The Vertical Forest: a case study for reshaping human-nature relationship through care ethics

In 2018, 55% of the human population lived in cities and large communities (United Nations, 2019). It
is the first time in history that most humans live in cities, not rural areas. The United Nations expect
these statistics to grow, with 68% of the world’s population living in an urban context in the middle of
the century (United Nations, 2019). The growth of urban areas challenges the relationship between
cities and nature. Cities may be expanding, but they are not necessarily flourishing. A critical issue is
that cities create and face severe environmental problems. According to the guidelines on urban and
peri-urban forestry (Salbitano et al., 2016 p.vii), cities consume 75% of global natural resources and
70% of the global CO2 emissions are made in the urban context (‘Urban Forestry’, 2022). The increasing urbanisation urges society to question the relationship between humans and nature and asks for
a more harmonic and respectful cohabitation. In the last decades, several new ideas have emerged,
leading to the creation of fields such as urban forests (Salbitano et al., 2016, p. 2). These fields aim to
develop the best strategies and designs to find a balance in integrating nature and its environment inside cities and vice-versa. Several types of projects have emerged from the thinking and development
of these fields, from the introduction and valorisation of green areas to urban and vertical farming.
In their paper ‘The Urban Forest Revolution’, Anastasia Kucherova and Hana Narvaez discuss
the ‘Vertical Forest’ as a new and sustainable way of architecture that helps make cities future-proof
(Kucherova & Narvaez, 2018, p. 2). A vertical forest is a tall building covered with excessive vegetation
on its facades. The Italian architect Stefano Boeri, who created his first structure of this kind, Bosco Verticale, in Milan, in 2014, coined the name vertical forest. Bosco Verticale consists of two large
towers and won numerous architectural awards worldwide (Kucherova & Narvaez, 2018, p. 2). This
successful building led to further developments, and today several similar projects are constructed
worldwide. Currently, Stefano Boeri Architetti and MVSA Architects are developing Wonderwoods, a
new vertical forest in Utrecht, The Netherlands (‘Wonderwoods’, n.d.).
In addressing the need for a cleaner and more sustainable city (Giacomello & Vala-gussa, 2015;
Ishween, 2021; Kucherova & Narvaez, 2018), vertical forest projects have gained approval from scientific and political sides (Kucherova & Narvaez, 2018). Quantitative data regarding air quality, pollution levels, sounds, and energy consumption show critical levels in most urban areas. Research has
shown that an important reason for this negative data is the environmental degradation of nature in
urban settings (Salbitano et al., 2016, p. 4). The reason for the scientific and political consensus around
the vertical forest is given its efficiency in improving the air quality of the city in which it is located,
thus to its important quality as a natural filter. The two vertical forests present in the city of Milan have
an absorption capacity of 19 tons of CO2 per year, producing a comparable amount of oxygen, plus the
presence of trees regulates the temperature in the apartments during the summer, reducing energy
consumption for air conditioning (Kucherova & Narvaez, 2018, p. 8).
Bosco Verticale emerged from a desire to live in the trees among other creatures such as birds
and insects. Boeri was inspired by the 1957 novel ‘The Baron in the Trees’, a book about a young man
who leaves his family to disappear into the treetops for the rest of his life (Ishween, 2021, p. 2). The
vertical forest concept seems to illustrate a dream of humans longing to live in peaceful coexistence
with nature, a dream that is eagerly picked up and accepted by others. The vertical forest has ecological benefits, and the structures are also aesthetically pleasing and promise the overworked city dwellers a natural resort of calmness and relaxation. This article explores this human desire to connect with
The romantic idea of living in nature and the real-world problem of expanding cities urge thinking about new ways to connect with nature; the article explores how these connections could be realised. As it is outside the scope of this essay to discuss the various definitions of nature, we present a
general interpretation. The essay understands nature as a set of elements that make up biodiversity
and with which humans must try to coexist, as opposed to a notion of “wildness” (Ducarme & Couvet,
2020, p. 6). The essay’s central question is: How can we build good relations with nature in the city?
We investigate this question by apply-ing care theories to consider and analyse the vertical forest as
an example of human-nature cohabitation. Care theories are constructive in this case, as these allow
us to focus on the relationships between various human and non-human actors. In the following sections, we discuss human-nature relationships and how care theories have recently been applied to
investigations in the non-human world to explain this approach further. Next, we briefly de-scribe the
setup and methodology of our case study, and in the last sections of the paper, we present and discuss
the case study results.

