Green walls are something toted by every architecturally astute conversationalist over Sunday brunch, but do you know what they can really do for our society and well being?
An ‘age old’ technique of greening, the green wall (sometimes termed the equally catchy vertical garden) is a wall either partially or completely comprised of greenery nestled into a growing substrate (a.k.a. soil). It all began with Stanley Hart White, a professor of landscape architecture in Illinois, who patented a vegetation-bearing ‘architectonic structure’ in 1938, and evolved into Patrick Blanc’s creation of the first successful indoor green wall in 1986. Since then, green walls have been invading the mainstream of architectural design, with Blanc’s work inhabiting an entire exterior wall of the Musee du quai Branly and the 2012 G-20 summit in Los Cabos being home to the largest green wall in existence thanks to Fernando Romero.
The environmental benefits to green walling may perhaps surprise the average observer. Not only do they alleviate “sick building syndrome” by improving the appearance of an otherwise fairly mundane urban structure, green walls have also been found to positively impact mental health of those who live and work around them. Alongside looking attractive and providing a great background for outfit of the day snaps, green walls are also used to protect buildings from the effects of insolation (heat from the Sun), meaning they are kept cooler in summer and insulated to be warmer in winter, not only reducing carbon emissions but also saving on the cost of heating and air-conditioning. They can contribute to a system for collecting and re-using rainwater, and act to purify polluted “greywater” by absorbing nutrients and mineralising otherwise harmful compounds.
Vertical gardening using green walls is also a real thing and it is taking the urban agriculture revolution by storm. Fitting a little slice of self sustainability into a few square feet of building is a tough task, but with the green wall boom spreading out across the urban centres of the world, it may not be long before the carefully curated sides of buildings are sprouting vegetables. City centres with resources that can be integrated and beautiful and functional in their existence are surely the way forward, and we are more than likely to see many green walls and their younger cousins growing around the planet soon.