Do you remember your childhood dreams? Like many other kids, I wished I could live and play on a very big tree, and then eat and sleep tight in a wooden treehouse high above the ground. The outside of my windows would be only other big trees and the blue sky. I believe that this is still the dream of many people. Unfortunately, not all of us would have enough time to even think about chasing the dream we had in the past. Some might now end up living alone in a substandard, 30-square-meter, studio-type high-rise condo in the city. It is even worse that the room might have only a small window with nothing to see outside, except other surrounding tall concrete structures, or even worse—fully-glazed office towers that either reflect strong sunlight into our eyes, or display ugly advertisement stickers that violates not only our privacy right, but also the right to see beautiful night sky without blockage.
Like many world-class, fast-growing cities, Bangkok has no plan on how to create or at least maintain nice visuals of its skyline. Of course, high-rise buildings are unavoidable for downtown development; however, would it be nice if the developers and architects place more concerns on how their buildings look? Actually, a tall building in the city is not a private property of those who pay to build it, but it belongs to our environment—visual environment. The way it looks creates great visual impacts on everyone in the city. Even though, it is quite subjective to assess visual environmental quality of a tall building in terms of its aesthetic value, some architects think they can help us differentiate one nice-looking building from other ugly ones by just growing trees on the towers!!. It is quite shocking for me to see all these pictures of so called ‘green skyscrapers’ designed by a world renowned Malaysian architect named Ken Yeang. I am not really sure whether he is playing around with our sense of perception about aesthetics or just wants to communicate his idea of green skyscrapers literally and boldly.
I am sure that his design is worth looking at and arguing with; but please don’t let it remind you of the treehouse you dreamt of in your childhood. It is totally different as a treehouse is actually a house on a tree, but the vertical green is vice versa.
I believe that, under the global warming situation we are facing these days, people are trying to be ‘green’ as much as they could. Growing more and more trees is the first chapter of any ‘Living Green’ bibles; however, creating the ‘Vertical Green’ like this might be the last chapter, only in case other endeavors for ‘going green’ campaigns are all failed. Actually, this ‘vertical green’ has nothing seriously wrong, and it sometimes look nice to see natural green in the blue sky among ugly concrete or reflective glass towers. However, could any botanists please tell us if the trees are really happy to stay there on the balcony of the 30th floor on high-rise condominiums? I don’t think we can grow them up there easily. Not only will the trees not grow well at high elevation due to the lack of natural soil, high-speed wind will also tear down the leaves. It is also sad to know that the condominium owners would try very hard to save their lives, but not hoping for them to grow larger. Trees that are not allowed to grow are ‘bonsais’, of which the purpose is for decorations…or in the other words, they are just something to look at. If we are happy to look at them, then they serve their purpose by help improving visual quality of the environment, don’t they?
If we are all agree that having ‘green in the sky’ or ‘vertical green’ will help to improve visual quality of the skyline and create positive impacts on cultural and social environment, then all these trees on the balcony should be honored, as they had sacrificed their lives for our pleasure– like birds in our cages, and fishes in our bowls; not to mention all kinds of creatures in Dusit Zoo that have to tolerate the political turmoils at the House of Parliament as well. So, who is responsible for this sacrifice? Global warming, again? Or is it just yet another innovative marketing idea of condominium developers who try to save the world and improve visual quality of the skyline; right after they have created enough visual pollutions by having reflecting-glass towers or ugly advertisement stickers everywhere in the city. Here you might wonder what the point is. I will leave you to think carefully, if you have to choose between reflective-glass office towers, advertisement stickers, heat-absorbing concrete structures, or this ‘vertical green’, what should it be for Bangkok skyline? For me, it is still difficult to decide unless I can look closer into every pros and cons of each option. Let me discuss about this later on.
ผู้ช่วยศาสตราจารย์ ดร.อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร
Asst. Professor Atch Sreshthaputra, Ph.D.
Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University
Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.