Urban Air Trees
September 15, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Video report about the newly constructed "Urban Air Trees" in Madrid, Spain. These unique structures are designed to both affect the surrounding environment and act as a social centers. Using live plants and photovoltaic cells the Air Tree produces a substantial amount of oxygen and energy. Designed by Urban Ecosystems.
posted by Surfin' Bird (24 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If these function, why not put a huge one on the roof of every vivienda in Spain? It suffers from the same flaw many vital public works do: there is no way to build one of these things and have it not be ugly and odd-looking. (That could apply to the Air Tree or the apartments, though.)
posted by resurrexit at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2008

posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2008

This is a double. I am too lazy to find the original.
posted by everichon at 11:40 AM on September 15, 2008

Link to the original
posted by Librarygeek at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2008

Now watch, as I restrain myself from treating this doomed thread as a free-for-all. Here goes.
posted by everichon at 11:58 AM on September 15, 2008

What's ugly about it?
posted by DU at 12:04 PM on September 15, 2008

I missed the original, so was glad for the double.
That said, it's anything goes, and I for one intend to have some pancakes.
posted by Outlawyr at 12:11 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is not a double, but a deliberate follow-up (the "original" is linked in the body of this post.) Whether a video about these things is worth a whole new FPP is debatable, but at least it isn't just an inadvertent reposting of the same article.
posted by contraption at 12:19 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I remmeber me the original and hooo-boy did I think it was just some pie-in-the-eye crap some dope whipped up on an over-caffeinated morning when he/she should have been doing something less... I dunno, ugly...

To 'see' them live - wow. Brutal. Trees would have been a much smarter way to go, no?

Secondly - what resurrexit said.

now hasta-la-pasta, baybee.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:21 PM on September 15, 2008

Most "ugly" additions to buildings quickly become either invisible or essential for a building to look "right". See also: TV aerials, chimneys, gutters and drainpipes, satellite dishes.
posted by WPW at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2008

And soon it will be the same for solar panels and windmills...
posted by WPW at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2008

I think they looked better than the stuff in the surrounding area(but mabye I just like weird looking stuff). Also it seems that as they were walking around the trees and plant life in general in the area didn't look to be doing so well.

Basically people are arguing against them here because they don't like they way they look, but I think some merit has to be givin' to the fact that they seem to actualy be used an area were the community can gather and hang out not to mention generating a bunch of clean renewable power.
posted by Sargas at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2008

Interesting, but I'm not sure how this is better than simply planting more trees in urban areas and installing solar panels on available flat surfaces. If, perhaps, these structures were repurposed into some kind of vertical park with a usable interior space then I could certainly see the appeal. But the pics in the third link are a perfect example of the kind of confusion that sits at the base of this project.

The pics show a broad, flat, paved area with scraggly trees surrounding the Air Tree. Why not simply make the surrounding area a park with grass and trees, something which the neighborhood people could use and enjoy? Stick some solar panels in there and pat everybody on the back for a job well done.
posted by lekvar at 12:42 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

lekvar: if you watch the video, at the end, they basically say that what you've described is the plan. The "Air Trees" are designed to be disassembled and moved once their purpose is done -- that purpose being, from what I can see, to act as surrogate trees until the real trees grow in. (and thus, provide the sort of "social hub" that will eventually be overtaken by the real trees)
posted by tocts at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I watched the video, and it did speak to a number of the points I brought up. I must have tuned out the part about letting the real trees grown in though.

It still seems over-engineered to me though. Spain, as I understand it has a climate similar to Southern California, and I've seen simpler solutions put into place there. I'm willing to admit that there are probably considerations unique to this project that I'm unable to see.
posted by lekvar at 1:49 PM on September 15, 2008

God that's rubbish. Why do we feel we have to over-engineer the solutions to our over-engineered problems?

Just plant some damned trees, OK?
posted by wilful at 3:45 PM on September 15, 2008

lekvar, what are the simpler solutions to providing a cool (both literally and figuratively) place for people to hang out during summer that is temporary, easily moved and made entirely out of recycled materials that generates revenue from solar-energy? I'm honestly curious, because I'm quite impressed by this Air Tree thing and I've not heard of anything similar or anything filling in the same niche either. It's a very narrow niche and I can see the debate about it not even needing to be filled, but there it is.

And the people whinging about 'just plant some trees' should really watch the video. If you must, go to 3:44 where the subtitles read, quite clearly, 'when the trees we have planted grow...' The whole point of the project is to have something for people to enjoy in an urban environment while waiting for the trees to grow into a park. The fact that it contributes energy and is operating on a profit is a pretty strong selling point as well. Madrid, thanks to its hot and dry climate and large population (and, yes, its urban planning) can be a pretty bleak place at times so anything that makes it more bearable is ok by me. I just don't get the hate. Who is being hurt by these Air Trees?

Might go check these out while it's still summer over here.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:38 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

slimepuppy, I think my main problem is the "temporary" aspect. I don't see that the currently existing situation (dry, hot) is going to be solved by any temporary steps. I think a long-term approach to urban planning is going to deliver much greater, long-term benefits. The Air Trees are very interesting, but they're there as a temporary measure until the broad, flat, concrete-covered* "park" is more verdant.

I've actually been musing a bit on this subject over the past couple of months, especially as it relates to two towns I'm familiar with; Antioch here in the Bay Area, and San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast.

Before I get into the details, I'd like to state for the record that the two towns are very, very different demographically and economically. Antioch is a classic example of "sprawl," and San Luis Obispo has been a Slow-Growth/Now-Growth battle ground for decades. I'd also like to state that mine are the opinions of an enthusiastic spectator. I'm no city planner.

