It’s the Swiss national day, so all the shops are shut and the multi-storey carpark at Sihlcity on the outskirts of Zürich is deserted, apart from us, and an idiot in a red Ferrari who is amusing himself screeching around the deserted building – a peculiarly Swiss form of social deviance.
I am with Rudolf Lehmann from the Swiss company, Jakob, who make the steel rope and other support mechanisms for the climbing plants that occasionally appear on contemporary buildings. Zürich is the best place to see them. Many climbers will go well beyond the modest two storey structures of wire and vine eyes timidly put up by gardeners. At Sihlcity, Fallopia baldschuanica and wisteria have already reached the top of a 25m high set of cables at the side of the car park in 4 1/2 years. At another location, a series of apartment buildins, climbers including akebia, celastrus, lonicera and clematis species have romped up 13m in 3 years.
The beneficial environmental effects are considerable, particularly for cooling buildings, all now being shown to have a strong evidence base with research being done at various Germany universities. But to many of us greening the side of a building, especially one which is inherently pretty ugly, like a multi-storey car park, is just a very nice thing to do. Green roofs are often invisible, green walls can make much more visual impact. Perhaps they are part of the landscape architects revenge against the architect, or a softening of the architects love of hard surfaces.
In what might be seen as the ultimate example of the architect turning landscape architect, Rudolf also took me to Futuro Liestal, outside Basel to visit a new office complex. Which I couldn’t see at first, because I appeared to be on gently sloping hill with walkways over it, and occasional green cube buildings. Walking onto the hill I realised I was on top of the building, which was covered in an enormous green roof, apparently contiguous with the surrounding landscape and planted up with dry meadow and dry garden flora. The green boxes housed various lift mechanisms etc, and access to the offices was through them or down stairs – the offices and laboratories etc. opened out onto large landscape courtyards, which of course you look down onto from above. Get it? It is a building turned upside down, instead of a footprint on the landscape with a desert of a roof, this is a building that you go down into from a new landscape. Needless to say it is all designed with maximum sustainability in mind. Utterly revolutionary, wonderful, quite one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen. Oh, and there is a new green wall of climbers running for what feels like several hundred metres along the side.
The next day I took myself off to see the MFO Park, a real favourite, where a giant pergola (35m long, 17m high) has been constructed in a square, to form a new public space. Inside the steel structure, there is a mysterious green light, a bit like that you get in a woodland, and plenty of bird song too. Its an outrageously innovative place – I cannot think of anywhere even remotely like it. A wonderful hint at a new coming together of architecture and horticulture.