Magnificent 7: Biophilic cities

Biophilic design – integrating nature into the urban landscape to help increase residents’ wellbeing – is flourishing around the world, boosted by studies pointing to the health benefits of green spaces in cities

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Gardens by the Bay/The Interlace, Singapore

Gardens by the Bay/The Interlace, Singapore

Green sky terraces and other man-made Edens are blossoming around Singapore as part of the city state’s objective to transform itself into ‘a city in a garden’. Projects include Gardens by the Bay – a dense tract of greenery that forms a 101-hectare nature park on reclaimed land in central Singapore. Features take in a “cloud mountain” clad in orchids, ferns and mosses, and a flower dome. The gardens opened in 2012 and have attracted 20 million visitors in three years.

The Interlace – a housing complex of 31 overlapping apartment blocks in an arrangement that allows for multiple garden terraces – won the 2015 World Building of the Year Award for its imaginative greening of high-density housing, which in addition to the garden terraces includes a lotus pond, waterfall and a rock garden.

In a word: Innovative

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Amazon biospheres, Seattle, USA

Amazon biospheres, Seattle, USA

Still under construction, the giant biospheres being constructed at Amazon’s urban campus in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, expected to open next year, will provide an ecosystem to host more than 300 types of plants from more than 30 countries.

The three five-floor glass-and-steel bubbles being built in the company’s hometown, designed by locally based architects NBBJ, will allow employees to “work and socialise in a more natural, park-like setting” and will be large enough to accommodate “mature trees”. A horticulturalist will look after this floral paradise, part of a 3.3 million-square-foot office and retail complex set over three blocks, to craft creative spaces that the tech giant hopes will boost creative thinking.

In a word: Colossal

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Zealandia 3, Wellington, New Zealand

Zealandia 3, Wellington, New Zealand

Zealandia, three kilometres west of New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, in the suburb of Karori, is a 225-hectare “urban eco-sanctuary” in a sheltered valley around two reservoirs, where you can see some of the country’s rarest animals, including birds, reptiles, bats and fish.

Started in the late 1990s, it is part of a 500-year plan to restore native forest and wetlands just outside the capital and showcase 80 million years of the country’s natural history. Visitors are encouraged to imagine what the islands looked like 800 years ago, before the arrival of the first Polynesian explorers, and they can see unusual species like the tuatara, a reptile resembling a small dinosaur, the korimako (right), and the endangered flightless bird, the takahe.

In a word: Natural

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Sofitel living wall Dubai, UAE,

Sofitel living wall, Dubai, UAE

Incorporating greenery into a desert is no easy feat, but French botanist Patrick Blanc took on the challenge in Dubai, creating a striking “living wall” along a corridor at the Sofitel Dubai The Palm Resort and Spa, irrigated by its own in-built water and drainage system.

The city has embraced projects like these, which incorporate nature into the urban fabric. The first residents into the US$299m development, the Sustainable City, can pick herbs in the biodome greenhouses or community gardens, and park their cars in solar-shaded parking lots.

Now producing green energy for more than 500 villas, the homes come equipped with energysaving solutions such as solar water heaters and insulation, all intended to halve the energy consumption in each villa.

In a word: Refreshing

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A circle of green life 5, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

A circle of green life 5, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Vitoria-Gasteiz is the second largest Basque city after Bilbao. The city is encircled with a large tranche of green belt that encompasses forest, meadow, mountain and wetlands. It began with an ambitious initiative in the early 1990s that aimed to create green areas from degraded zones on the outskirts of the city. The entire population now lives within 300 metres of an open green space.

After 18 years of hard work, Vitoria-Gasteiz now has eight parks. Salburua Park is an important wetland area that is home to a wide range of species and a strategic point on the migration paths of many birds. The city, which runs educational initiatives about ecology and has made tackling light pollution a priority, won the European Green Capital Award in 2012.

In a word: Masterly

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The city as park, Oslo, Norway

The city as park, Oslo, Norway

The quality of life in Oslo – whose motto is ‘the blue and the green and the city in between’ – is famous worldwide, and it is estimated that 94 per cent of the Norwegian capital’s residents live within 300 metres of a park or green space. Brilliant blue fjords lie to the south, and forests or ‘marka’ to the north, with a culture of visiting the city’s forests. Oslo intends to restore all eight of the main rivers that run through the city, to serve as permanent corridors of nature.

In a word: Joyous

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Cleaning the air, Zhengzhou, China

Cleaning the air, Zhengzhou, China

Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province in east-central China, is one of the country’s densest urban environments and a centre of local industry.

It is one of a number of cities developing ecological ‘corridors’ to help offset the effects of its built-up surroundings. Since 2012, it has been developing a 280-kilometre corridor that will stretch across the city, including more than 300 kilometres of walking trails and bike lanes that allow urban dwellers to commute or just take exercise in a relaxing, bucolic environment.

The corridor will also link natural wonders such as Mount Song and the Yellow River with other man-made projects such as Dragon Lake.

In a word: Open