Image: Joseph Velazquez
All Photos by Caroline Menetre Unless Otherwise Noted
Story by Linda Velazquez and Caroline Menetre
Along with my son and cameraman Joey Velazquez, our Greenroofs.com contributor Caroline Menetre and I flew up to Chicago on September 10 to interview world renown French botanist, Patrick Blanc, PhD, at the beautiful 4-star Sofitel Chicago Water Tower for the upcoming Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011.
We had an awesome time with him and thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in the Windy City! Caroline goes first and then I’ll follow with my reflections:
Caroline Menetre: Last Thursday I had the fantastic opportunity and pleasure to go to Chicago with Linda and her son, Joey (known for his photography and film work – he’s also the director/videographer for the Sky Gardens – Greenroofs of the World™ videos), for her exclusive pre-summit interview with Patrick Blanc.
Most of you Greenroofs.com devotees know of the noted French botanist and artist and his spectacular green wall installations all over the world. I can honestly say this man’s work was (one of) the main impetuses for me going back to school in horticulture and to some day design like he does. (I can dream, can’t I?)
There are numerous facets of Patrick’s knowledge and skills to admire, but as an artist I’m drawn to the design aesthetics, and well…he’s the master. Each installation is a magnificent work of art.
It was an honor to meet Patrick, and a thrill to sit-in and listen to such an intimate interview and conversation. He was enthusiastic and passionate about his work, understandably. I aspire one day to actually see some of his installations in person. And should Atlanta ever be the lucky recipient of his work, I’ll be the first one on-site. (Linda told him I would happily volunteer for any work!)
Linda will expound on the exclusive interview with Patrick, so I will just give a brief synopsis of our quick trip. We arrived early in the morning and went straight to the “magnifique” Hotel Sofitel for Joey (videographer extraordinaire) to set up for shooting later that day.
Patrick had two lectures that day – a master class to graduate students at the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of technology and the Alliance Francaise de Chicago (he had also given a lecture the day before at the Chicago Botanic Gardens), so we had some time in between sessions for a quick stroll around “the greenest, most environmentally friendly city in the nation.”
I could go on and on about all of the greening and environmental efforts achieved in Chicago, but the most obvious visual aspect is the lushly planted medians and storefront streetscapes. While the average Chicago visitor marvels at the upscale boutiques, restaurants, and hotels along “The Magnificent Mile” on Michigan Avenue, I strolled the stretch with head down, scanning from curb to curb, oohing and aahing at every plant and artful planting (shops? what shops?).
Of course, I had to photograph most of them for planting inspiration, and I also saw them as beautiful floral paintings – even did some effects on a few:
During our meandering travel towards Millennium Park, we did take a detour – into the Apple Store – to inquire if we could see their greenroof. Not accessible to the public, we were treated to a behind the scenes tour up on the top floor where the employees can enjoy overlooking their greenroof from the huge glass expanse of their conference room. Very nice!
And finally, before heading back to the hotel, we strolled the famous expanse of the 1 million+ sf greenroof that is Millennium Park, and the beautiful Lurie Garden – the featured nature component of one of the world’s largest greenroofs. The 2.5-acre garden is a combination of perennials, bulbs, grasses, shrubs and trees. It was a beautiful day to enjoy the park, and an additional pleasure to our trip.
Chicago and Patrick Blanc. These are a few of my favorite things…
Linda: Chicago was beautiful and we had a great day overall – neither Caroline nor I had been back here in a few years, and Joey had never been, so it was great roaming around like tourists. When we passed the Apple Store and Caroline suggested we stop in and see if we could actually visit the roof, I thought she was crazy – but, after showing my card – we were in! Very cool GreenGrid modular greenroof! The employees love it.
Believe it or not, I had never made it previously to Millennium Park – wow, what a great job the City of Chicago and all the excellent designers did on creating such an interactive and attractive space for all to enjoy!
Of course the highlight was capturing Patrick Blanc on film and creating an interview to remember. When Patrick agreed to speak at our inaugural Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011 last June, we weren’t sure what format he’d be using because of his hectic travel schedule. So when we were offered the chance to interview him here in the U.S., we jumped at the opportunity. What a charmer he is, and what a pleasure we had!
“As a botanist, Patrick Blanc is at home in the jungles from Bali to the Amazon. As a landscape artist, he has brought breathing walls and biodiversity to the grandest hotels, restaurants and stores of Le Tout-Paris and worked with French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier on the catwalk. But what the man with green hair is best known for is the “vertical garden”, an idea seeded in the heart of Paris on rue d’Alsace that spread to Jean Nouvel’s Quai Branly Museum before being exported all over the world.” ~ Chicago.Cervantes.es
Very charismatic, “The Green Man” had on his customary green accents – flowered shirt, gorgeous brocaded paisley Indian jacket, shoes, streaks in his hair…
A genuinely nice guy, Patrick is best known for creating the hydroponic Le Mur Végétal or the Vertical Garden living wall system. Also a botanist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, he specializes in plants from subtropical forests and spends several months out of each year combing lushly foliated jungles and other exotic landscapes in search of new species for testing and additional research for use in his creations.
Of course, his work is highly popular and he is insanely sought out as a botanist, artist, and designer. We talked about some of his current projects, like One Central Park in Sydney, Australia, with architect and long time collaborator Jean Nouvel, where over 12 vertical gardens envelope the facades with garden boxes and vertical wires incorporated into the loggias that wrap the towers in plant life.
Although Aramis and I met Patrick last November when I spoke at the International Skyrise Greenery Conference in Singapore, the only work of his that I have seen live is the gorgeous living tapestry at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris, which we also talked about – these are a few of my photos from May of last year:
Yet over the five years of our Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design, Haven Kiers and I have highlighted many of his projects – whether conceptual (top below) or real (bottom below), they simply are all stunning! Look for some more of Patrick Blanc’s works during this year’s Top 10 List, which we’ll be inaugurating at the Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011.
Patrick is very passionate about his work and very optimistic about the future of ecological design. We spoke about his early inspirations and aspirations – and I mean early. He was into tropical aquariums and plants at the tender age of five and started creating and manipulating designs at eight! Clearly, his scientific mind was off and running, and it hasn’t stopped since.
After my interview, Patrick signed my copy of The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City, 2008 – a big, beautiful coffee table book that just happens to capture his spirit, work, and purpose in glorious color. But, stay tuned – the upcoming revised edition with profiles of all his new projects is coming in October, 2011! I guess I’ll just have to buy it, too…
His quick smile and easy laugh plus his open sharing of ideas made our interview very pleasant and fun – look for about 30 minutes of my exclusive interview with him on September 27, 2011, interwoven with film from one of his recent lectures.
If you haven’t registered yet for the Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011, please do so here.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Jean-Luc Le Gouallec of MurVegetalPatrickBlanc.com for inviting us, Aimée Laberge of the Alliance Francaise de Chicago (who, along with Air France, the participation of the Services Culturels of the French Consulate in Chicago, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology sponsored Patrick’s visit) for arranging our Chicago visit, Carrie Makris of the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower who graciously allowed us to scope out the best site and set up filming, and most importantly to the lovely and talented Patrick Blanc for his time and participation!
See you online on September 27 & 28!
~ Linda V. & Caroline Menetre
Publisher’s Note: Our lovely Caroline Menetre Totten passed away in 2016; read her In Memoriam.