You may have heard of living green walls, indoor gardens, vertical gardens and thought to yourself what are they? Are they some new design fad? As a matter of fact, the concept of living green walls dates back to the 1930s and they are science fiction made fact!
Living green walls are no longer just of interest to architectural companies trying to win design awards, but are gaining attention from businesses of all sizes, looking to improve their green credentials.
Living green walls are modular panels of plants grown with planting media, irrigation and nutrition feed, the construction of which grows vertically through different systems on structures that can be free or attached to the walls. Living green walls are also called vertical gardens, green walls, living walls or equals.
Living green walls are made using different systems; depending on the type of system chosen, the components vary.
However, the common parts in all green wall systems are: Plants, irrigation, back framing and support systems. At Vertvista, we manufacture our own proprietary system in both felt fabric green walls/vertical gardens and modular pot based green walls. Some of the green walls developed by Vertvista also include a system that can water the plants automatically.
Depending on project requirements and objectives, Vertvista suggests the ideal green wall system to be used, explaining the pros and cons of each system. As such, no thumb rule exists for the type of green wall system and hence it is necessary to have a meeting with all the stakeholders before deciding on the type of living wall system.
Construction of green walls are broken into the following components: back framing/support structure (this can be made up of aluminium pipes or MS members with MS welded mesh), irrigation system, planting medium and lastly, plants. As far as the green wall itself is concerned, much depends on who installs the green wall system. Some green walls have hidden pipes that will provide self-watering to keep the plants healthy, while others require hand watering. Liaising with the MEP agency and lighting consultant are important in the case of indoor vertical gardens.
With rampant urbanization at the cost of open spaces and trees, vertical gardens and green roofs are the only options left for cities with space constraints and high property rates.
As far as the benefits of green walls go, they add freshness to concrete structure, despite space constraints. Plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants improving the air quality. Green walls can also act as a good privacy screening option given that they not only improve the view but also create a sound barrier, absorbing vehicular noise pollution. Green walls and plants in general help improve a sense of well-being, with the idea that people work better and feel better when they have access to nature in their workplaces.
For homes and offices, it helps to bring in nature within an arm’s reach without worrying about space constraints. The outdoor vertical garden creates a layer of protection on the building. During summers it will absorb the heat in the area giving you a cool environment. The internal space between the building walls and green wall panels considerably reduces the overheating of the wall and reduces the temperature of the building.
Green walls or vertical gardens are used in homes to either add ornamental greenery to their balcony, grow herbs as a kitchen garden or just to add a touch of greenery. Who wouldn’t want to unwind in the evening with a cup of tea next to nature in the comfort of their own house?! A green wall is a great option for any household that wants to enjoy the benefits of plants but has concerns about floor space.
The green walls add colour and a unique design element to the lobby, meeting rooms, hallways and reception areas.
Green walls give clients and potential users a powerful visual statement. They also provide all the documented benefits of plants to buildings and the work environment. The living walls can help improve creativity, reduce absenteeism as well as reduce anxiety and stress.
Some of the measured benefits of green walls are:
Improved air quality: Plants act as natural air purifying agents by absorbing some pollutants released in an urban set-up. They can also contribute towards impeding the spread of suspended particulate matter, the cause of numerous breathing disorders.
Urban Heat Island Reduction: Cities have higher temperatures compared to non-urbanized areas. Green walls absorb the reflected heat from buildings, reduce the ambient temperature and reduce heat waves.
Reduced Energy Consumption: Vertical gardens naturally keep the buildings cooler during summers, thus reducing the dependence on air-conditioning and load on HVAC energy consumption.
Since the Industrial Revolution, modern advances have increased air pollution. In built-up areas, polluting gases and particulate matter are poisoning our air, but we can use nature to reverse the damage they cause.
A recent study of the effectiveness of green infrastructure to improve air quality in urban street canyons (intervals between large buildings) revealed that green walls can have a major impact. These spaces have high density of hazardous pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, but their levels reduced after the green walls were installed.
