In my city, a very high skyscraper stands at the center. Somehow, a tree, in a span of [x] years integrates itself into the building. Its branches reach out from the top of the building and its shadow covers a big chunk of the city. At the time the story takes place, the tree's trunk is almost as big as the building itself.

It was such a sight, watching from a distance. But I figure it would be very inconvenient for those living under its shadow.

Why would my city allow such a tree to grow to such a magnitude in such a long time?

To clarify, the world is just like ours with the same kind of technology, except the tree, of course, where nobody understands how it works. The city was modelled after New York.

I imagine the people living under it may complain about the lack of sunlight. Maybe they want to hang laundry out to dry, but there's no direct sunlight. And then some couples may want a bit of romantic fun times under the moonlight on their rooftop. Stuff like that, besides, people complain about everything.

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    $\begingroup$ Why not? What is the culture, tech level, and biology of your planet’s inhabitants? Right now it’s too broad. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 23 '17 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ Why would it be inconvenient? In hot climate it might be a life saver and tourist lure. Also, if building survived it, wasn't it designed to be accompanied by a tree? Most of our buildings collapse when vegetation crushes their walls. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 23 '17 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ Just tell the people of your world that it is healthy to live under a giant tree. Not all people, but enough people will do basically anything and believe basically anything if someone tells them it makes them live longer. You don't even need to justify it, just state "healthy" and move on. It works every time $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 23 '17 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 That's why we have so many smokers and so few vegans. $\endgroup$ – Felix Dombek Nov 23 '17 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea. And there are lots of arguments in the answers, why it is great to have it there...But please consider, that a giant tree would definitely destroy the building partially or entirely and moreover affect the city`s infrastructure. A little destruction(raining glass shards, whenever a branch crashes a window) here and there would make the idea more credible, even if the tree becomes less acceptable by the inhabitants.Or let the tree lift the entire building... $\endgroup$ – Aertemis Nov 23 '17 at 15:49

18 Answers 18


The tree was never supposed to be a tree, it was supposed to be a natural boost to the air quality and be a feature of the building.

The architect had a great idea for a natural air circulation and freshening system. You plant this tree up the centre of the building, it acts as a visual feature through the middle of the tower up a central transparent air duct. Architects always have such wonderful ideas, and some dodgy genetic engineering happened to get a plant to grow big enough, as the tree grew it put roots into the city aquifer and became rather dominant.

The first panic came as it displaced and replaced some of the tower structure and the tower was condemned and abandoned, but that was before the earthquake which the tower survived far better than many equivalent buildings. After which the building was cautiously reoccupied just out of a need for space.

There isn't much space left in the tower now, it's mostly tree, but as it grew it became a tourist attraction and now the city wouldn't dream of removing it. Never mind the loss of the tourists, the simple cost of removing that much material from that height in the centre of the city is completely prohibitive.

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    $\begingroup$ in that scenario, it would be very likely, that people start to carve rooms into the tree, to get more space. In a careful and regulated way of course, so they don't risk killing the tree. $\endgroup$ – Till Nov 24 '17 at 10:55

Most likely scenario, there's an ownership dispute over the building. Till it's settled, neither party nor a municipal authority can do anything about the tree unless the building is declared a hazard. And neither party wants that, but a) won't spend the money to deal with the issue till they win and b) won't allow the other party to spend their money, lest it gives them (other party) a better claim.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, adminstrative problem sounds pretty good and realistic. Also, it takes time to make papers, make everyone agree (if it's ever possible), in the meantime, it continues to grow and takes more and more land belonging to different persons, thus needing new agreements. By the time ownership and responsibility is settled, the tree is too big and it's too costly to bring down. $\endgroup$ – Asoub Nov 23 '17 at 16:09

Such an unique wonder of nature would be a major landmark. The tree would become the identifying symbol of the city and become a major tourist attraction.

Chopping it down would mean to lose a part of the unique culture and identity of the city. Even suggesting it would be considered sacrilegious. It would be as if you would suggest to flatten the Sugarloaf Mountain of Rio or start building skyscrapers in the New York Central Park or fill up the Außenalster in Hamburg. The tree might be a major everyday inconvenience (just think of the damage caused by falling branches), but public pressure would still demand to keep it.