That said, they share a similar climate.

As I said, Antioch is a classic "sprawl" city. As near as I can tell the developers razed everything down to the bedrock, covered it in concrete and added trees back after the fact. Everyone drives everywhere because it's horribly unpleasant to be out on the streets without any shade beyond the few cursory, decorative trees that have been planted in little holes in the sidewalk every 50 feet or so.

There are a few places, however, that haven't been ground flat; little parks that still follow the few creeks and natural structures of the area. The trees there are large and healthy, there's lots of shade, and they are the few places in Antioch that don't make you feel like you're in some blasted hellhole.

Now, San Luis Obispo on the other hand has evolved a bit more organically, over a longer period of time (it's a California Mission city) and the growth has been shaped by the surrounding natural features; the hilly areas are hilly, the valleys are valley-y. The natural waterways have been left intact and trees, plants, and wildlife are welcome to grow and multiple. Within reason. San Luis Obispo is a pleasure to walk in. Lots of shade, lots of trees, lots of undeveloped areas untouched by concrete. You can walk from one end of the Downtown area to the other along a boardwalk that skirts the main creek.

I was driving through Antioch a month or so ago, hating being there when I saw one of the few "natural" parks, and I thought it was nice that there was an area where the city wasn't actively fighting the natural lay of the land, and how pleasant it all looked; how different Antioch is from San Luis Obispo, and how that could be changed**. The thing that's come to me as I've been thinking on it is that trees and plants will thrive in an area thats been at least nominally left alone. You can trim, prune and manage nature, but if you expect it to thrive when you've covered everything in blacktop and asphalt you're probably going to be disappointed in the end results.

What I see here is people trying to force nature to be convenient and manageable without any consideration to what nature wants. OK, so the climate there hot and dry, I understand that, but I don't see that temporary structure filled with plants is going to be anything more than a temporary structure filled with plants. And the broad plaza covered in concrete and scrubby trees laid out in a perfect grid? Even when the trees are full grown they'll still be stuck in concrete. No grass, no bushes, no shrubs, just a sterile plaza.

"So, yeah, that's great, lekvar, you can point out problems. What's your solution?"

A valid question, and it's one that I'm woefully under-qualified to answer, and, worse yet, my solution would be totally unfeasible in real life. It would also be long-term. I'm talking decades.

First off I'd tear up broad swaths of concrete. I'd try to locate natural waterways and rehabilitate them as much as possible, planting trees and shrubbery back on the banks. Once that's in place I would try to make them as accessible as possible, with the hopes of creating pedestrian walkways along them. Long, wandering parks, narrow in some places to accommodate the shops, housing, and commercial areas, leading to broad, open parks where the community could gather. A network of greenspaces that connect the cities and communities.

I know it's probably impossible in an old, established city. But I've seen cities that have similar plans in place. They are lovely. When mankind doesn't fight to tame nature, it can enjoy the benefits of symbiosis with it. But a "temporary" solution, to my mind, is just more of the same.

*this thing is going to heat up like a stove-top even when the trees are full grown.
** speaking strictly to the issue of walkability, pleasantness of the general environment, etc.
posted by lekvar at 6:21 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

So, we can over engineer a plate of beans? And be green?
posted by Samizdata at 6:24 PM on September 15, 2008

And you're right, slimepuppy, I don't have a simpler solution. But my point (before the rant) was that the Air Trees are over-engineered, which to my mind is using a bigger hammer when you first try doesn't work rather than pondering whether or not a hammer is the right tool for the job.
posted by lekvar at 6:26 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Very cool.
Thanks, Surfin' Bird.
posted by bru at 7:44 PM on September 15, 2008


I'm not sure the air tree spaces are meant to be parks in the sense of being 'long, wandering' or 'connecting cities'. In the original post it is mentioned in some words that they hope things to be built around the air tree. It's difficult to create green space within urban environments after buildings have already gone up, so the air tree reverses it: create something that isn't quite a green space--yet--and let the buildings go up around. And they'll want to go up around it, because people are gathering there due to the cool air and other uses of the tree (see the entertainment one). And those people are a localized market. THEN, the trees come up, the air tree is dismantled, and voila, the job is done. Also, although the air tree is a temporary solution to the hot outdoors problem in the space it occupies, the assumption is it's going to move somewhere else, to provide a cool air area that place too, so in that sense it's permanent. The way I see it, it accomplishes 3 good things:

1) Lays the ground work for an urban green environment
2) Provides places for people to gather in a cool area to... do stuff?
3) Produces electricity to support itself and help justify its existence.

I agree with you on the point that all that concrete doesn't seem useful, and it could have looked a lot more natural and less ugly if it had some shrubs or heck even some mulch surrounding it. The decorative aspect is a little lacking.

- National
posted by NationalWreck at 8:56 PM on September 15, 2008

Cool, thanks for the clarification lekvar. I agree with you in principle, but I'm not sure it's practically feasible in Madrid.

The entire town is in the centre of Spain and is 600m above sea level. Natural waterways are few and far between. Also, most of the urban development did not tear down any forests or natural elements, but simply built on top of the rock and sand that was present. The trees are the unnatural element as far as I've understood it.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:30 AM on September 16, 2008

wilful mentioned: Just plant some damned trees, OK?

How long after planting a sapling until it can actually provide enough shade to make it worthwhile? Are most people willing to wait ten or more years?

And calling them ugly? Well sure but so is 99% of anything within a city. Cars - ugly and stinky. Roads, streetlights, signs, billboards - ugly.
posted by JJ86 at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2008

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