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Could Eiffel Tower become world's largest tree?

By George Webster, for CNN
December 14, 2011 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
The Eiffel Tower as it would look over time with 600,000 plants growing on it. The Eiffel Tower as it would look over time with 600,000 plants growing on it.
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From iron lady to green giant
'La dame de fer'
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • French engineering firm unveils plan to adorn Paris monument with 600,000 plants
  • If given the go-ahead, "world's tallest tree" could absorb over 80 tons of CO2, says firm
  • The temporary installation, which will cost $97 million, is likely to face opposition
  • COMMENTS: Pipe-dream or true innovation? Tell us your thoughts below

(CNN) -- An engineering firm has unveiled plans to turn the Eiffel Tower into a vast, tree-like monument by cladding its mesh iron body in over 600,000 plants.

The controversial proposal from Ginger -- a French company that specializes in ecological design projects -- would cost $97 million and remove 87.8 tons of carbon dioxide from the Paris skies, according to the company's calculations.

Ginger CEO Jean-Luc Schonebelen concedes that it is probably not the most efficient form of carbon sequestration, but says the idea -- which has so far received no official endorsement from Paris City Council -- could have profound symbolic value.

"We're told that within the next 30 years the world's population may reach nine billion, and that 80% of us will live in cities," says Schonebelen, referring to projections from the U.N. Population Division released earlier this year.

"With this in mind, we need to think about how we're going to start bringing nature back into the city landscape ... so this (proposal) is our call for action."

If Schonebelen has his way, thousands of hemp sacks brimming with soil and 48 varieties of seedlings would be fastened to "La dame de fer" -- or "the iron lady," the tower's French nickname -- by the end of next year.

Irrigated via a 12-ton grid of interconnected rubbing tubing, the plants would likely mature by 2014 and would be nurtured until their removal two years later.

"Of course we're not suggesting this be a permanent fixture, we're proposing this as a temporary installation -- just as Mr Eiffel did when he built the tower back in the 19th century," says Schonebelen.

Staff at Ginger have been developing the mechanics behind the proposal for the past 18 months. The company employs over 1,500 people and has a turnover of €230 million a year, according to Schonebelen.

Comment: Would you give them your support? Is the Ginger's Eiffel Tower tree a feasible innovation or a pretty but impractical pipe dream? Tell us you thoughts in the comments section below.

Since the Eiffel Tower opened during the 1889 World Fair, the 324-meter tall lattice monument has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, with almost seven million paying visitors a year, according to La Societe d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.

We want to turn an emblem of the industrial past into a beacon of the sustainable future
Jean-Luc Schonebelen, Ginger CEO

Parisians are quick to defend their city's architectural heritage but says Schonebelen, "they are also very concerned about the environment and I'm sure will come around to the idea."

Adorned in its new coat of living greenery, the tower would likely become a convenient new home for insects and birds. Schonebelen says they would be welcome guests and insists neither the foliage nor its accompanying inhabitants would obscure the view.

"We'd keep the viewing platforms clear," he says. "Our objective is to enhance the structure, not ruin it. We want to turn an emblem of the industrial past into a beacon of the sustainable future."

Schonebelen says that they have selected a variety of plants that can flourish at high altitude and will be performing a feasibility study in the coming week to test if the tower could withstand the significant additional load.

However, the company is yet to formally present its ideas to either the Paris City Council or SETE.

"This is a very serious proposal, from a serious company that has put a lot of time and resources into it," says Schonebelen. "We hope the Paris authorities will give us some of their time to listen to the idea."

So, what would you say in their shoes?

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