Besides, getting rid of such a huge tree is easier said than done. You can not just chop it down by cutting it at the bottom. Not without risking the destruction of several city blocks. Removing it safely would be a huge undertaking. You would have to systematically remove branch after branch until just the trunk remains and then deconstruct it in manageable increments from top to bottom. And when the tree is still powered by magic, it might be impossible to do this faster than it regrows. Getting funding for such a project against public resistance might be impossible.

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    $\begingroup$ All land encompassed by the Great Sequoia "is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate or settle upon or occupy the same, or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed therefrom. (U.S.C., title 16, sec. 21.) $\endgroup$ – Mazura Nov 24 '17 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ SEC 2. That said public park shall be under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior, whose duty it shall be, as soon as practicable, to make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or proper for the care and management of the same." YELLOWSTONE ACT, 1872 –www.nps.gov - Chopping it down is a federal offense. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Nov 24 '17 at 15:59

Your city is in the area of very hot climate. Under the shadow of such a tree, life would be much more comfortable. Your city certainly needs more of these, but this one has been just an experiment to show, that this GMO tree can be succesfull.

Former building has been intended to be just a supporting structure - to allow this tree to grow much more quickly saving on need to use a lot of energy and nutrients to form a huge trunk.


In one word: Inertia.

The tree is older than the city. When early settlers came, they already saw a giant tree growing next to what is otherwise a great site for a city. It wasn't so massive back then, of course, but it was already an impractically large tree. Cutting it down would be a massive feat of 16th century engineering, would endanger everyone around it, and even if done, most of the tree would rot away before it could be processed into lumber (by, again, a band of 16th century settlers.) Besides it's kind of cool- other cities don't have a massive tree in them.

Fast forward to now- without moving, the tree has ended up far inside The City, it has been around since forever- not even your grandparents remember a time when there wasn't a massive tree there. It has woven itself into history and folklore - it was the site of a James Bond villain plot in the 90s, an environmental protest in the 70s, a subject of a 50s urban legend, and for 6 years in the 1920s it was a supporting element in the tallest building in the world (The building is still there, but it has long been surpassed.)


But I figure it would be very inconvenience to those lived under its shadow.

With a tree of such a size (relative to your citizens), its lifespan will be considerably longer as that of a citizen; so it would be more correct to say that the citizens chose to live in the existing tree's shade, rather than the tree blocking sunlight for the existing citizens.

Given the tree's age, house prices will likely be different based on how much shade you get, and whether shade is desirable or not (e.g. compare stereotypical Saharan weather to stereotypical Siberian weather).
The impact that the tree's shade region has on the real estate market will likely be more of a driving factor for where your citizens choose to live, compared to the shade itself.

So I wouldn't worry so much about those who live in the tree's shade, they likely live there because their either like the shade, or the house prices were sufficiently low that they accept living in the shade.

Why would my city allow such a tree grows to such magnitude in such a long time?

The question is more: why wouldn't they? Let's weigh the options:

Benefits of keeping the tree:

  • People generally like to live close to nature.
  • Oxygenation
  • It provides (wanted) shade
  • Does it bear any fruit? If so, that's a plus.
  • It serves the same purpose as a lot of church towers used to: the large structure means that anyone in the vicinity can orient themselves by seeing the tree/church, e.g. to find the town center.
  • If the tree is particularly large or special, it can become a tourist attraction, which drives the local economy.

Benefits of cutting the tree:

  • Wood
  • Getting rid of unwanted shade.
  • Does the tree attract any unwanted wildlife?


Unless you're running out of building material, or the tree inherently poses a threat (e.g. attracting dangerous wildlife), I see little reason to cut the tree. In conclusion, if you make other building materials freely available, it's more than reasonable that the tree has been kept for sentimental or practical purposes.

I grew up in a town called Boom. It literally means "tree" in Dutch, it was named after an easily recognizable tree on the river bank (so traders knew to stop there). If you like trivia, Boom is also the town where the now internationally renowned Tomorrowland festival originated.

