While part 2 below covers a few case studies, please see part 1 of this post, published last week, for more on the scientific underpinnings of living walls.
Living Walls in Workplaces
For corporate workplaces where people spend a significant amount of time inside, living walls could vitalize the working environment, add aesthetic pleasure, and play important roles in positively impacting people’s health. According to a scientific report published by Nature, urbanization in Western cities has resulted in a lack of exposure to environmental microbes due to the increased level of hygiene, loss of biodiversity, and irregular contact with soil, which has been linked to many immune mediated diseases. Indoor green walls in urban offices can affect health-associated commensal skin microbiota and enhance immune regulation among employees . Indoor plants in the workplace were found to correlate with less sick leave, better task performance, and quicker restoration from mental fatigue [2-3].
Workplaces are embracing the idea of bringing nature inside through living walls that maximize space utilization and provide numerous biophilic features. Living walls help to achieve many goals as required by the WELL Building Standard—Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, & Mind . Duolingo, a leading tech company in the language education industry, has recently integrated several green walls that have become new attractions in their Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania headquarters.
Recent technology development makes living wall structures more flexible and designable beyond “just a green wall.” GBBN Architects’ Cincinnati office experimented with digital fabrication and augmented reality (AR) technology in their living wall design and installation. According to an interview with the living wall designers Mandy Woltjer and Troy Malmstrom, the design concept was to encourage plants to grow out of an irregular trellis that increases multi-dimensional volumes. Therefore, the plants were installed first in an AR space where the designer could precisely locate the plants in the designated position.
The term biophilia was coined by German psychologist Erich Fromm to describe the physiological tendency towards all living-beings—the “passionate love of life and of all that is alive” . Later, E.O. Wilson and Stephen Kellert’s groundbreaking introduction of the Biophilia Hypothesis to the design disciplines helped reveal the mechanism of humans’ inherent inclination to nature and other lifelike processes from the biologistic and evolutionary perspectives . It is widely encouraged to have direct contact with nature in outdoor settings, such as roaming in the woods, gardening, or simply watching nature from a park bench. A recent scientific study found that visiting nature more than once a week was significantly associated with better health and higher quality of life . Unfortunately, most of the world’s population now lives in urban environments, with up to 95% of their lives spent on indoor activities . Luckily, there are ways to establish nature connectedness from interior spaces, such as via indoor plants and nature views .
The Multifaceted Benefits of Living Walls
According to Stephen Kellert and colleagues’ biophilic design framework, the integration of daylight, natural materials, and vegetation are the fundamental applications that reconnect people to nature. While incorporating a courtyard could be constrained by spatial programming or financial limitations, a vertical greening system could be a great substitute . A vertical greening system, also known as a vertical garden, a living wall, or simply a green wall, provides numerous benefits to the indoor occupants and the environment at large.
As outlined by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC), there are different types of living wall systems. Green facades support climbing vines or cascading ground covers that are rooted in soil beds at the bottom or different levels of the structure. Living walls are pre-vegetated modules that are affixed to a vertical structure that support a much lusher mixture of plant species. Living walls can be broadly classified into three systems—the panel system, felt system, and container and/or trellis system .
When did you start your work in the field of therapeutic landscapes and what inspires you to do this type of work?
I guess what inspired me goes back to 1991, and a little before that. I was a bit challenged, in hindsight, with depression, and did not know it at the time, and, unfortunately, began to self-medicate. To come out of that, I spent a lot of time in nature; it was something that helped me evolve and come back from where I was. But more significant was the diagnosis of my mother with ovarian cancer. I spent a lot of time in hospitals, and it was at the time almost identical to Roger’s study (Roger Ulrich, 1986) that we were in the room when she pointed at a tree. She talked a lot about the tree; it was the only tree and was the only piece of nature in the view. I realized that she just clung to it—a totem of reality that you can attach to because the rest of reality was so oppressive. Almost at the same time, I entered into the landscape architecture profession. And because of the social convictions stemming back to the 60s and 70s, it all came together with me that there was an opportunity to explore this area, so I sought out working with marginalized populations.