Green Urban Living: Inspiration for the Design Boom in African Cities

Ten years ago the UN Convention on Biological Diversity shared a report on urban spaces. Their assessment then showed that the world’s urban population would surpass the 4.9 billion mark by the year 2030. Which would understandably more than double the size of urban areas in the same time frame. A simple drive along Ngong Road and through the Upper Hill area would easily confirm that. There seems to be yet another building popping up and more concrete framing the scenery. While the urban landscape has its conveniences, it makes it difficult for people to experience the bliss of nature; especially in the home or work areas.

The Babylon by Vo Trong Nghia [Image: Dezeen]

Farming Kindergarten by Vo Trong Nghia [Image: Dezeen]


The concrete frenzy that we’re in seems to have forgotten the importance of greenery in cities. Yet if we could learn from the mistakes and discoveries from the developed world, we’d realise a little nature goes a long way in people’s health and wellbeing. Concrete jungles that have gone back to nature and incorporated greenery in their urban planning are reaping benefits such as lower amounts of dust and pollution, as well as, limiting heat trapping effects. African architectures and interior or product designers may not be capable of influencing how governments choose to moulds their cities. However could they beat the system and bring the green back through design?

[Image: SelgasCano design]

Including plants into working spaces isn’t a new concept. A quick search and you’ll find projects such as SelgasCano’s design for Second home in Portugal; a plant-filled co-working space in Lisbon market. Dutch studio, Space Encounters, went the glasshouse route for their offices while Italian architect Stefano Boeri designed a vertical forest for the 36-storey ‘Cedar Trees Tower’ in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Space Encounters [Image: Dezeen]

Vietnam based architect Vo Trong Nghia is never far behind, with his designs that beautifully incorporate plant-life. For example, there is the 48-roomed Atlas Hoi An Hotel in Vietnam that provides a greenery from each suite through his concrete planters creating a cascading greenery effect. Not only does the design offer the relaxing attributes of nature for the human psychological benefit, it allows natural ventilation and temperature control. The same vegetation innovation can be seen in his other projects, i.e. the Babylon hotel covered in climbing plants and the Farming Kindergarten with a vegetable garden on its roof.

Atlas Hoi An Hotels [Image: Vo Trong Nhgia]

Atlas Hoi An Hotels [Image: Dezeen]


But if exteriors aren’t really your design forte, these designers took the green inside. In Aoyama – Central Tokyo – Schemata architects brought plant life into office spaces by creating work desks that integrated plants. A circular hole in the desks lets a plant grow natural out if for a playful yet simple detail that brings warmth to an otherwise cold and concrete environment.

Schemata architects nakagawa masashichi shoten omotesand office Tokyo [Image: Kenta Hasegawa]

If you want more furniture inspiration, Swedish company OFFECCT  creates an ‘Oasis’ collection for the Stockholm furniture fair in 2011. By working with three designers, namely Claesson Koivisto Rune, Front, Luca Nichetto and Jean-marie Massaud they were able to develop plant-friendly concepts with additional benefits in mind. For example Jean-marie Massaud created the ‘Green Islands’ for the collection that had an integrated area for vegetation in the furniture to make the user feel like they were sitting under a tree. Something so simple that we constantly take for granted but easily improves ones mental state of wellbeing.

Jean-marie Massaud created the ‘Green Islands’ for the Oasis Collection [Image: Courtesy of OFFECCT]

Last but certainly not least, is the innovative product design of MOSSMANIA. This Italian brand which recently opened in April 2016 integrates Nordic lichen into personal living spaces. Yes, you read right. They are intentionally creating moss-covered interiors products.  Lichen is a zero-maintenance material that they’ve used to create everything from resin-encased lichen benches, and lichen light fixtures, to lichen wallpaper, lichen fridges and even lichen Japanese raku pottery. And it just doesn’t come in the green moss you’re used to seeing in the forest, it’s available in an array of colours too.

Mosslight Small, lamp with lichen 100 % natural, made in moss and plexiglass. [Image: Mossmania]

Mosslight lamps [Image: Mossmania]


The company revolutionised the indoor garden because it eliminated the fuss of having to water or maintain the garden. In addition, because lichen survives off of air it a natural purifier which removes contaminant from your personal space, while maintain a healthy humidity level in the air. They are also the first non-architectural producers to incorporate vertical gardens and green walls for interior décor. Each vertical garden is customized to the individual customers and environment. It can be a natural garden with live plants or the customer can opt for a mix of plant and lichen, depending on the scenic intention, prevailing climate and available budget.

[Image: Mossmania]

[Image: Mossmania]

[Image: Mossmania]

[Image: Mossmania]


Whether you choose to incorporate the green lifestyle indoors or out, there isn’t denying that you can work with vegetation ad still bring out strong formal and decorative characteristics that the concrete jungle desperately needs. As African designers embark on design, it’s imperative for them to keep in mind the inherent human need to reconnect and be close to greener environments and ecosystems. There’s simply no denying the health and therapeutic benefits going green provides. Plus, it’s an unassuming decorating technique that declutters spaces and adds a bit of life into everyday spaces.

[Image: Mossmania]

[Image: Mossmania]

[Image: Mossmania]

Mossmania Moss Ceramics Interior Accesories [Image: Charlene Lam for Inhabitat]

How would you like to see your urban space go green in 2017?

[Image: Mossmania]

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