Human Nature Relationships
The vertical forest arises primarily from the need to propose a more eco-sustainable way of living,
specifically concerning housing. In this sense, it is not only an attempt to reduce the city’s greenhouse
gas emissions but also to reshape the relationship between humans and nature. According to several
scientists, in a period ranging from 1610 to 1964, the earth entered a geological era called the Anthropocene (Lewis & Maslin, 2018). This era is characterised by the negative influence of man on the environment, particularly through polluting technologies. The consequences of this influence are mainly
the rise in global temperature of 1°C (Cook et al., 2014) and a drastic decrease in biodiversity (Barnosky et al., 2012; Zalasiewicz et al., 2008).
The need to change the attitude toward non-human beings emerges from the awareness of human responsibility in endangering the planet. Several scholars have therefore suggested replacing the
anthropocentric vision with which humans have been relating to the environment for centuries with
an ecocentric one (Heikkurinen et al., 2016, p. 706). The ecocentric vision is based on three fundamental assumptions: Human and human-made objects are embedded in non-human and non-humanmade objects; Hu-man and human-made objects are dependent on non-human and non-human-made
objects; In addition to human and human-made objects, non-human and non-human-made objects can
also hold intrinsic value (Heikkurinen et al., 2016, p. 709).
This vision is therefore based on the idea that it is necessary to become aware of the erroneous
distinction between humans and non-humans to reverse human’s self-destructive tendency toward
the environment in which they find themself. According to this vision, the new relationship between
humans and nature must be based on shared and reciprocal values, no longer on one-way values that
privilege only the good of humans to the detriment of other beings. The vertical forest was designed
with the desire to include the life of non-human entities in the human living context, but this does not
mean that it is consequently capable of modifying the human-nature relationship. We will therefore
use the ethics of care as a lens to see both this and the case, as it offers an alternative to anthropocentric logic.

Care in the non-human world
Care theories differ from other ethical approaches by focusing on vulnerability and dependency. Care
ethics address relationships. From the perspective of care, the right thing to do is no longer drawn
from duty, benefits, or character, but it results from the needs of the other. Care exceeds the practice
of looking after children and elderly, ill, or injured people. We are all connected in dependent relationships and must take care of these connections to stay well. Joan Tronto and Berenice Fisher’s definition of care expresses this interconnectedness conscientiously: “On the most general level, we suggest
that caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and
repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and
our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web” (Tronto, 2020, p. 103).
Tronto and Fisher explicitly name ‘our environment’ as part of the care network. The ‘we’ in
their definition is further specified by Anna Krzywoszynska and Maria Puig de la Bel-lacasa as both
human and non-human entities living in the life-sustaining web together (Krzywoszynska, 2019, p.
664; Puig de la Bellacasa, 2015, p. 97). These non-humans include ‘non-living entities and matters’ that
facilitate the conditions that living beings need for their existence (Krzywoszynska, 2019, p. 664). An
example from soil research illustrates how care ethics can be applied to human-nature relations and
helps unravel connections between human and non-human actors. In soil, there is biota that creates
the soil and lives inside of it. Plants and micro-animals grow and reside in it, while larger animals walk
over the soil and fertilise it with their excrements. Finally, humans use and farm the land for agricultural purposes. The care lens exposes a human dependency on soil and questions how humans take part
in the maintenance and repair of the living web of soil (Puig de la Bellac-asa, 2015, p. 703).
Care shifts the attention from functionality to connection in the vertical forest. It challenges the standard conception of how humans and natural elements can relate. The commercialisation
and industrialisation of agriculture led to productionist objectives that motivated farmers to care for
soil primarily to protect and promote their crop yield (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2015, p. 699). Care in this
mindset is limited and linear; taking care of today’s soil safeguards next season’s harvest. Chemical
additives speed up the fertilisation of the soil, which is necessary for the plants to thrive. This straightahead process ignores other functionalities and relationships in the soil. Caring for soil in this way is
problematic as it prioritises human needs over the needs of other soil community members in a harmful manner. A care ethics perspective reveals this kind of conduct as oppressive (Puig de la Bel-lacasa,
2015, p. 700).
Krzywoszynska introduces the notion of the care network, where caregivers are part of care
networks. The primary object of care relies on the other entities in the care network; therefore, those
need to be cared for too (Krzywoszynska, 2019, p. 664). In this view, building and maintaining good
relations with all actants in the care network is vital. In this essay, we want to explore how to grow and
preserve such relations with non-human others. To do so, we draw inspiration from Annemarie Mol’s
concept of the ‘logic of care’. Mol contrasts her conception of ‘the logic of care’ with what she calls ‘the
logic of choice’. The logic of choice is in some ways comparable with Puig de la Bellacasa’s logic of productions. Firmly grounded in Western culture, the logic of choice presents options and alternatives
with clear boundaries that can be discussed rationally and in a linear time frame. The logic of care follows a different course of thought; it branches out in all directions and has no clear borders or limits.
Mol conceived of her framework in the context of human health care, where she explores how good
relations between caregivers and care receivers can be made and maintained. This focus on creating
and keeping connections makes her framework particularly helpful to our question of how to build
good relations with nature in the city.

