This article was originally published in February 2019.
Toronto's urban canopy is already home to over 10 million trees, which currently envelops 26% of the city's surface area. Mayor John Tory, however, has bigger plans for Ontario's capital; he wants to transform Toronto into a waking ecological metropolis. A local architecture firm, Brisbin Brook Beynon, is helping Tory achieve his goal, in a very cool, but unconventional manner.
The firm will construct a 27-floor "vertical forest", inspired by the Bosco Verticale-residential towers in Milan, constructed in 2014 and home to 11,000 plants that line the sides of the buildings.
Toronto's version of the vertical forest may be standing as early as late 2020, proving that green space is not confined to the ground. When lead architect Brian Brisbin began conceptualizing how to bring the mayor's vision of increased tree coverage to life, he learned that all of the technology that allowed the Milanese Bosco Verticale to function actually originated in Canada and North America.
Since their development, numerous copycat buildings have popped up around the world, highlighting the fact that the buildings' exceptional designs are multi-purpose, and are intended to facilitate the global eco-fight against pollution.
According to Brisbin, "We have a lot of depth of specialty in this area in Toronto, with horticultural and agricultural universities and research facilities,” he says, “and we’ve brought a lot of together to take a very science-based approach to developing this project.”
The team in charge of the research and construction of Toronto's newest green highrise includes the Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto, Robert Wright, as well as researchers from the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, a facility that specializes in the viability of tree species in urban areas.
Vanden Bussche Irrigation, which develops horticultural technology, has also contributed its expertise to the project. Together, they created a new system to monitor and irrigate all 450 trees, which are all currently growing offsite at a nursery just outside of the city.
The trees will eventually be evenly distributed throughout the building's exterior and will be directly connected to an integrated monitoring system that measures water volumes, nutrient densities, and external conditions that affect the plant life.
According to Wright, “We have this saying that there’s no management without metrics." A dedicated maintenance team will navigate throughout the numerous balconies, managing the trees' care, especially as Toronto encounters extreme weather variability - winter's freezing temperatures and summer's scorching heat and humidity could have detrimental effects on the trees' growth.
Wright has claimed that "This is a crucial task across the whole city of Toronto’s urban forestry efforts, but the height of the vertical forest compounds the urgency...It’s one thing if a branch drops 20 feet to the ground, and quite another for one to drop 200 feet off a balcony."
Although covering high rises with trees will not allow metropolitan cities like Toronto to meet its urban canopy goals all on its own, these types of projects undeniably deliver benefits to the surrounding region. For example, cleaner air and more space for birds and pollinator species facilitate more mainstream green infrastructure projects, as a result.
Toronto has already made tremendous efforts in preserving the presence of greenery by adopting "green roof" projects throughout the city, and according to Brisbin, a project like the vertical forest may represent "a sustainable microclimate between these horizontal green spaces on roofs and on the ground” and direct pollinator species between the two.