The new landscape
It’s an image straight from popular science fiction: humming, energy-efficient buildings swathed in living plants, the perfect harmony of nature and technology.
Vertical gardening, living walls, bio walls — in cities where space is at a premium, the landscape is growing upwards. The Greenwall Company is the Australasian firm responsible for living walls at the Westpac Building atrium in Auckland’s Britomart, the new Novotel at Auckland International Airport and a double-sided green wall at the Stephen Marr salon at The Department Store, which was the first in the country. It works with landscape designers Natural Habitats, architects and builders to design the walls, either retro-fitting them or integrating them into a new building.
“Since Britomart, there’s been a bit of a rush. Things are gathering pace,” says Greenwall’s Graham Cleary.
The concept was developed in 1988 by French botanist Patrick Blanc. He had noticed the diversity of plants around waterfalls and recreated it using a curtain of wet felt with plants growing in pockets.
The Greenwall model is made from very light recycled polystyrene that would otherwise have gone to landfill. The material holds water well, and the smaller area to volume ratio means less evaporation takes place, reducing the water demand by 85 per cent. Wastewater and plant-friendly lighting systems are installed to ensure the living walls continue to thrive once integrated into the building. While the building work is being carried out, the plants are grown offsite to the requisite lushness over nine months.
Cost varies hugely according to scale, and will continue to decrease as supply lines become more efficient. “We’ve already made big efficiencies in making the polystyrene,” says Cleary. “Eventually, you’ll be able to head down to Bunnings and do this all yourself.”
The walls, however, are much more than an update on the classic wilting office aspidistra. According to Cleary, they work hard. They shade, insulate or cool, and in Australia, Greenwall’s products are used as “vertical wetlands” to clean greywater. Placed in front of an air-conditioning unit, they also balance humidity and act as air purifiers in otherwise sealed office environments. Dirty air is dragged through the wall, where the flora and fauna that live on plant roots gobble up VOCs (volatile organic compounds – those emissions from office furnishings and equipment that can significantly affect staff) and carcinogens.
“When they’re used inside, people report a greater feeling of wellbeing,” says Cleary.
(From top clockwise) The living wall at the Novotel Hotel, Auckland Airport. The Green wall at Britomart, downtown Auckland.
s h c a S e h p o st ri h C : O T O H P
h s c a S e h p o st ri h C : O T O H P