Open Boundaries
The logic of choice is the default setting or standard in western health care that sees patients as customers who purchase care from healthcare practitioners (Mol, 2008). This customer-supplier relationship puts patients in control of the available care. The patient dictates the agenda by choosing and
buying what they need (Mol, 2008, p. 16). Although this autonomy and control may seem attractive at
first, Mol argues that it comes at a price. When care becomes a product, it must be defined to present,
promote, and sell it. And, by defining it, the care product becomes limited.
As opposed to the logic of choice, in the logic of care, these boundaries do not exist. Care revolves around relationships. In the logic of care, the choosing and using of care products is assisted by
the health care professional who helps the patient explore what they need and how they can make this
work. Care, in this view, is an open-ended process; it works if the patient and practitioner collaborate
and when the product, goals and problems are not fixed or predefined. According to Mol, care cannot
be a transaction; it must always be an interaction; both parties must be involved and work together
(Mol, 2008, pp. 20–21, our emphasis). A transaction separates actors, as they agree on what belongs
to whom and what does not. Interactions bond actors as the outcome of their collaborative action can
only exist between them. As a result of these interactions, the logic of care facilitates change; several
starting points lead to new settings, and multiple options and possibilities arise.

Another mode of the logic of choice is the patient-as-citizen, which takes place in the con-text of the
state. The state is a decisive example of context-based fixed rules and institutions on which people
agree. Mol presents the citizen as an individual who relates to other people in the state and engages
with them based on contracts. Citizens accept a specific role with rights and duties that they must respect (Mol, 2008, p. 33). In a health care context, patients and doctors become, in a certain way, equals.
A doctor cannot boss a patient around, they will merely advise the patient, and the patient will decide
on the course of ac-tion. To be a successful citizen, a person must control their body. Weak, sick, or
fragile bodies are generally not seen as civic; uncontrollable bodily happenings should not interfere
with citizens’ actions in civic space. However, the status of the citizen seems to give the patient some
power to stand up for themselves in the doctor’s office. Mol claims this is only a partial win as a healthy
body will always stay the norm. The fragile body may defend itself, but the citizen context does not
allow diseased bodies to exist on their own terms (Mol, 2008, p. 35).
In contrast to the logic of choice, the logic of care has the power to question these norms and
conditions by actively engaging in what the patient needs. Instead of yearning for control, Mol suggests that we learn to be attentive (Mol, 2008, p. 37). We must be conscious and perceptive of our bodies and surroundings and find a way to help interactions by being sensitive and flexible. Attentiveness
involves developing a sensitivity to the needs of the other by careful trial and error. It is an essential
care principle, as it is a fundamental condition necessary for recognising the needs of others (Krzywoszynska, n.d., p. 6). In human-nature relationships, these others can take many forms. Humans can
relate to other humans and non-human animals, but also to vegetation, bacteria, and elements such
as water, air, and soil. Being attentive to these others may require learning about them and finding
different ways to relate to and observe the other. When a person becomes more sensitive, this may
snowball into new directions of attentiveness to aspects that were for-merly obscured to this person.