One of the biggest complaints in the town's history is that the town actually decided to cut the tree (due to ongoing vandalism and rising tensions). Though it was understandable to want to prevent a source of conflict, many people regret in hindsight that the tree was done away with.

  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't call fruit dropping from the height of a large tower block a plus, but rather one of the more pressing reasons the city might have to cut it down, before it kills any more people. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 23 '17 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix: Since the tree grew after the building was built, its existence proves that there was a reason to keep the tree; and falling fruit can be easily circumvented by either removing the fruit before it reaches the falling stage, or building a simple net on the roof of the skyscraper (which would also help with falling leaves, if the tree loses its leaves in winter) $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 23 '17 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ In general, a large tree growing inside a building would automatically be considered a hazard unless it was planned that way from the beginning and was a specific kind of tree. Otherwise roots damage foundations, branches damage walls and ceilings, and insects generally found ib trees can damage everything else. In a modern setting that tree would never be allowed to grow unless in exceptional circumstances - something like @nzaman 's answer. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Nov 23 '17 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Gnudiff: Working from the opposite end; trees grow slowly enough that if it were decided to keep the tree growing, that the building can be modified. I'm not saying it's easy or cheap, but given enough of a desire to keep the tree (and the building), it's perfectly possible. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 23 '17 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Flater it is possible, but extremely implausible. Trees are usually rooted out when they are but a small twig sticking out of a dirty drainpipe, or growing out of a crack in foundations. Nobody at that point is thinking about anything else than it blocking the pipe or destroying foundations. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Nov 24 '17 at 8:17

My answer uses some sci-fi elements to it, with some handwavy tech. It may not be what you're looking for.

William found a small flier on the table, as he took a seat to enjoy his morning coffee. The flier was made with a lot of care, with a tree-like red frame on the top and the left side holding the company logo while elaborated letters took the rest of the free space against a circuitry-themed background.


There is a new way of life waiting for you!

Stop ignoring the winds of change. The world needs to advance, and the first step begins with you!

Embrace a luxurious, sustainable way of life with the perfect marriage of technology and nature. Help to preserve nature by embracing it on your day-to-day life!

Several advertisements for products that promise to mesh up the power of technology with plant life follow the main text, promising all sorts of benefits over the traditional, tech-savvy lifestyle and the recent vegan/all natural trend. Those claims would seem almost absurd for anyone, wasn't for just a small detail.

Well, not so small.

William looks at the outside, and sees an immense, gigantic building that looks straight out of a book of cyberpunk fantasy in the middle of the nearby park. The mirrored glass intermingles itself with the robust bark of a gigantic black oak. Steel girders and wooden branches sprout from sides at irregular intervals, creating a massive crown over the neighborhood. Its leaves way above the rest of the skyline flow with wind as a massive sea of dark green, the waves dancing as a upside down, mossy-colored wheat field.

That massive cyborg-tree is the current headquarters of one of the weirdest players in the Corporate World. Swimming against the flow, they gave up profits and business opportunities in search for something unique, taking risk after risk and risking bankruptcy over and over again to keep up their morals and their beliefs intact. And, somehow, that suicidal approach to business worked for them - they made it big when their R&D department found out a way to integrate plant life with regular circuitry, enabling the creation of massive, naturally-growing computers which got faster as they got older and bigger. That tree wasn't just a tree - it was a massive dataserver that dished out calculations while it collected sunlight and made photosynthesis. "Those are changing times, indeed", William thought as he sipped his latte and contemplated the ever flowing, almost hypnotic path of the wind over the boughs of the world's biggest computer.

(Sorry for the broken english, it's not my first language!)

Give the tree a public utility that correlates to it's size. The bigger it is, the most the people benefit, and thus there is a direct interest to make it grow.

Alternatively, you can replace the Corporate thing with a religious theme for the same overall effect. I would go with money, however, as it is easier to convince the government to cooperate when there is a direct monetary benefit in game.


The melding of the tree and building could be an intentional part of the structure - providing structural support for the building around it.

This has advantages in terms of growth - the building can expand as the tree does.

