A city’s quality of life rises in line with the number and size of its green spaces. Aware of this correlation, more and more metropolises around the world draw up masterplans for more urban nature, devised and realized with visionary architectural practices. We’ve picked the five best ideas for 2018.

An indoor park for Stockholm

“Where can you go in the city when it’s cold and dark outside?” That was the question the Stockholm-based team at Utopia Arkitekter decided to tackle. Obvious answers included staying home or heading for a café, restaurant, or shopping mall. But for those who just want to go out and meet friends without spending any money, there are few options during Stockholm’s long, bracing winters.

S:t Erik’s Indoor-Park: six domes with indoor parks in Stockholm
A green oasis in Stockholm.
Photo: Utopia Arkitekter

The self-imposed challenge produced a tangible result: With their “S:t Erik’s Indoor-Park“, the architects envisioned a sheltered and heated green lung right in the heart of the Swedish capital. Up to 23-meter-high wooden poles will support the six domes that protect the park from the elements.

glass domes covering an indoor park
Green domes counter the Swedish winter blues.
Photo: Utopia Arkitekter

The domes themselves are covered in thin sheaths of glass to let in plenty of precious daylight and the architects plan to use filtered outgoing air from a nearby car park for heating. The thoughtful blueprint and design promises to become a thoroughly green meeting point – and the perfect antidote to Scandinavian winter blues.

Corridors of nature for Barcelona

Every year, Europe’s old towns attract millions of tourists, but for urban planners, their historic structures can pose a sizeable challenge. Where space is at a premium – and where strict regulations protect existing structures – there’s often little scope for something new.

Barcelona’s city administration plan to change all that with its new “re-greening program,” aiming to create 108 hectares of new green space by 2019. Not just for obvious aesthetic reasons, but primarily to combat the heat, noise, and air pollution that affects the center of the Catalan metropolis. While the city’s outskirts are blessed with plenty of green, Barcelona’s inner-city districts have few green oases, scattered across private backyards, micro parks, and the central strip of Las Ramblas.

So, to reach its ambitious goal, the Catalan government has decided to go all in: It wants to create several micro projects that coalesce into green inner-city corridors by moving entire streets underground and banning cars from the center to create the necessary space for new parks.

The city has even purchased industrial land for this purpose. To involve the entire community, cash prizes for the most sustainable ideas encourage citizens to spruce up their roofs with plenty of green, complemented by climbing plants on bare facades or pop-up gardens on building sites.

Barcelona’s aim: becoming a greener city.
Photo: iStock

Moscow’s hybrid park

It’s hard to believe, but the last inauguration of a Moscow park or green space dates back around half a century, making the Zaryadye Park the first of its kind in almost fifty years. Just a stone’s throw from the Kremlin and the Red Square, this new space is no park in the traditional sense, but more a new type of public area.

Across more than ten hectares, renowned architectural studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro has erected a museum, several pavilions, a concert hall, and an entire amphitheater as well as a striking viewpoint and “a nature experience.”

The actual architecture of Zaryadye Park remains invisible to the eye – the park is not subdivided by any bordered paths or streets. And thanks to its hilly topography, visitors can even walk across planted roofs, proving just how cosmopolitan nature can be when it’s shaped by the right hands.

Zaryadye Park integrated in the infrastructure in Moscow
Amusement meets nature – in Moscow.
Photo: Mos.ru (CC BY 4.0)

The artificial coast of Shanghai

Populated by 24 million residents, Shanghai is starting to burst at the seams. Yet after decades of wild, accelerated development during China’s economic boom, the city of superlatives is starting to remember its history. A history shaped for centuries by Shanghai’s heritage as a coastal harbor town on the East China Sea.

Already under construction, the Sanlin Bund Ecological Park planned by TLS Landscape Architecture pays homage to this maritime history: Canals traverse the 241-hectare area, connecting countless of lakes and ponds. Here, marshes give way to water gardens, meadows, and woodlands, restoring a sense of former times and the region’s natural ecosystem.

To keep the demanding urbanites entertained, the landscape architects have also included a plaza, an art museum, a sculpture park, and other meeting places. After all, China is all about looking ahead – not to the nostalgic past.

Canals inbetween greenery connecting lakes and ponds
241 hectares of park landscape in Shanghai.
Photo: TLS Landscape Architecture

Sydney’s garden island

While Sydney boasts plenty of luscious nature, these welcome green retreats are not necessarily accessible to all. Take one of the largest islands in the city’s innermost harbor – long used as a dry dock, it is now owned by the military and thus off-limits.

Recently, however, the international architecture firm LAVA got the chance to dream big when the Australian metropolis asked the experts to turn this isolated area into a thriving new district called “Garden Island.”

Besides apartments, public swimming spots, small stages, and markets, the island also has scope for a large cruise liner terminal to attract tourists. At the same time, the mega project’s name clearly reflects its core idea. Sustainable construction is key, including planted roofs and facades as well as numerous green spaces around the island. With this unusual urban project, LAVA wants to put a spotlight on nature’s beauty – a beauty often paved over or covered in concrete.