Next to change and attentiveness, Mol draws attention to what she calls fact-values (Mol, 2008, p.
50). Facts as the results of quantitative measurements may have consequences; they mean something.
Therefore, in health care, facts are often communicated as values. To patients and health care workers, blood values represent a certain condition. Blood values are normative in that they point to a
situation of health or disease based on a certain standard (Mol, 2008, p. 50). In practices of care for
natural elements, the concept of fact-value can help understand how measurements as values matter
in caring for hard-to con-ceptualise natural materials. In the example of soil, it can be difficult for humans to be at-tentive to soil. Soil processes happen on scales in time and space that are very different
from human perception (Krzywoszynska, n.d., p. 7). Monitoring and measuring specific quantitative
elements of soil, such as soil structure and the presence of earthworms, may help in finding an entry
to understanding soil processes. Is there a standard in earthworm numbers that indicates healthy soil
similarly to healthy blood values? When facts are perceived as values, they can help a person develop
the sensitivity necessary to be attentive and caring.

We selected the care principles of open boundaries, attentiveness, and fact-values as the focus of our
empirical study. We understand attentiveness as an essential fundament of care; being attentive is
crucial, particularly in caring for non-human others, as these are less relatable than other humans.
The concepts of open boundaries and fact-values help human actors grow the sensitivity that leads
to attentiveness in different ways. Developing attentiveness is not limited to open boundaries and
fact-values; however, the materials we ana-lysed widely reflect these principles. The empirical sources
contain numerous references to boundaries and quantitative data. Furthermore, by focusing on these
principles, we can assess how current relationships have been shaped and how they could change in
the future. Based on these three principles, we selected discourse (academic papers, interviews with
architects and residents, promotional materials, news items, blog articles and YouTube videos) around
two vertical forest projects: Bosco Verticale in Milan and Wonderwoods in Utrecht.
The material was selected based on a systematic literature review for what concerns the academic sources and with arbitrary standards for what regards the lay audience material. Because of
time constraints, 27 diverse sources were used for the analysis. The number 27 is an arbitrary number that follows from 15 lay sources and 5 academic sources on Bosco Verticale, and 7 lay sources on
Wonderwoods. Within the available time, the number 15 is reasonable to draw a general perspective
on the idea that the general public has of the vertical forest. The lay articles emerged from a search
based on keywords using Google and Ecosia as search engines. The academic sources emerged from a
systematic literature review. What followed was a systematic analysis of all sources. We traced words
and themes and looked for recurring patterns and narratives.

Case Study
This section starts with a discussion of the analysis of the empirical sources that concludes with two
main narratives around the vertical forest. Next, we discuss these narratives through the lens of care.

Generally, it can be said that the Vertical Forest is seen as positive, as demonstrated by the numerous awards that the building has received. Looking at the academic side, Ishween (2021) presents the
Vertical Forest under a fairy tale narrative, referring to the story of The Baron in the Trees, a novel by
Italo Calvino, from which Stefano Boeri took inspiration for the project. On this, Ishween describes the
building as a shelter of trees that resides humans and birds. Kucherova and Narvaez (2017) define it as
“a model of sustainable housing”, and the CTBUH Report (2015) states that the Vertical Forest is one
of the most innovative building projects in recent history. In their conclusion, Kucherova and Narvaez
(2017) write:

“Building always more and conquering the soil from nature has been the object of architecture […]
but nature is warning us that we have to reconsider the long term-strategy. […] The realisation of the
Vertical Forest estab-lished a new era in the relationship between making and other species.”

