Fiddle-Leaf Figs appear most commonly, although you see Ficus Audreys a lot, too. And, of course, Birds of Paradise. Like mimes trying to escape an invisible box, single sizeable plants press against many parlor-level windows around here. It is a beautiful sight, really. A jungle aesthetic. Chic. Natural. Elegant. It is a wonder-provoking sight, too. Imagine the townhouse walls falling away, the plants growing to fill them like a plaster form. Or imagine the confessions that residents share with the attentive boughs. Or the hide and seek games children play with the largest of leaves.

Certainly, the owners thoughtfully chose these plants, nurture these plants, enjoy these plants. The plants’ perspective? Heart-broken, undisputedly. Transplanted from home. Lonely. Leaning against the panes, spreading their leaves wide. Wailing, “I need light.” And, forever hopeful for a bird.

These plants are protected, however, just like the residents of these tall-windowed parlor homes. From rain, wind, cold, heat. Buildings at their most fundamental provide protection from the elements. Shelter is among the physiological necessities at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of (human) needs.

Despite their dream of escape, these plants would not survive without the protection of their comfortable indoor perch. New York City’s climate is not fit for Bamboo Palms, Fiddle-Leaf Figs, Dracaena Green Jewels, Schefflera Arboricolas, Staggered Yuca Canes, or Ficus Audreys. And, of course, not Birds of Paradise. But they need light, and that the city can provide, albeit through parlor windows. These windows are tall and wide, well-proportioned for these plants.

What if the parlor windows were taller and wider? Wouldn’t the plants inside be even more well cared for? Then they could really flourish. If these townhouses just fully committed. People love a place with “good light.”

One such parlor-windowed street meets a commercial avenue where “good light” floods a corner storefront. A line of more than ten pots are set up to flourish as the window is taller and wider. The possibilities. The commitment. Similar commercial buildings are adopting the jungle aesthetic all over the avenue — climbing vines wrapping shop facades, box hedges marking lot lines, unreachable window boxes blooming year-round. But something feels different at these storefronts. The plants do not lean. They do not cry for light or look for birds. These plants do not peer out at all. They are far less heart-broken. It’s almost unnatural. It is unnatural. False. Fake. Artificial. Synthetic. Plastic. If you pass by just fast enough, however, beauty and wonder is all you see.

Neena Verma is a practicing architect, teacher and writer based in New York City. Her work queries the limits of contemporary architectural discourse — culturally, geographically and temporally. She is currently an Architecture Writing Fellow at the Cooper Union, faculty at Parsons School of Design and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and principal of an eponymous practice that pursues small-scale, forward-thinking architectural works.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.



We’ve grown used to things being strange. And to things being very familiar. A series of short texts by architect and writer Neena Verma on the ins and outs of our whereabouts.