As others have said if the climate is hot and sunny the tree would provide natural shade for those living/working in the building (depending on what the purpose of the building was), depending on the nature of the tree you could have it storing water in the trunk/branches as well which would provide water to the building occupants.

Also if it's in a densely populated city then the tree would act as a way of oxygenating the air in that area and a kind of vertical "park" as well - city planners often want to include parks and the like for residents but that costs valuable land area which could be used for building on so is very expensive. This super tree would be a very efficient way of meeting that need - like the skyscraper version of a park.


The tree might have been a spectacle in its own right, if it was a rare tree or a very exceptional tree. Perhaps it was the tallest tree in the world or the nation or the tallest of its species and/or the widest. It could easily become a tourist attraction.

The reason why the tree was planted might also be of interest, perhaps the planting of the tree was a significant event and the tree was planted on or near the grave of a famous king. The history of the building and its modification to fit the tree might also add to the level of interest.

There could also be a religious reason why the tree was important. It might be a site of pilgrimage for people and the building may have been constructed to help protect the tree or act symbolically as a counter balance to it (man v nature).


Simple, super rich people live on its branches.

Since your question asks about "why would people let the tree grow" i am assuming that the city was already there beforehand. The skyscraper-tree project was undertaken with the objective of dealing with rapid overpopulation leading to trees being cut down to make space for accommodation and air pollution making living conditions in cities very bad. Because of the novelty involved in living on or in a tree a good chunk of funding also came from real estate companies wanting to build mansions on the branches.

This project aimed at building cities on genetically modified trees (or) a newly discovered species of supertree that grows into gigantic sizes in the right conditions thus dealing with both of these problems at the same time. It was already determined that structurally speaking the tree itself was made of some organic tissue never seen before which lasted for a very very long time and also was stronger than most man made building materials in existence. This specific city was selected because it was one of the few places with an economy that had the right conditions to sustain the tree.

Already, huge funding was being received by the organisation building the tree from all over the world both by billionaires wanting accommodation on it and world leaders wanting to research the growing conditions so as to build them in their own cities. Before long, minor dissent from the residents of the city because of unwanted shade and all that was silenced by sheer power of money and the giant boom in the economy of the base city as the funding started to flow in. After the supertree grew to full size, there was massive tourist inflow into the base city which further boosted its economy and soon, ambient solar identical lighting in places fully covered in shade dealt with the problem completely.

Tunnels were built into the branches leading to the trunk for transportation and cable cars for transportation between branches. The materials used to build the houses were transported through these tunnels.

The super thick, strong branches of the tree form an entire city over the base city. This city consists of mansions built on or into the branches forming an interwoven maze of buildings. The mansions are primarily occupied by the rich and the powerful, with the houses on the edge of the canopy with an unbroken view of the surrounding area becoming the most expensive prime real estate in the world.

Soon, by altering the genes of the super tree, scientists are able enable the tree to grow in other conditions as well leading to the rise in tree habitats all around the globe, dealing a major blow to rising levels of air pollution and overpopulation in cities.

P.S. The skyscraper mainly served as a means to carry out construction and maintenance while the tree project was in progress. After it was completed, it provided much needed structural suppport as a portion of the central trunk was hollow owing to massive transportation needs. The sky scraper was rebuilt to serve partly as a conventional skyscraper and partly for research-maintenance purposes.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Skawang! Nice first anwer. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Nov 24 '17 at 11:01

In an effort to aid conservation, this city put into place several ordinances which make it difficult and expensive to remove trees unless they demonstrate a clear danger to the nearby structures. There are tax breaks available for modifying buildings to accommodate nearby growth without harming it. By the time the tree was big enough for the neighbors to complain, it was an integral structural component of the building and couldn't possibly be removed safely. (Which will be a problem when the tree dies, but all involved are hoping it lives long enough for that to be someone else's problem. )


Trees - particularly giant ones - are more than likely a lot older than modern buildings like sky scrapers.

The tree must have been there first. It produces fruit - and a vast amount of it - that is vital to the region's economy. The equivalent of many farms.