What exactly is the new relationship that the two authors are referring to it is not clear. For this reason,
later, we will try to understand what kind of relationships occur within the Ver-tical Forest between
humans and non-human beings. Similarly, looking at how the media present it, we analysed 22 lay audience articles. Most articles describe vertical forests in a positive understanding, using recurring keywords such as “innovative”, “sustainable”, and “green city”1. Yet these terms are not clearly defined.
According to, “Beyond just positive environmental impact, the towers are as much
about creating a human existence in tune with nature”2, however, it isn’t clarified what it means to be in
tune with nature and how this happens. Using another example, the website of the architectural firm
that designed Vertical Forest states that this building establishes joint human-tree, architecture-tree
and city-tree relationships, without explaining what kind of interactions they are3. Other websites
tend to overestimate the role of nature in the Vertical Forest, such as, which states,
“The Vertical Forest is first and foremost a home for trees that also happens to be a home for humans
and birds”4. Also, talks about a “spontaneous re-colonisation of the city by vegetation
and by animal life” that happens thanks to Vertical Forest5. However, looking at the structure of the
building, it is easy to see how the plants have been adapted to the needs of humans and not vice versa,
as claimed by these websites. One exception is, a website specialising in architecture,
which raises the question of how sensible it is to build buildings with plants on them when that land
could be used to plant trees directly6.
In addition, we noticed that the positive keywords used by lay audience media often link to data
that support the idea that the vertical forest is the realisation of an ecological dream because it reduces emissions and brings together humans, plants and animals. This proves the positive understanding
that the vertical forest has gained in society through its factual ecological work, but what is problematic is that this type of presentation does not say anything relevant about the “new” relationship
that Kuchecorava and Narvaez refer to. Both academically and among the general public, the vertical
forest is perceived and represented as an ideal home for all living beings. According to them, a form of
cohabitation is developed in it that would generate more cohesion between humans and non-humans,
creating stable and positive new relationships. Yet, none of these sources raises the problem of concretely investigating how this cohabitation occurs and what kind of interactions take place. Our intent
is not to dismantle the positive perception of these buildings but to understand if they are a place for
new relationships between man and nature.
From the discussion above, we identified two main reasons that justify the positive description
of vertical forests. 1) Academic and lay articles praise the vertical forest projects and present them as
green solutions that solve the city’s environmental problems. 2) Lay articles focus on co-habiting with nature as a healthy and desired new way of living for humans in the city. Below we discuss these two
reasons and evaluate them based on Mol’s principles of open boundaries, attentiveness, and fact-values.

The vertical forest as a solution to environmental problems in the city
From a care perspective, creating a multi-species natural infrastructure as a solution to the problems
of one actor is a precarious act. The vertical forest may care for human citizens, but this should not be
at the expense of other entities in the care network. To make the vertical forest ethically acceptable
from a care perspective, humans must acknowledge the other actants in the care network, relate to
them, and make sure these others are not being harmed.
Mol’s concept of open boundaries is helpful here, as it exposes the solution-oriented focus of
the vertical forest as an issue that obstructs change. By articulating both problem and solution from a
human mindset only, we miss the opportunity to see the perspective of the non-human elements and
reorient ourselves in dialogue. The sharp distinction between non-humans and humans, between nature and the city, puts us at risk of entering a relationship based on the logic of choice. Clearly defined
stakeholders and concepts make it possible to choose, select and reject. However, the vertical forest
should not be a place where humans make a deal with non-human elements. Signing a contract with
nature does not necessarily bring humans and nature closer together. The open boundaries concept
demonstrates that taking a step back from the problem-oriented way of framing the discussion is crucial. It presents a need for engaging in a dialogue with our non-human care partners and discussing our
situation together from a wider perspective.
The narrative of the vertical forest as a solution to urban pollution and other ecological problems in the city seems particularly appreciative of numbers. These figures express the number of trees
and other vegetation and numbers of CO2, noise, biodiversity loss, and city temperatures (Giacomello
& Valagussa, 2015; Ishween, 2021; Kucherova & Narvaez, 2018). The numbers present information.
The figures justify the vertical forest application by quantifying the ecological problems in the city
and the solutions that the vertical forest can offer. Mol’s concept of fact-values shows how numbers
gain meaning by representing values. Fact-values make numbers powerful and useful in human communication other than merely defending choices. Figures can relate to the state they represent in the
non-human other. If earthworm numbers act as indicators of soil health, other variables must be able
to express the health or happiness of the vegetation and insect population. The hunger for numbers
that the materials in our analysis show suggest that numbers could provide a helpful opening towards
becoming more attentive to non-human others in the vertical forest.

