Image Source Ecotopia

Nature is a “forgotten public health resource”. Benefitting physical, mental and social health, access to nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve coping mechanisms. Where nature once surrounded us, we now live in what Michael Bloomberg described as the “era of cities”, with more than two-thirds of humans estimated living in cities by 2050. Increased urbanisation comes with a perceived disconnect from nature, causing modern city-dwellers to crave contact with nature, and aspire to create the blue and green spaces we perceive as vital to our wellbeing.

It is therefore no surprise that Pantone’s Colour of the Year was ‘Greenery’. Pantone’s choses colours that reflect current values, and this year’s choice echoes a recent importance placed on nature. According to Pantone, the colour “signals consumers to take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate”, and was accompanied by a collaboration with Airbnb to create an Outside In house in Clerkenwell.

Ecotopia 2121 has invented possible futures for 100 major cities: they design green utopias and barren wastelands, with accompanying stories describing each city’s future. While the predictions of these future cities are fictional, modern city planning is now, more than ever, taking into account the importance of greenery, not only for aesthetic reasons, but to improve sustainability, and as a way to purify air in smog-polluted cities.

Image Source Vincent Callebaut

Vincent Callebaut’s designs strongly resemble these fictional future cities. Working with engineers, however, this architect’s visions of plant-embedded buildings and green technology are quickly becoming a reality: Callebaut’s double helix tower in Tao Zhu Yin Yuan, Taiwan – currently in construction – aims to find symbiosis between humans and nature. Due to be finished in September this year, the tower is designed to be an ecologically sustainable, carbon-dioxide absorbing “inhabited tree”.

After the success of his tree clad vertical forest in Milan, Stefano Boeri has proposed a forest city in Shijiazhuang to combat the high levels of smog in China.

Singapore is at the forefront of this trend. Reported the world’s greenest city in terms of landscape and green developments, its building codes involve roadside greenery, parks and sustainable tech innovations. Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay have steel structures to harvest water for the gardens, and solar panels, and a new hotel design in the central business district boasts a vertical garden to encourage insect species, lizards and squirrels.

Retail has not escaped this increasing biophilia: the skincare brand Innisfree collaborated with SOFTlab for their Seoul store design – a greenhouse-inspired environment, rich in natural light; and Cos partnered with Studio Swine to create the New Spring installation in their Milan stores – inspired by the Japanese cherry blossom festival, the interactive installation invokes the feeling of changing seasons.

A recent study found that companies received higher profits when their retail space involved natural elements, with consumers perceiving goods’ value and quality in proportion to the levels of vegetation and natural elements in the space. Plants and natural design elements soften tech-filled – and often harshly lit – retail spaces, and can take many forms, from nature-inspired architecture and textiles, to water features and living walls.