Upon coming across Winnie’s post on urban agriculture, it immediately piqued my interest. I have a deep interest in the relationship between the built environment and horticulture, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Winnie for a fantastic and highly insightful post. As mentioned in the original post, increasing urbanisation is a root cause of decreasing green space. With this in mind, the development of ‘vertical farming’ is a topic I wish to discuss here.
The living wall concept has provided an opportunity in densely urbanised landscapes to alter the perception of landscape as a lateral medium. French botanist, Patrick Blanc, could be described as the godfather of the living wall concept, a modern development to Stanley Hart White’s botanical brick concept1. Blanc’s approach evolved from his research on epiphytic plants, which grow above ground, only requiring CO2 and water to live, thus creating a foundation to actualise the very idea of vertical green space.
Because epiphytic plants do not require soil to flourish, Blanc was able to develop a methodology known as mur végétal2, which utilised ‘a system of fabricated pouches that are suspended on a strong framework3, thus drastically reducing the weight of the structures to maximise viability in the built environment.
As a means of repurposing anti-spaces within dense urban areas, or being integrated into future new-builds, living walls provide a plethora of benefits. From purifying the air, reducing pollution, absorbing 2.3kg of CO2 per m2 a year, to acting as exterior insulation for buildings, thus reducing the use of air conditioning by approximately 33%4.
It is not just people that living walls serve a purpose to, as there are a number of epiphytic plants that produce pollen5, providing a vital benefit to the urban ecosystem.
Albeit manufactured, ‘nature’ within the office-place is also recognised to have medicinal effects; a claim once alluded to by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Recognising ‘man’s’ needfulness for nature, he asserted ‘to the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone.’6
Paris is a particular hub for living walls, with Quai Branly Museum being a prime example. Designed by Jean Nouvel with Blanc, the museum sought to be ‘a refuge without a façade, in a woods’7, using architecture as the medium for developing green space artistically within urban areas. The use of living walls is not only useful for bridging the gap between concrete urbanisation and rural seclusion. It is a process that has the opportunity to change perceptions of modern architectural typologies for an environmentally sustainable and aesthetically striking future.
- Hindle, Richard L., ‘A Vertical Garden, Origins of the Vegetation-Bearing Architectonic Structure and System (1938)’, (2012), <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14601176.2011.653535?journalCode=tgah20#.Upp6VWRDuIU>
- Richardson, Tim, Futurescapes, designers for tomorrow’s outdoor spaces, (United Kingdom, Thames & Hudson, 2011), pg.22
- SemperGreen, ‘Benefits of a Green Wall’, (2019), <https://www.sempergreen.com/en/solutions/living-wall/living-wall-benefits>
- Lehneback, Carlos A., ‘Pollination Ecology of Four Epiphytic Plants in New Zealand’, (2004). < https://academic.oup.com/aob/article/93/6/773/256207>
- Emerson, Ralph W., Nature, (London, Penguin Books, 2008), pg.10
- Lambertini, Anna, Vertical Gardens, (United Kingdom, Thames & Hudson, 2008), pg.175