About a decade ago, the city centre of Almere was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, as a curved plateau, literally lifted above the existing roads. Recently the residents of Almere were asked about their opinion. And their response was quite harsh. About 80% reported the city was overdeveloped, not humane enough and certainly no fun. So something needed to be done. Something more rigorous than just adding some flowers and a splash of color. This is where Patrick Blanc, green wall specialist, with his expertise and artistic views on inner city development, comes to the rescue.

Go Greener towards Floriade

In 2020, the international horticulture exhibition Floriade will be held in Almere. For the years leading up to his event, using the slogan ‘Go Greener’, Almere has voiced the ambition to becoming the greenest city in the Netherlands. With the aim to diffuse the borders between the city and its surrounding countryside, this might well be the chance to develop a unique urban biotope.

Dutch National Day of Architecture

Patrick Blanc came to Almere to discuss its green future with the city council. And, as June 20th, happened to be the Dutch national Day of Architecture, he delivered a public lecture as well titled ’Vertical Gardens, no limits’. Vertical gardens come in all shapes and figures, ranging from facades clad in the well-known green walls to greenery spiraling around pillars, or hanging green curtains one can walk through. Blanc invented the green wall, but his vision and his work evolved to being much more than that; researching all ways imaginable to clad buildings in greenery.

Indoor balcony with plants

Photo credits: Patrick Blanc

There are neither limits to his green imagination, nor to his knowledge of plants and his abundant use of different species. A green wall bearing his signature, will usually contain around 200 varieties, preferably local and planted in natural patterns. Just like in real nature, they will compete with one another until balance is found. Perhaps that is what he is looking for: a new ‘natural reality’.

Photo credits: Patrick Blanc

City as biotope

Too often, Blanc complained, he is asked to randomly cover ugly city plots with beautiful greenery and thus create a wow-effect. Whereas he understands why city councils would want to do that, the real challenge to him is creating a true urban biotope, as cities most literally have become our environment. Therefore he likes the way Almere wants to go ahead in developing a new green city centre, together with its citizens, local businesses and students.

His broad vision apparently was a bit far-fetched for the audience attending his lecture. When chairman and architect Jaap Huisman asked what should be taken up by Blanc, most suggestions were exactly about covering those ugly city plots Blanc would like to avoid. But as he remarked: developing an urban biotope entails far more than painting grey matter green. And answering the many enquiries about maintenance he pointed out that of course vertical gardens need to be maintained and looked after, just like buildings, squares and roads need to be.

Patrick Blanc has a unique way of looking at cities. To him, a city centre should not be a place to be covered in green to make it more beautiful. Instead, it is a very interesting starting point for the development of a true urban biotope. He aims to create living cities, in the most literal way, growing from the ground up. Painting in green after all, but on a whole different level…..