The Ultimate Amenity: Connecting with Nature in an Urban Setting


The Ultimate Amenity: Connecting with Nature in an Urban Setting

Numerous studies link spending time outdoors and in nature with improved mental and physical health. Yet, with more than 80% of Americans living in urban areas, finding a place to connect with the sky, the sun and greenery can be challenging. Landscaped rooftops, living walls, tranquil gardens and atriums are increasingly popular ways for developers to create room for nature in urban buildings. Those spaces became even more highly prized when stay-at-home guidelines were implemented and city residents were less able to escape to parks, beaches and vacation destinations.

“A connection to nature is vital to everyone’s health and wellbeing,” said Randy Shortridge cofounder of [au]workshop and architect ofThe Residences at Mandarin Oriental in Honolulu. “People need sunlight and value the long view, the ability to see the horizon. Landscaping stimulates all the senses, too.”

At the Residences at Mandarin Oriental in Honolulu, the 21-floor residential lobby will mostly be open air, although it can be closed during a storm, Mr. Shortridge said. The residences, which are anticipated to be ready for residents by mid-2023, are priced from $2 million to $35 million. Each condo has private outdoor space in addition to the shared rooftop.

“The rooftop garden has been designed so that the boundary between indoor and outdoor space dissolves,” he said. “The sky garden cantilevers out from the tower towards the setting sun and the reflecting pool faces the sunset.”

Green space and natural light are vital, especially in urban areas like New York City, said Andrew Schwartz vice president of Taconic Partners, developer of luxury apartments at 525 W. 52 St. and 311 W. 42 St in Manhattan.

“We live in a concrete jungle and when people are paying top dollar to live somewhere, they expect to have access to some outdoor space,” Mr. Schwartz said.

At 525, nature is evident in the lobby, where an atrium open to the sky includes a garden and water feature.

“Residents can look out at the rain or snow or sunlight on their way to the elevator,” Mr. Schwartz said. “At 525 we also have a landscaped outdoor deck in the middle of the building with seating and outdoor games. We’ll have something similar at 42 St. but it will be more like a secret garden design with pathways and quiet spaces.”

Both buildings will have rooftop decks for looking at the view and sunbathing. Rents at 525 range from $3,643 for a studio to $6,386 for a two-bedroom apartment. Some apartments also have private balconies.

“Several of my international projects exemplify my core design philosophy, known as ‘Shanshui City,’ which is the idea that humans and nature should be more emotionally connected, especially in high-density cities,” said Ma Yansong, founder of MAD Architects in Beijing and Los Angeles and the architect of Gardenhouse in Beverly Hills, California. “The vision for Gardenhouse is to provide inhabitants with the conveniences of modern city living while offering them a place where they can live in harmony with nature.”

Mr. Yansong was inspired by the natural beauty of the Hollywood hills and Beverly Hills.

“We designed a ‘green hill’ wrapped in a living wall that connects with its surroundings that has become an essential part of the architectural design,” he said. “Gardenhouse features the largest living wall in the U.S. The vertical living wall wraps around ‘the hill’ and includes drought-tolerant succulents and vines that are native to the area. The windows of each dwelling open up onto the living green wall, giving residents the feeling that they are living in a hillside village rather than a metropolitan city.”

The residences in the Gardenhouse, which include one-level condos, two-story penthouses and a trio of row houses, are priced from $3.7 million. Residents are anticipated to move into the Gardenhouse in summer 2020.

Seamless indoor-outdoor living connected with walls of glass, flush surfaces and similar materials have been popular for years, but until recently, those spaces were usually only available in single-family homes, said Mark Schwettmann, a director at Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the architect for One Steuart Lane, a waterfront condo in San Francisco that is anticipated to be complete in early 2021.

“Advances in structural design, materials, building codes and enclosure design have enabled high rises to offer spacious outdoor space that fulfills this same desire of living inside and outside at once,” Mr. Schwettmann said. “At One Steuart Lane we have indoor-outdoor great rooms with a fully operable glass facade, creating over 2,000 square feet” of indoor-outdoor living.

At One Steuart Lane, when the glass walls are open, the great rooms in each condo will have more than 2,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor living space.

The building’s 40-foot wraparound terraces will be divided by freestanding living walls that create privacy and vertical gardens, Mr. Schwettmann said. The building itself has a minimalist design to serve as a frame for the expansive views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“The residences at One Steuart Lane draw from a singular inspiration: the bay’s waterfront,” said John Pallante managing director of Polaris Pacific, the sales and marketing team for One Steuart Lane. “Each residence was meticulously and thoughtfully designed to optimize its unrivaled location and deliver a premier indoor/outdoor high-rise living experience. The living walls are a natural connection between the city and nature.”

The 120 condos at One Steuart Lane are priced from $1.6 million. A communal terrace on the second level of the 20-story tower will provide additional greenery as well as unobstructed views of the bay and the bridge.

In Beverly Hills, the Gardenhouse design provides green space for residents and serves as a new landmark of greenery along Wilshire Boulelvard.

“The interior courtyard is a hidden gem of lush garden that also weaves itself between the residences,” Mr. Yansong said. “Recycled water will be used to keep the living wall plants and greenery lush, while also acting as a cooling system that maintains comfortable interior temperatures.”

The Gardenhouse includes a ground-level water feature.

“Providing a visual and auditory experience for inhabitants, the water feature can be accessed by residents,” Mr. Yansong said. “It transports them away from the city and into a green, calm and tranquil atmosphere.”

Even just a few years ago landscape design was more sterile and meant to cover things up or to look at from a distance, Mr. Shortridge said.

“Today, we view outdoor space as an opportunity to relax, to sit in the shade and enjoy dappled light,” he said. “At the Mandarin Oriental, every condo has glass walls that open onto a lanai, so every resident has private space as well as shared green space on the roof.”

At each of these developments, extensive outdoor space constrains the number of residences and carries added cost.

“It’s not out of the question for developers to spend up to $1 million on landscaping installation at new properties and over $100,000 on landscaping design fees,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Ongoing maintenance can range anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 annually depending on the landscaping type and quantity.”

On the other hand, those green amenities mean that renters and buyers are willing to pay higher prices.

“The challenge of incorporating green space in urban development is always the long-term care required to ensure the landscape is healthy and thrives in a dense vertical high rise,” Mr. Pallante said.

In Hawaii, plants grow vigorously and don’t have a resting period as they do in other climates, so it is even more important to choose plants that can be pruned yet look natural, said Mr. Shortridge.

Such careful planning for green amenities results in a more tranquil home environment for residents, even in a city environment.

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