In These Post-Apocalyptic-Looking Hong Kong Neighborhoods, Trees Sprout From Rooftops

In Wild Concrete, a photographer shows how trees can find a way of life, even in some of the most crowded urban jungles in the world.

Even in the most densely populated neighborhoods in Hong Kong, where buildings are crammed into every available square foot, nature manages to survive. In a photo series called Wild Concrete, Hong Kong-based photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagreze documents trees growing improbably out of concrete slabs and from barren rooftops.


“I stumbled upon one tree growing on a residential building,” Jacquet-Lagreze says. “I was very surprised by the way it was growing in between buildings without touching the ground, like it was suspended in the air.”

The photos mostly show banyan trees, a species that evolved to grow on top of other trees in the rainforest. “In Hong Kong, with the favorable coastal geography and subtropical humid climate, plants require minimal nutrition to thrive even on concrete walls,” Jacquet-Lagreze says. “The decaying paint and weathered walls serve as a moist growing ground on which microalgae, fungi, lichens and mosses may bud. This creates a suitable environment for the tree to grow and thrive.”

Hong Kong has a surprising amount of green space–40% of the entire city is set aside for parkland–but there’s very little greenery in the dense urban core. For the photographer, the trees show how having a little bit of nature can make a difference in the most urbanized neighborhoods.

“In a city where the density of population is among the highest in the world, there is not much space left for nature in urban planning,” he says. “And the way these trees force their way to live in the middle of the city is bringing hope in an endless urbanized environment. It is a challenge given to urban planning, as well as a reminder that we should not deprive ourselves of nature too much.”

The trees also serve as a symbol for the struggle of living in the city. “The second thing that I love about these trees is the way they are growing,” Jaquet-Lagreze says. “Their roots are spreading fiercely on top and even through the concrete, where they are not supposed to be. It is a formidable demonstration of strength and resilience that illustrates what the people here have to face in such a densely populated city, where the life is hard for many … living in these old decaying buildings.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.