So construction began on this "skyscraper" using special construction technology that could withstand being built onto a tree. It was originally built to support the fruit industry, i.e. everyone who worked there had or worked for some business in some way related to the fruit and/or the tree and its well-being.

As time went on, the region's economy diversified, and the tree was still very valuable, but parts of the building were converted into residential and office spaces for people who just liked the idea of living/working in such a spectacular location, though a lot of the building is still devoted to tree business (perhaps there are even extensions along the branches now)

The tree is unique, which makes the fruit very valuable, and the tree itself an endangered species. It's been around since before tree science was a thing and scientists have no idea how to replicate conditions of its early life and grow another one.

There is now no reason at all to cut down the tree, doing so would pretty much destroy the town.


Because they're grossly stupid, and don't realize that the gigantic tree's roots will destroy the skyscraper's subsurface infrastructure, thus making it topple over in the next big wind, or require cutting off the roots, which makes the tree die and then fall over.

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Adding to the "Inertia" idea:

This tree is such a special feature, that it deserves its own history. That history explains why it still is there.

In short, at first it was a cute thing. Then it became inconvenient, but at the same time a tourist attraction and landmark, so nobody really wanted to cut it down.

Now it is so large and its branches so heavy, that the technology to safely cut it simply doesn't exist. How do you cut a branch hundreds of tons heavy and hundreds of metres in the air, above a city center, while being 100% certain that it or some large part of it won't fall down, destroying an entire city block?

And like that, discussion over how to remove it, whether to remove it at all, etc. has been raging for years. Meanwhile, citizens are adapting to the tree more and more, reducing the pressure to remove it.


So something historically happened at the city site where the tree and building are. Something like this tree :Hosen-Ji This tree was about a kilometer from the point where the A-bomb hit in Hiroshima and survived. The temple architecture was adjusted to accommodate the Tree.

So the tree is historically significant in some way or another, I like the A-bomb idea because it leads to step 2 of the idea. Anyway, big bomb goes off, the tree survives. After a period of recovery and rebuilding, the venerated tree becomes a feature of the new skyscraper. The architect, being wise, designs things with the growth of the tree in mind. They develop ways to monitor and steer the root system clear of those very important underground things like foundations, sewer lines, and other utilities.

They find ways to extract the good stuff from sewage to fertilize the tree, A Multi-million dollar contract is created for the care of the tree. Things go swimmingly for the first 50 years. All is peaceful and good. Until....

Part of the deep root system reaches some deposits, long buried, of the radioactive debris that is the legacy of the bomb. And the Tree gets a big dose of the old Godzilla.

While the root is small, the tree only grows at a rate only slightly faster than normal, but as the root line gets bigger then increase in growth rate increases as well. Since it's not a sudden, massive spike, the decades old tree maintenance industry does it's best to cope, reinforcing the building when practical. It soon becomes evident that doing things to the building is cheaper and easier that trying to do things to the tree.

Let another hundred years go by and your hundred story tall tree dominates the city, and the guys who rake leaves will make more money than the GDP of some small countries. The guys who trim the branches get really big in the paper and furniture industries (becoming the sole supplier for Ikea)

The tree has been symbolic for so long that no one would dare tear it down.


The tree can provide materials that can help the city in a various ways. Such as:

  • medicines
  • food
  • energy
  • further studies
  • etc.
  • $\begingroup$ Weclome to WorldBuilding! This looks like the start for a very good answer, but could you please edit it to provide examples? For example which medicines could be used, which kind of wood, how they would harvest energy, ... That would definitely increase the quality of your answer. Currently it's a bit short. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Nov 24 '17 at 11:03

One thing is the above-ground part of the tree, but what about the roots?

A tree that size need a huge root system. With little competition it has spread to cover the ground under the entire city. The subway is built in/under/through roots, buildings have their fundaments inserted into a mass of roots and rock.

What happens when the tree dies? Nobody knows, but it likely won't be pretty.


The people kept it there as a testament to the power of nature. They detested the city at some deep level because it wasn't really made for them, but nature was their nature, you could say.

Besides, it freshens the city air, provides a haven for animals, and it's a sacred omen, a time of transition, perhaps...


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