Remember the Flower Tower, aka Maison Végetale, a 10-story housing block in Paris with an otherwise unremarkable façade that’s nearly completely enshrouded with 380 potted bamboo plants?

Well, get a load of Bosco Verticale ("Vertical Forest") — two similarly green-skinned apartment towers in Milan that blow the Flower Tower right out of the water … or soil, rather.

Ever since architect Stefano Boeri released renderings of the twin tree-clad apartment buildings nearly a decade ago, the architectural community has been collectively agog over the audacious, arbor-riffic project that claims to be the world’s first ever vertical forest.

However dazzling, Bosco Verticale isn’t simply just for show.

In addition to adding eye-catching aesthetic oomph, the buildings’ 900 trees (including oaks and amelanchier) along with a wide variety of 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 ground-cover plants, are meant to absorb CO2 and particles from Milan’s fabulous but filthy air, shield radiation, produce both humidity and oxygen, filter noise pollution, and provide energy-saving shade to each of the tower’s individual apartment units.

Additionally, the towers boast wind and solar systems along with extensive greywater recycling systems that help irrigate the massive amount of greenery contained on each of the buildings' staggered cantilevered balconies. A team of (ideally) non-acrophobic in-house horticulturists tend to the trees, shrubs and flowers, which together equal about 2.4 acres of land.

milan bosco verticale The vertical forest look is achieved by planting trees and other vegetations on balconies located on every story. (Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Boeri, if the units of his urban sprawl-busting creation were individual homes on flat terrain, 50,000 square meters of land along with 10,000 square meters of forest would be required. Bosco Verticale, a "project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory," is just the first step in Boeri’s brilliant, six-part BioMilano scheme.

BioMilano's mission is to allow "nature to find spaces where it can express forms of biodiversity, both inside and outside the city limits" and "aims to increase the number of businesses which, working together in areas linked to agriculture, forestation and renewable energy, can regenerate the urban economy and provide forms of integration and work for thousands of citizens."

Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in October 2011.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Bosco Verticale: An urban forest grows in Milan
Bosco Verticale, Milan's literal vertical forest, boasts the equivalent of 2.4 acres of richly green land.