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The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City

By Patrick Blanc. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, 192 pages, $60.

Reviewed by David Sokol

When Chicago planted a semi-extensive garden on top of its city hall in 2001, green roofs fully reached the popular consciousness as a viable sustainable strategy. When Jean Nouvel’s Quai Branley Museum building opened in Paris in 2006, so its and other vertical gardens earned the spotlight. Patrick Blanc, a research scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research and an artist, was responsible for Quai Branley’s living skin, and he is widely regarded as the progenitor and an indefatigable creative force in the vertical-garden phenomenon.

The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City
Image courtesy W. W. Norton & Company
The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City
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Effectively, The Vertical Garden is a Blanc monograph. Its latter half features a spate of projects dating from 1994 to 2007, establishing for newcomers that Quai Branley is just one in a long series of vegetated surfaces that have delighted passersby. And yet Blanc’s oeuvre extends even further back. The book’s first chapter is a particularly endearing recount of Blanc’s childhood fascination with both aquariums and tropical ecosystems, and of the ensuing vertical gardens that attempted to approximate “through observation and imagination my perpetual immersions among the world’s natural environments.”

Besides charm, Blanc infuses The Vertical Garden with generosity. He reveals his methods for creating vertical gardens, from building the armature—largely by replacing burdensome substrate with irrigation cloth—to his selection and arrangement of plant species. And unlike, say, the sports biography, in which our protagonist can deploy only worn clichés to explain inherent talent, Blanc attempts a critical eye, elucidating the poetry of his work and his oeuvre’s prospects for changing architectural vocabulary.

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