Stefano Boeri Architetti's smart forest city outside of cancun

Dreaming Of Green Cities

To build a solarpunk future we need to dream up better, greener cities. To inspire these dreams, I examine the work of the world's leading biophilic designers.

Biophilia: A desire or tendency to commune with nature

While Sarah and I are dreaming about living on a permaculture farm in the Riviera Maya, far from the prying eyes of anyone who might have an opinion, I recognize that the majority of humanity will continue to reside in dense urban environments. This means we need to dream better cities –greener cities- that can coexist (at least somewhat) with the land they occupy.

It is the heart, not the head, that motivates the human soul to the heights of innovation it can achieve. Presenting evidence alone may win a debate but fail to convince anyone. But a strong emotion response can cause the most rigid cognitive barriers to crumble . A feeling cannot be argued. 

If we’re solarpunks, then our goal should be to evoke a sense of longing for the natural world by tapping into dormant, but still intact, parts of the human psyche that already crave deeper connection with the living environment around us.

Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, naturalist, and writer, coined the term biophilia to describe the human need to be a part of the natural world. The application of this philosophy to building human spaces is called biophilic design.

Fraught with the corporate motivations of a more productive workforce, biophilic design is also a little solarpunk, on the DL. It’s backed by cold hard (dead) science but in a way that validates and justifies it into the mainstream, thereby advancing the agenda of greening up our cities.

Most of these green visions were designed sustainably but biophilic design is primarily focused on the touchy-feely emotional qualities of natural space. 

Its existential problem lies with its benefactors… Corporate slave culture in a post-human world necessitates greening our cities as much as realigning with natural life ways does. The optimization of human capital is the line in the sand for the soul of biophilia, between being science-friendly “feng shui” and yet-another-technology of slavery.

But it is undeniable that greening our cities is necessary -and effective.

Visual connection with nature (views) corollate with lowered blood pressure, heart rate, improved mental engagement, and a positive mental attitude. Non-visual connection with nature (audio, haptic, spiritual) reduces stress hormones and increases cognitive performance. (Source: 14 Patterns Of Biophilic Design)

Evolution takes place over millions, not thousands, of years. Mutations happen all the time but major adaptations to the human genome are rare and occur on epic time-scale.

We’re essentially the same species we were 100,000 years ago. We have the same bodies, and the same brains, as our prehistoric ancestors. It only makes sense to draw inspiration from their way of life as we identify disharmony in our own.

Researchers have repeatedly found connections between simulated natural environments and better quality of life, better mental health, and what the corporate machine refers to as “enhanced productivity”. While I don’t care to prioritize corporate ROI, it seems clear that a return a state of being more aligned with the natural way of the world would be best suited for supporting healthy human life on Earth. 

Biophilic design is an immature field with uncomfortable ties to slave labor optimization, yet it also represents a necessary awakening to the absolute truth of our place in the web of multi-species relationships we ignorantly refer to as “Nature”.

Rather than the biophilia of E.O. Wilson, biophilic design attempts to apply natural truths to create commercial efficiency while subtly improving quality of life for the working class.

It attempts to serve multiple masters and, thus, will eventually fail -and be replaced by a more aggressive paradigm shift. Yet it is not without value as a mental stepping stone between the world of plastics, metal, and corporate efficiency, to the green anarchism of unbounded life, living irrespective of ROI.

Hopeful glimpses of this future can be found on Earth today, though rare and scattered across the globe. A small handful of visionary biophilic designers are already planning truly green buildings, rather than just post-brutalist structures that are “green” in carbon terms.

Solarpunks seeking inspiration for how to dream the cities of tomorrow can begin, at least, with these architects of green futures…

From miserly calculations on human efficiencies we can reverse engineer environments of enhanced psycho-spiritual effects, spaces that support multi-species flourishing and make real our dreams of greener cities.


Stefano Boeri is an Italian architect who developed the concept of vertical forests and has designed a significant number of these high-rise gardens around the world. The world’s first urban forest, the Liuzhou Forest City, broke ground in 2017 and plans for Smart Forest City Cancun, his most ambitious project to date, were announced in February of 2020.

Stefano Boeri Architetti’s Website

French architectural firm Alteirs Jean Nouvel is a visionary brand with a truly incredible portfolio of breathtaking structures around the world. Though not all of AJN’s work is biophilic in nature, partnerships with Patrick Blanc, botanist and designer, and others have generated a number of remarkable vertical forest projects.

Jean Nouvel Website

Patrick Blanc Website

Emilio Ambasz, born Argentinan and also a citizen of Span, is a pioneer whose work can be considered, in many ways, to be a precursor of modern green architecture. As such, exemplary modern biophilic architecture is recognized with The Emilio Ambasz Award for Green Architecture each year, by the Architecture Israel Quarterly magazine.

Emilio Ambasz Website

WOHA is a Singapore-based firm. founded by Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell in 1994, that has garnered international recognition for some of the most visually stunning, and fully realized, biophilic designs in the world today. 

WOHA Website

VTN Architects (Vo Trong Nghia Architects) is a Vietnamese firm focused on green architecture with natural and local materials, such as bamboo. Their projects feature lush greenery in dramatic arrangements, like vines spilling over balconies and trees piercing through structures.

VTN Architects Website

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