Posts Tagged ‘living walls’

Green Walls or Greenwash?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

I admit it—I’m as seduced by the idea of verdant buildings as the next plant nut. On a purely aesthetic level, structures with living walls are a major improvement over the granite and glass monoliths that rise from the typical cityscape like enormous gravestones. But before we fall head over heels for green walls it’s worth asking whether they’re all they’re cracked up to be. Do they really, as touted, help insulate buildings, filter particulates from polluted city air, counteract the urban heat island effect, and create habitat for insects and spiders? Or are they just a green veneer, a 21st-century version of the fussy millwork that decorated Victorian buildings? Or worse, do they actually eat up more resources than they save? 

Even the green-minded bloggers at Treehugger and Inhabitat have been drooling over the latest designs, Daniel Libeskind’s 900-foot New York Tower, an upscale residential skyscraper with a section of glass curtain wall cut away to accommodate vegetated balconies, and Rotterdam-based MVRDV’s cluster of cone-like structures with concentric rings of boxwood-lined terraces intended for a new city south of Seoul. From a biological point of view, only one of the “11 Buildings Wrapped in Gorgeous Green and Living Walls” in this glowing review is interesting—Sharp & Diamond’s 50-square-meter green wall of wildflowers, ferns, and ground covers at the Vancouver Aquarium that seems to be based on plant associations found on cliffs, scree slopes, and other natural analogs. (If you haven’t seen it, take a look at The Urban Cliff Revolution, which suggests that these natural habitats have a lot in common with skyscrapers and other features of the modern city, and can serve as “habitat templates” for green walls and roofs.)

But what about the carbon footprint of the growing media used to create green walls, and any fertilizers used to sustain the plants? Is irrigation required? If so, is there an integrated graywater system in which used water from sinks, dishwashers, and other sources is cleansed by the plants and growing medium and piped back into the building to flush toilets? In short, do the environmental benefits of green walls outweigh the costs? I’d love to see some hard data.

Living Walls

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Now that green roofs have become accepted, if not yet common, a growing number of designers seem to be exploring the next great frontier in living architecture – green walls.

This past February in Paris I stumbled across the Musée du Quai Branly and was blown away by its 8600-square-foot Plant Wall designed by Patrick Blanc. A horticultural tour de force, Blanc’s creation reportedly includes more than 150 different plant species. A portfolio of Blanc’s living walls can be found on his website.

I’ve seen a number of spectacular green roofs both in the U.S. and Europe (my current favorite is the new roof on Queens Botanical Garden’s LEED Platinum Visitor and Administration building, one of the few planted with native species). Because green walls are even more visible to the public, they’re bound to capture the fancy of landscape designers. They could even revive the venerable tradition of the garden folly. Case in point: Gas Design Group’s “Topiade” (topiary + façade) overlays for an existing Louis Vuitton store.

By the way, living walls can have some if not all of the environmental benefits of green roofs: They can reduce storm-water runoff, trap and break down airborne toxins, and by decreasing the urban heat island effect, help keep cities cool.