The Styles of the City 2: Vines!

 Followers of my blogging have long since realized that this platform is dedicated to my interest in buildings and how they work, or are reworked. As we have seen, to redo and reuse an older building is satisfactory and fun. But it’s hard and expensive. And, very frequently, there are things about that old building that nobody can do anything about.

Like right angles. Our ancestors were not especially interested in them, mostly. A genuinely ancient building tends not to be square. All the walls bend or curve or meet up at some weird angle, and none of the floors are quite flat. All these built-in problems are made worse by time. The first seasicky image here shows you what happens over time to a mosaic floor that was state of the art when Christ was a boy. Over the millennia as the building or foundation sags underneath, the floor sags too. Archaeologists have figured out how to peel up a Roman floor like this (it involves plaster of Paris) and transfer it to the safety of a museum, flattening it out in the process. So the ones you see in museums look quite walkable. This is what they’re really like, two thousand years after they were laid. Still pretty, but you do not want to walk on this.

 So for actually living in, I am now a fan of modern. Brutalist architecture has my heart, especially if involves HVAC, ADA compliance, an infinity of hot water, and elevators. When you pour concrete, you pour it square and plumb. Bookcases fit in beautifully. And you can plan for many, many cool features that were unimaginable even twenty years ago.

This office skyscraper was designed with a veil of metal rods. They cloak the entire building, which must be more than 30 stories high, and are about ten or fifteen feet from the actual glass windows that are the skin of the structure. This is so that they can grow vines up the rods. Greenery grows rampant around here in season. There were none growing in March. Now, in May, the vines are about 4 or 5 stories up. I’ll try and post another shot in late summer or early fall. I anxiously wait to see if by then the vines can scale the entire building and start waving at airplanes from the roof!



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


The Styles of the City 2: Vines! — 3 Comments

  1. I like the idea of greening our cities, but the combination of tall tower blocks and greenery reminded me of this story I read not so long ago, where a new Chinese ‘forest city’ of tower blocks cloaked by greenery can hardly get people to move in because all the water and greenery causes a heavy mosquity infestation:

    These vines which only grow from the ground level may hold less water for mosquito breeding, but if they are vigorous enough to reach to the top, I winder if they won’t be strong enough to get into the cracks and damage the glass cladding.

    I tend to prefer a more human scale ‘gentle density’ with buildings that are varied from single dwellings, row houses and multiplexes to small appartment blocks that are no more than 4 floors high, and plenty of trees and greenery. That kind of neighborhood achieves a similar population density as most high-rise city neighborhoods, but at a much more walkable, human-friendly scale.
    The YouTube channel Not Just Bikes has several short videos explaining and showing some of this, like “the missing middle” (, and “streetcar suburbs” (

    Street trees, and greening our cities, are so important to making our cities pleasant places to be, to create shade and help hold on to water, filter the air and improve people’s feelings of well-being. Those vines on a tower block are a nod in the right direction.
    Improved planning regulations could make so much more possible.