Sick building syndrome is a modern-day problem. Buildings and offices are filled with hidden toxic fumes from furniture and decorations that are quietly suffocating us. This is of particular concern with the growing number of people working indoors and the time spent each day inside office premises.
Our indoor environment is releasing countless toxic substances such as formaldehyde, VOC, trichlorethylene, carbon monoxide and benzene to name a few. It has long been known that adding office plants can improve indoor air quality and indoor green walls can do the same.
A well-designed, flourishing green wall will rapidly improve the visibility of a building, adding colour and texture that are sure to catch the eye.
Each wall is specially designed using a variety of plants that can vary in colour, growth and flowering, to give it a unique appearance.
Temperature variations severely affect buildings, causing the material to expand and contract, leading to breakage and cracks over time. Green walls insulate the building’s external cladding.
Outdoor living walls protect buildings not only from temperature fluctuations, but also by acting as a barrier from direct contact of rain water as well as protecting them from UV radiation during summers.
Concrete pavement, concrete structure of buildings with glass facades have a unique problem called urban heat island effect. Research has shown that the metropolitan areas are significantly warmer than rural areas. Rising temperatures have a negative effect on the environment. From rising energy demand in the summer, to air pollution and emissions, having green walls helps to alleviate this problem. Unlike concrete structures, plants on the outdoor green wall absorb the heat, prevent the building structure from being heated and thus, reduce dependence on air-conditioners, which results in energy saving. Apart from that, the interior and exterior walls help maintain ambient temperature by a process called transpiration, wherein water vapour is released from the pores of the leaves.
Inversely, during extreme winters, green walls insulate the building from direct contact with cold winds and act as an additional layer between extreme temperature outside and the residents inside the premises.
Plants have been used to reduce noise levels on freeways and other noisy roadways for a long time. Plants naturally suppress high frequency noises while the supporting structure of the green walls helps reduce low frequency noises.
Studies have shown that green walls reduced weighted sound reduction index of 15 db. Vertical gardens have a weighted sound absorption coefficient of 0.40 and green walls have significant potential sound insulation for vegetal architecture.
Just being close to plants can have a positive effect on a person's well-being. In fact, studies show that even looking at nature in the work environment can increase job satisfaction. The installation of a green wall-like structure also sends a message to employees that they are working for a company that is committed to providing them with a pleasant work environment.
Green walls have originally been inspired by the plantation growing on steep slopes and crevices of mountains. By studying the growth pattern of the roots on such surfaces, how the nutrients reach the plants and the steady supply of water to those plants enables them to grow on vertical surfaces.
Today’s green wall system combines the knowledge of horticulture, modern irrigation and basic structural engineering to create a growing environment for the plants. Green wall systems are broadly classified into two types: Felt fabric based green wall and modular container based green wall.
Felt fabric based green wall has plant roots anchored on felt fabric where it receives nutrients through the irrigation system. While the modular container based green wall uses PP pots where plants are grown in the planting media.
What kind of plants are used in living green walls?
Selection of plants is primarily classified into two categories: indoor and outdoor green wall.
While plants are not meant to grow in an air-conditioned environment, interestingly, selection of plants for an indoor green wall is an easier process. The reasons for the same are: there are very limited plants which can grow indoors. Also, across India, irrespective of the climatic condition or season, the indoor environment is largely constant. This reduces the variance factor and simplifies the plant selection process.
For outdoor green walls, micro and macro climatic conditions need to be considered. Indigenous varieties of plants are generally preferred for they are easier to maintain for all seasons. Seasonal plants are avoided keeping sustainability in mind. Direction of the wall is also important as south facing walls do receive high amounts of sunlight which needs to be factored in during selection of plants.
While a palette of plants is offered by Vertvista for plant selection and the owner’s/designer’s inputs are considered, final selection is done over a joint meeting with all stakeholders for its final selection process.