Living together with nature
Our analysis revealed several strict borders in various locations and layers in the vertical forest. We
will discuss these boundaries below and consider how they possibly interfere with developing attentiveness towards non-human vertical forest residents.
Plants and animals reside on the outside of the vertical forest, and humans live on the inside of
the structure. As greenery needs sunlight, the terraces on the facades form the most suitable location
for vegetation. Ishween describes the vertical forest as ‘an architec-tural biodiversity’ (Ishween, 2021,
p. 1), a sanctuary that houses both humans and nature. However, this protective shelter separates and
isolates human beings from their non-human neighbours.
Next to the divide between human and non-human residents, the vertical forest dis-tinguishes
between humans who directly interact with the plants and those who do not. Human residents must
ask permission before interacting with the perennials living on their balconies. Vegetation maintenance is outsourced to specialist workers (Ishween, 2021, p.7). The trees in the vertical forest have
unique needs that may license specialist care; however, the separation does not facilitate attentiveness. If the objective is to increase contact between humans and non-humans by offering cohabitation, specialisation impedes instead of helping.
The vertical forest also places boundaries between various non-human residents. Trees and
other vegetation connect in communal soil in a’ natural’ forest. The vertical forest does not allow this,
as all greenery lives in separate vases on the facades’ various ter-races (Giacomello & Valagussa, 2015).
The soil in the vertical forest is an artificially created mixture of organic and inorganic material (Giacomello, 2015). The building’s design obstructs natural connections between non-human residents,
and in this way, it is not supportive of the care network and growing new relationships.
The vertical forest irrigation system connects instead of dividing. It fertilises and distributes
nutrients to the plants. The system’s four main elements work fully automatic. There is a channel for
the distribution of the main tanks of the buildings, a widespread dis-tribution network for the plants,
a control panel for the regulation of the distribution, and a system of control to monitor the humidity
levels for each vase (Ishween, 2021). Hence, it aligns with the idea of caring for nature, connecting it
and considering its needs. In this case, this care is not carried out by the inhabitants who co-habit with
the plants but by an automated system that does not allow the establishment of empathy.
The various boundaries in the vertical forest hinder new connections between human and
non-human residents. The harsh separation between humans and non-humans makes it difficult for
humans to empathise with non-humans and recognise them as co-habitants. The lay articles on the
Wonderwoods project promote the building with relaxing stories of bedrooms filled with bird sounds7
and pleasant smells of flowering plants on the structure’s terraces. This view presents nature as a
glamourous backdrop for busy city life. However, being surrounded by nature is not equivalent to relating to nature. Instead of co-habitation with nature, the vertical forest is primarily a co-presence.
The two elements of human life and nature are in the same place but do not share an experience. The
split between humans and non-humans makes interaction optional. However, to develop attentiveness, some commitment is required. If attentiveness is accepted as a core care principle, boundaries
must be recognised. In negotiating borders, one must learn about the other and make room for the
emerging relationship.
The application of care principles in the case of the vertical forest reveals what Blok (2014)
calls the ecological perspective of being-in-the-world. Blok refers to the embodiment of the natural
world inside the dimension of practice. In the vertical forest, inhabiting the city is a practice of living,
and by applying the care approach to the living of the vertical forest, the practice of living goes back to
the practice of being-in-nature. Living in the vertical forest in a care-minded way enables the reconnection to the world of nature in a primordial form. The primary needs of the non-human entities are
revealed, which leads to “new” human and nature relations in which humans and non-humans respectfully live to-gether.

