Interview with Francesca Cesa Bianchi
1) Briefly introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about your practice. What do you work on? What are the issues you aim to address in your profession?
I’m Francesca Cesa Bianchi and, briefly, after my graduation in 2005 in architecture at Milan Politecnico, in 2008, I attended the MCH 08, a first level master on collective housing at the Escuela Politecnica de Madrid. I’ve been working with different architectural firms in Milan and Madrid and since 2019 I’m Partner and Project director of Stefano Boeri Architetti’s international works in Mexico, Russia, China, Albania, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Egypt and Qatar. In our practice we manage complex multi-purpose projects from competition phase, through concept, preliminary and detail design, to construction documentation.
2) What is a skyscraper in the 21st century and how can a skyscraper incorporate biodiversity without falling into greenwashing? What are the historical, contextual, social, urban, and environmental responsibilities of these mega-structures?
Tall buildings and skyscrapers allow the reduction of land consumption within the dense and urbanized city, becoming an opposite solution to the widespread city and the sprawl that has characterized the suburbs from the 1980s to today. This is seen in the case of the Vertical Forest of Milan, with an amount of vegetation that equals up to three hectares of woods, also flanked by the BAM Park. Integrating greenery and trees – considering them as real inhabitants of buildings – shows itself as an effective solution for a better quality of life and an increase in the well-being of the population.
3) Concerning High-rise and densely populated cities, how do we promote biodiversity with scarce land availability?
Over the years we have undertaken a series of reflections related to the potential of buildings such as the Vertical Forest – but also of Urban Forestry – within a dense urban fabric, for a reduction in land consumption. Architectures capable of hosting living nature and local biodiversity, capable of absorbing CO2 and generating oxygen, decreasing the heat island effect.
We are carrying out a similar experimentation with the Smart Forest City of Cancun, a self-sufficient city that will respond to the development needs of 120,000 inhabitants, enabling education and economic empowerment, especially of women, and developing solutions, lifestyles and radically more eco-efficient behaviors, starting with the reduction of the overall demand for energy and waste. Less energy required and less waste to recycle means lower costs.
4) Which tools & disciplines can come into play when designing a more biodiversity-aware built environment? Which technologies can have a key role in this transition?
After the first Vertical Forest in Milan – which also owes its cost to the initial investment in research – we worked with great obstinacy on the construction systems (prefabrication) and materials to make the Vertical Forest accessible to all. And we succeeded.
In recent weeks we are completing the Trudo Vertical Forest in Eindhoven, a social housing residential building. This new Vertical Forest is intended to mainly accommodate students, young professionals and young couples, hosting in its 19 floors a series of apartments for moderated rent but with high living quality, thanks also to the presence on the balconies of as many as 125 trees of various species, to which about 5,200 shrubs and smaller plants will be added. A Vertical Forest accessible to all, which applies this model to social housing for the first time.
5) Are there any reference projects you could suggest to inspire our community for this design challenge? Why did you choose this specific example?
I’d choose Trudo Vertical Forest – for the reasons described above – and also Tirana Riverside, a 29 hectares masterplan for the first neighborhood in Europe designed to tackle both the climatic and the health emergency that we are now facing, giving also a solution for the families that lost their houses after the recent Albanian earthquake. A polycentric neighborhood, which will guarantee accessible services, active ground floors and roofs, open-air and green spaces, and that will be self-sufficient in the production of energy and food.
6) In your experience, what does it take to win an architecture competition? What about this competition in particular?
Experimentation and research, two themes that have never been lacking within the Stefano Boeri Architetti practice and that are a stimulus for every new project and challenge.