'Buildings that Breath', 'Green Walls', 'Vertical Gardens' or 'Podium Landscapes' - whatever you want to call them, these types of landscape elements are an important aspect of modern Architecture and Landscape Architecture and are making a significant difference to the living and working spaces where we spend so much time. These elements have some notable benefits when incorporated into the urban fabric although there are important considerations that must be addressed both during construction and for the lifetime of the building including additional maintenance requirements.
Gardens in The Sky
Essentially, planning for 'green space' for each individual apartment throughout each level of a building takes a reasonable amount of planning and consideration when space is already at a premium. However, through clever design, incorporating the interior space and exterior space provides huge opportunities to maximize the living spaces while utilizing every part of the minimum floor allowed within the building footprint constraints.
In addition to this, 'aspect' plays a critical part of planning these areas correctly as obviously each side of the building receives different climatic conditions. Careful consideration of light and numerous other conditions is required to ensure the success and longevity of any particular species.
Green walls are simple solutions to provide vertical green elements without taking up significant podium space. There are now countless products available and methods to installing a green wall in a project.
Two main types of green walls that are becoming more and more popular are;
- those that are really facades of vegetation growing up a wall, trellis or wires
- those where plants are directly planted into a vertical structure that includes a growing media.
All forms of green walls require on-going long term maintenance, although the amount of maintenance expected can be less than you think.
The most cost effective method to achieve a ‘vertical green effect’ is to train a suitable climber to an existing wall or fence. An effective example is the 'Creeping Fig' (FICUS pumila) pictured below growing directly on a concrete wall. It will work just as effectively on timber, brick or stone, and will provide 100% cover in a suitable position.
Most climbers though will require some kind of trellis system and training to suitably cover a wall, particularly many flowering species. Below is an example of ‘Bower of Beauty’ (PANDOREA jasminoides) trained to a wire cable system. A fairly dense cover has been achieved with this species rather quickly due to the sunny position.
Using several climbing species can obviously result in much more colour and texture variation, although this would require more maintenance if a more manicured result is required.
One advantage of a utilising a trellis is that it is not restricted to a flat plane. Trellises can be designed to include varying shapes and angles, and can provide something 3-dimensional as demonstrated in the example below. This is especially important when dealing with a large monotonous facade.
The downside of this option is that the climbers will require access to deep soil at ground level or planters of a suitable size to ensure longevity of the plants – essential to the success of the green wall.
Maintenance requirements depend on the desired effect, but having access to all areas is a good idea so that if an area of the plant gets totally out of control, it can be pruned etc.
Epiphytes derive nutrients and water from the air and rain. The use of epiphytes as green walls is one way easy way to achieve a striking result, as long as site conditions are suitable for the plant selection.
The main advantage with this option is that is can be installed nearly anywhere, particularly when a space is not purpose built, and the weight of significant podium planters is not an option structurally. Installation of a living wall of any significant size will require a survey of the structural features of a building or wall to ensure safety. A substantial green wall made up of a variety of plants can provide the instant effect of a lush vegetated wall. There are a number of suppliers around that specialize in installing these types of green walls.
This example in King George Square provides a rich variety of colour, texture and form to what otherwise could be a very dull space.
Other systems are effectively a large flat bag of planting medium in a supporting cage structure.
The costs associated with any type of vertical garden depend on many factors such as location, plant species, height, framing, lighting and irrigation system. A professional installer will need to know quite specific details about the project to provide an accurate quote.
On-going maintenance costs should be considered with any type of green wall. Not just cost, but accessibility, practicality and the desired effect should be considered. Does the space warrant the expense of an instantly stunning feature or will a simple trellis be the appropriate solution?
Whatever the choice, more vertical gardens are needed to assist in reducing the visible impacts of built form in our cities and towns.