This section of the essay argues that, besides the benefits, there is no significant change in how humans treat nature in the vertical forest. It may seem that humans and nature co-habit in the vertical
forest; however, from a closer look, it is possible to notice that nature has still an instrumental function
that promotes efficiency as the primary value. The essay highlights that the vertical forest approaches
nature from a technical perspective. This means that this building is designed considering only quantitative problems and human aesthetics. These problems are solved with technical solutions, but what
has created the issue, and the underlined motivation and arguments, are not changed. Using a medical
metaphor, the symptoms of the disease are analysed and mitigated, but the origin of the illness is not
looked at, and it is not treated. Therefore, the vertical forest is a solution that can put a “patch”. Still,
the prevention, a significant change in the human-nature relation is not even considered.
The paper understands the vertical forest as a fix of an urban issue related to human activity.
Fixing does not mean changing in an ontological sense. It does not change the origin of the problem.
For example, in the case of pollution in the city, ontological change is not about removing the pollution,
but about changing the behaviour and actions that create the pollution in the first place (I.e., changing).
Thus, the vertical forest is seen as the former promoting an instrumental idea of nature. In this way,
the vertical forest can still be framed under an instrumental notion of nature. This idea promotes a
view in which nature and humans are two different entities, justifying the instrumental use of nature.
It can be argued that this idea of humans separate from nature explains its intense use and exploitation in the last centuries, leading to the point of today. The paper argues that human-nature relations
can be reshaped by applying the notion of care.
Two examples are reported to support our argument of the instrumental understanding of nature in the vertical forest. The first is how the maintenance of the vertical forest works. In fact, what is
interesting to see is that inside the vertical forest, the plants are part of the condominium property. All
of the vegetation is owned and maintained by the management of the building and not by the individual owners of the apartments (Ishween, 2021). This leads to a situation where two entities live in the
same space but do not interact; thus, no relationship is created between the two. In the shared space
of the building’s infrastructure, nature is still framed as a separate entity from humans, and by symmetry, humans are separated from nature. Therefore, the vertical forest still promotes in the background
an understanding of human-nature relation in which nature is instrumental to humans. It is a one-direction relationship, nature facilitates humans, but humans do not facilitate nature.
The second, example concerns the soil used in the vertical forest and the automatic irrigation
system. As described (Giacomello, 2015) the soil used in the vertical forest is a special type artificially
developed for the special conditions in which the plants find themselves in the building. Even if this is
unavoidable given the special condition in which the plants are collocated, it still promotes the idea
of control and manipulation of nature by humans. Further, for the residents, this makes the illusion of
nature as something given, strong, and that can adapt to several situations, and not instead as something fragile and vulnerable. Further, the automatisation of the irrigation system promotes this view of
separation of humans and nature because no human action is needed for the daily care of the plants.
All this questions the “new” relationship between humans and nature that Kucherova and Narvaez (2017) state in their conclusion. From the above, it seems that in the vertical forest, there is no
reshaping of human and nature relations, and the existence of the building is due to its property effi-
ciency-related in solving an issue, more than establishing a har-monic relation between humans and

The concept of the vertical forest is helpful to cities and the environmental issues they face. We contend that the vertical forest can be further implemented by letting go of the one-way instrumental
perspective on nature, and instead accepting a multiverse view that acknowledges non-human others
as respectful stakeholders. Through thinking with care, this essay argues that connections are possible; nature can exist in the urban context and fill human needs, while humans can learn and be responsive to nature. By creating this double relation, a more profound understanding can be reached,
leading to a greater sense of responsibility and awareness of nature. In this way, humans and nature
are no longer two independent entities but form mutual parts of a collective world. A genuinely shared
space in the vertical forest creates a narrative that can be applied on a more generally to humans and
nature as a whole.
The concepts of open boundaries and fact-value are helpful in facilitating the development
of attentiveness. According to Mol’s (2008) approach, interaction is the principle that establishes
the process of change in the logic of care. Interaction is the dimension, in which there is a process of
co-shaping between entities in the care network. The human residents in the vertical forest relate
to the building’s ecosystem through their senses. The sensory information and experience affect the
individuals and provide a certain idea of na-ture. Nature is no longer a background entity, instead it
becomes present, passing from passive to active. The principle of interaction leads to attentiveness.
Nature turns into a present and active element by interacting with it; it reveals its needs by becoming
present. Attentiveness implies learning the need of the other. In the solution-oriented mindset, nature recognises human needs in creating a suitable environment. However, humans are uninformed
about the needs of nature. Knowing nature’s needs requires a learning process; it is by learning about
the other that relations become more profound and valuable.
Fact-values imply a union with the quantitative data. This parameter relates the abstract dimension in the human-nature relationship to material proportions. What is important about these
values is the direction of attention and the power relation within it. In the current vertical forests, this
direction is mono-directional, and the values follow this path. By thinking from care, the path should
have a double sense; the needs of the trees translated into values should be taken into account.
Vertical forests are appreciated and celebrated both the academic world and in public opinion. This successful reception is understandable, as the intentions in the vertical forests’ design are
legitimate at first sight. However, the design fundaments are also anchored to a functionalistic and
anthropocentric logic; the logic that sees non-human natural others as tools for solving humanity’s
problems. As we have shown, through a different logic such as that of care, it is possible to pursue the
same desirable objectives, while we set the conditions for establishing a reciprocal and less specialised
relationship between humans and non-humans. Reciprocity must be at the core so that the needs of
all components are considered equally. Only in this way can the vertical forest become a place of true
co-habitation, establishing a new form of human-nature relationship.


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This essay was written jointly with Afra Willems, Lorenzo Ratto Vaquers, and Dario A. Perfigli. All three authors contributed equally to the final result of the essay.

One thought on “The Vertical Forest: a case study for reshaping human-nature relationship through care ethics

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