The green walls can be designed according to customer requirements with expert advice. This means that there are decisive factors about the overall design, including consultation on which plants will be used in the project site that will survive in the climate zone.
Vertvista along with our panel of experts have created many unique designs for a customized green wall. This is possible with only those with thorough understanding of green walls as chances of failure increase with unconventional designs. Green wall with an inbuilt water feature, green wall with provision for bird houses, or green wall with TV screen on it are some of the designs we have worked on successfully.
As with all new technologies, green wall systems do not come cheap, but a range of prices are available depending on the intended goal and type of system opted for.
The cheapest option is walls where plants are planted on site, such as a bio wall system, which reduces the cost of pre-growing plants elsewhere. However, the plants will not have full coverage and it may take up to a year for the plants to flourish.
Alternatively, green walls that are completed after installation require plants to grow in advance and cost more.
One must be cautious of unprofessional installers with limited knowledge of green walls. Compromises in the planting media, quality of plants, irrigation or the system will effectively be more expensive due to high maintenance costs.
Some systems are specifically designed for herbs and vegetables, and vertical gardens such as those offered by Vertvista have options of growing edibles. Availability of natural lighting, pest control, and pre-grown semi matured plants simplify the process of having edibles grown in your living wall. The system of green wall where herbs or vegetables are grown are different from the traditional green wall system for ornamental plants, hence it is advisable to select the system according to its intended use.
From brave garden projects to major commercial developments, living walls can be applied to both new buildings and renovations. Fully versatile, they can be installed inside offices or attached to the outside of buildings. Vertvista has installed green walls in public spaces, flyover pillars, building façade, on terraces and even inside washrooms. A proper design and planning is required and the plants can be grown in many places. If a design is unsustainable, we recommend against it.
The public sector will certainly benefit from the environmental benefits of systems participating in their CO2 reduction goals, but any industry can reap the benefits.
Yes! Most green walls are installed at home, generally the balconies. If your premises does not have rodent issues, you can grow your own herbs and vegetables as well. Given the modularity of the green wall system, all types of balconies and terraces can have their own green wall.
Availability of plumbing connections for irrigation systems near the green wall can greatly simplify the process of watering and maintaining it. Solutions of self-watering green walls are also available. Whichever type of green wall is installed, minimal maintenance activity has to be undertaken on a weekly basis to make sure the plants have a longer life. Your personal attention to the plants is also rewarded with your own relaxation.
Most green walls are designed with drip irrigation systems, which maximize water usage and are set up using automated systems to minimize water loss.
Recycling systems are the most efficient. They use water over and over again, pumping water from the bottom to the top, until there is no water left. The tank is then refilled. Alternatively, direct irrigation is an option for spaces that do not have space for tanks. Manual watering of green wall is generally avoided as it is a labour intensive task to water each plant and it also gets more difficult with time as plants become more dense.
As a reasonably new technology, it is difficult to announce with certainty the living life of green walls. It has been observed that hardware and panel can last easily over 15 years. Generally growing media can last upto 3 years. Certain growing medium can last upto 15 years as well, it depends on the type of project and budget allocated for the growing media. It is difficult to establish how long the plants will survive. Systems are designed to give the longest possible life to the plants and it depends on a number of factors.
Compromises on certain criteria to reduce the cost is unfortunately a common practice which we abstain from at Vertvista. We ensure that the plants have the longest possible life with minimum effort and at the most reasonable price.
Outdoor plants are specially selected so that the walls can withstand the weather in a particular place. However, for extreme weather conditions, a local horticulturist is also to be consulted to reduce the risk of faulty installations or decisions. We recommend against the use of a green wall on certain occasions if we are not confident about the ease of maintenance or plant longevity in the long run.
Green roofs and Living green walls are the future. With the benefits of health and happiness, they are a revolution that seeks to see the beginning of nature for the removal of concrete and the restoration of urban space.