The Ultimate Guide To Living Green Walls

 by Sean Heffernan, for ambius.com

Living green walls. You may have heard of them and thought they were no more than the latest design fad. However in truth, the concept dates back to the 1930′s and they are science fiction made fact!
No longer just of interest to architectural companies trying to win design awards, they are gaining attention from businesses of all sizes looking to improve their green credentials. This ultimate guide will introduce you to these beautiful structures of greenery by answering the most common questions we hear asked.
Before you know it, you’ll be boring your friends, colleagues and boss as you preach like one of the newly converted!



1) What are living green walls?

Living green walls are panels of plants, grown vertically using hydroponics, on structures that can be either free-standing or attached to walls. Living green walls are also referred to as vertical gardens, green walls, living walls or ecowalls.

When was the living green wall invented?
The idea for living green walls was first patented by Stanley Hart White in 1938, however it is Patrick Blanc’s name that resounds through the industry. After creating one of the most famous green walls at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, he was designated the godfather of the ‘vegetal wall’, sparking a revolution in sustainable architecture.
Now known as green facades, plants have probably been growing on buildings since the first stone was laid. Living green walls are the next generation, differing from climbing plants like ivy, as they are intricately planned collections of plants held in a structure away from the building.
These miraculous structures bring nature back into urban environments. As the concrete jungle expands and pollution rises, the application of living green walls stands to reverse this trend. Incorporating carefully chosen selections of plants into cutting edge design, living green walls have been devised to help restore the natural balance.

2) What are the benefits of living green walls?


As we run out of green space in cities, living green walls can turn urban spaces back into something natural and beautiful. They can also improve air quality and provide health benefits.

How do living green walls improve air quality?

Ever since the industrial revolution, modern advancements have increased air pollution. In built-up areas, polluting gases and particulate matter are turning our air toxic, but we can utilize nature to reverse the damage we’re causing.
As children, we learn that plants naturally remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen rich air. However, it’s less well-known that they also filter the air around them by absorbing and cleaning pollutants. This natural effect is multiplied by the sheer number of plants in living green walls.

A recent study into the effectiveness of green infrastructure for improving air quality in urban street canons (the gaps between large buildings), found living green walls can have a big impact. These gaps are hotspots for harmful pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, but living green walls have been shown to reduce levels by 40% and 60% respectively.
It’s not just pollutants outside that are a cause for concern as there are plenty of toxins inside that can adversely affect our health too.
Sick building syndrome is an issue of modern times. Buildings and offices are filled with invisible toxic fumes, from the furniture to the decor, that are silently choking us. This is of particular concern with the increasing number of people working indoors; a reported 80-90% of North Americans spend a significant period of the day inside.
Countless toxins are leeching from our indoor environment, such as formaldehyde, VOCs, trichloroethylene, carbon monoxide and benzene to name just a few. It’s long been known that adding office plants can improve the indoor air quality and interior green walls do just that, but on a much bigger scale that can benefit building inhabitants.

What are the visual benefits of living green walls?
Our modern society is all about image and nothing beats nature for beauty. A well-designed, flourishing green wall can drastically improve a building’s appearance, adding color and texture that won’t go out of fashion.
Each wall is specifically designed, using different varieties of plants which can vary in color, growth and flower to create living art, rather than a lawn on the side of your building.



Are they good for the building?

Buildings are adversely affected by changing temperatures that cause materials to expand and contract, which over time leads to deterioration, cracks and fissures.
Exterior living walls give buildings protection, not just from temperature fluctuations but also by diverting water away from walls during heavy rain and providing protection from UV radiation.

Can living green walls reduce energy costs?

The build-up of urban environments has caused a worrying side effect. Termed the urban heat island effect, research has found that metropolitan areas are considerably warmer that rural areas. This increase in temperature has a negative impact on the environment; from increasing energy demands in the summer to air pollution and emissions.
Living green walls help to offset this problem by providing shade from the effects of direct sunlight. Also, unlike brick or concrete, plant surfaces don’t store up solar energy, but reflect it. Both interior and exterior walls help to actively cool the air in summer by a process called evapotranspiration, reducing the need to cool the building.
But the advantages of green walls don’t end with summer. The panels, including the growth media, insulate the building and reduce energy costs for heating the building in winter as well.

How do they help to reduce noise levels?

Plants have long been used to reduce noise levels on freeways and other noisy roadways across North America and Europe. Living green walls expand on this idea. Vegetation naturally blocks high frequency sounds while the supporting structure can help to diminish low-frequency noise.
As the use of green walls increase, this could significantly change in urban environments. Eradicating the din of the hustle and bustle we’ve had to adapt to.

Do they increase the property value?

The U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as an internationally recognized green building certification system to help transform the design, construction and operation of buildings. Both commercial building- and home-owners can gain LEED credits, by satisfying certain green criteria.
The installation of living green walls, either inside or outside, secures LEED points for low water usage and efficient irrigation, which can help companies show their dedication to sustainable and eco-friendly solutions. This in turn helps to increase a property’s value by giving a positive perception of a modern building with an improved carbon footprint.

Are green walls good for staff morale?

Just being close to plants can have a positive impact on an individual’s wellbeing. Indeed, studies have shown that even seeing nature in the work environment can increase job satisfaction. The installation of a cutting-edge structure like a green wall also sends a message to employees that they are employed at a company that is concerned with providing them with a enjoyable work environment.


More about How Living Green Walls work, How they can be used and Information on their maintenance at ambius.com.