Arup & Partners, and landscape design in charge of Sommerland & Partners, is a 53-story tower reaching 298 meter-high, situated in the city of Frankfurt, Germany, which counts with a total area of 120,736 m2. The Project is from 1991 and the construction ended in 1997.

According to the designers, the Commerzbank is the first ecologic office tower in the world; its main structure was made of steel, and it was the highest building in Europe at the time. From the vertical spiral-like atrium with vertical gardens working as greenhouses, the design explores a new nature in the office environment. By means of these greenhouse-gardens, each office has natural illumination and ventilation through feasible windows which every user can open or close to achieve his/her thermal comfort. The triangular shape and central atrium make up an area of negative pressure that drives the natural ventilation through the building. The vertical gardens have crystal enclosures which work as greenhouses, closing in winter in order to produce thermal benefits and opening in summer to make the ventilation easy through the central atrium. According to the designers the results are power consumption levels equivalent to half the levels of a current office tower. ( From the usage, these vertical gardens produce meeting points, places for lunch and relax for the office users. The building was designed to be ventilated naturally during 60% of the whole year, with the hanging gardens allowing the natural ventilation during the hot season. In this way the power consumption reduces up to a 50% compared to an air-conditioning office.

The cooling is provided through cold roofs, while the heating is through perimeter heating. The windows are connected to BMS in order to assure that the mechanic ventilation only operates when the windows are closed. The artificial illumination is connected to movement sensors and temporizing devices. It is interesting to note that, even when the tower became a new landmark in Frankfurt sky, the Project is very sensitive when arriving to the tower baseboard anchoring to the low-scale scheme of the city, by means of the restoration and completeness of the existent scheme of the first floor. These buildings offer shops, parking lots, housings, and help to relate the tower to the city.






This is the proposal of the Argentinian studio-group Bares architects, (Enrique Bares, Federico Bares, Nicolas Bares, Florencia Shnack, Paula Ahets), which won the second prize in the public housing competition Duxton Plain Housing Complex in Singapore, organized by the Ministry of National Development, Singapore in 2002. The proposal consists of two 52-story towers reaching 170 mt high each one, and a total area of 200,000 m2 built on a plot of 25,000 m2.

The authors posed the proposal as a space that allows the construction of a better relation between the (human) nature and the (cultural) environment. A new space to live. The proposal consists of the construction of two free-plant towers with fifty-two stories high settled on a public park. Zero level becomes a natural extension of the park Duxton Plain and it turns into a multi-program space that incorporates and extends the green tissue in connection to the city. Each tower is developed from a vertical spiral-like atrium with vertical gardens which work as public squares and divide the building in seven modules which the authors call communities. Thus, a house will never be more than six-story higher from the public square, where it is possible to have a relation with the “zero level”. These public squares have big holes in the perimeter which allow the light access and the necessary supplying ventilation to the housing apartments.

The rainfall is collected in the roof and it is conducted to descend slowly to the different levels of the public squares/gardens. Since the climate in the area is hot, the public spaces with gardens are appraised together with the shadows and good ventilation.







This corporate office tower for the Argentinian company YPF is situated on Macacha Güemes y Juana Manso, Dique 3 in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was designed by the studio-group of the Argentinian Cesar Pelli, based in New Heaven, director of Pelli, Clarke, Pelli, Architects office. In Buenos Aires the Works management was in charge of Arturo Beccar Varela, Arch., the construction was performed by Criba S.A. company, and the structure calculation was realized by Leslie E. Robertson Assoc. from USA and Alberto Hugo Fainstein, Eng. from Argentina. It was designed in 2000 and built between 2005 and 2008.

The 44-story tower reaching 160 mt. high was built on a plot of 8,500 m2 and has a total built area of 75,000 m2 with a 1,600 m2 type-plant and a nuclear area that occupies 18.75% of the plant. The structural system is reinforced concrete with 15 cm. technic floors and 45 cm. free above the ceiling for the wire-cable layings. The building has a winter garden that shapes an atrium in the west-oriented building perimeter. This space extends from the 26th. to the 31st. story and consists of two jacaranda trees and guadua chacoensis canes which are found in the north of Argentina. The landscape project was in charge of Diana Balmori &Associates. In the case of the YPF tower, the use of the resource of a high winter garden seems to be used more as a way to create a powerful referential milestone in the urban skyline, than as a resource to help the environmental and energy control of the project. The designers pose the usage of the garden resource as a visual attraction. During an interview in November 2005, published in the paper Clarin, Cesar Pelli comments: “The garden is … a visual attraction … which is a symbol of the company concern about ecology”.

The building structure is reinforced concrete without girders. The floor slabs are supported by seventeen perimeter columns and ribbon girders. In the enclosure a glass curtain wall is used covering an area of 22,000 m2. Technical mezzanines, 15 cm. high and full ceilings, 45 cm. high were created for wire-cable layings. The glass used in the winter garden area is transparent with flapping-leaf elements, allowing the replacement of the trees if necessary. These elements remain closed. A compensated pressure system of curtain wall was used, where the staunchness is not achieved through a sealing but through mechanic embedding system.

The trees were planted in big pots, 2.30 m. diameter and 1.85m. high, made of 5mm.–thick stainless steel. With the aim to introduce the trees in the building –and in the event to replace them-, the skin of the winter garden will have flapping-leaf elements, which will even so remain closed in a permanent way. “In order to maintain the species in their natural state several air-conditioning resources will be used”, Bovis Lend Lease, the project management company, explains.






BOESIGER, W. GIRSBERGER, H.; “Le Corbusier 1910-65”. Ed. GG. Barcelona. 6ta Ed. 1998.

KOOLHAAS, REM; “Delirio de Nueva York. Ed. GG. Barcelona. 1ra ed. Castellna. 2004.

VIDOTTO, MARCO: “Alison & Peter Smithson” Ed. GG. Barcelona. 1996.

YEANG, KEN; “The Skyscraper Bio-climatically Considered” A Design Primer, Wiley-AcademyGroup Ltd., London, UK. 1996.