Greening Upright: Greening Our Homes and Cities Vertically

Upright gardening has been seen for the last couple of years as a solution of the lack of urban greenery. Nowadays, we can easily find private homes or buildings that boast such feature that is commonly referred as vertical garden or green wall. Vertical garden while not entirely a new concept, in the recent decades has been championed by Patrick Blanc, a French botanist. Blanc is a leading botanist who possesses a deep knowledge of rainforest plants from forest floor all the way to canopy layer.  He studied the way different type of plants that cling from bottom to top of vertical surface in rain forest find water to thrive. This is the main source of his inspiration. Blanc’s invention which he calls ‘Mur Végétal’ (often translated as the living wall) has the appearance of seamless lush green tapestry. This magnificent garden involves a sophisticated engineering system which consists of metal framing, PVC plate, two layers of felt on which the plants cling on and a network of irrigation pipes (which draw waters from all sort of available sources such as air-conditioning, air, rain water).

Iconic Bangkok Siam Paragon's green wall by Patrick Blanc. (image credit: D.Tunas)

Iconic Bangkok Siam Paragon’s green wall by Patrick Blanc. (image credit: D.Tunas)

The invention has proven to be a hit as he won commissions to build vertical garden globally for many high profile projects that elevated him to a stardom-like status. In Southeast Asia, Blanc created to name among others, the iconic vertical garden of Siam Paragon in Bangkok and Capita Land building in Singapore. In 2012, Blanc completed the biggest vertical garden in the world in Paris in Euro Alsace building in Gare De L’este. Blanc’s gardens as we can imagine do not come cheap. The initial hefty cost to build the sophisticated wall is just one thing, most importantly the garden require a regular maintenance to be done weekly, monthly and yearly period. It involves a serious investment of money and time.

Since it was first introduced, vertical garden has taken the world by a storm. Sensing business opportunity, business people around the world rush to develop their own vertical gardening system to capitalize on the trend.  Typically these companies offer a design and build package with maintenance package offered as extra service.

For a more practical approach that is easy to install and to dismantle, some companies developed a modular system that involves stacked up plastic planters of various shapes and sizes. Others developed a tray system that consists of hang-able trays divided into several planting cells.  The variations do not end there, as landscape designers, architects and garden enthusiasts around the world come up with their own version of vertical garden in accordance to available budgets and tastes. With all these varieties, as years go by vertical garden becomes a common term to refer to greeneries that are arranged or stacked vertically.

With the raised awareness of sustainability in building practices, vertical gardens gain a new currency. The vertical gardens are not only considered as aesthetically pleasing element but they can also increase a project’s green credibility. Green wall is a familiar feature among several projects in Singapore that are awarded with BCA’s Green Mark certification. CDL’s project, Tree House Condominium in Upper Bukit Timah area which is awarded with Green Mark Platinum Award for example features prominently an expansive green wall on one of its west facing wall.

Vertical garden can boost building energy efficiency. In tropical countries, biggest chunk of energy is used for cooling. Indoor temperature of your home is often a result of direct sun exposure on the building skin that is radiated to the interior. Cooling building skin traditionally is done by putting on a large roof with wide overhang to reduce sun radiation on the exterior surface.  Vertical garden can be an alternative or a supplement to the wide overhang. By keeping the building skin cooled, we can reduce the air-conditioning load.

Vertical gardens can improve indoor environmental quality in several ways. The plants absorb CO2 from the air which results in fresher air. Vertical gardens can also improve the indoor environment quality by dampening noise thus creating a more productive and confortable homes or work places.

Architect and café owner, Yulianti Tanyadji commissioned a Bali-based landscape designer, Irene Hartono, to create indoor and exterior vertical garden for the family-owned café in Makassar. The interior ones (with tray system) are placed in the café dining area. The exterior one installed along a previously unattractive driveway that is sandwiched between two buildings. Though she finds the maintenance to be somewhat challenging especially for the indoor ones, she feels that the benefit outweighed the efforts as the lush greeneries soften the exterior façade and brighten up the interior space.

Choosing plants for indoor green walls is rather tricky while they made sure to grow only plants that require very minimal sunlight, some of plants did not grow well. Irene pointed out that it is also necessary to choose plants based on their rooting system. The plants that are suitable for vertical garden usually need to be able to thrive on thin layer of rooting medium. Such plants include for example bromeliads and orchids. Thick layer of rooting medium tend to sag over time and also would create a heavier overall structure.

Yulianti pointed out that placing green wall in interior space has other challenges too. As the wall is consistently damp, it results in faint musty smell. The green walls also attract mosquitoes. Despite of such predicaments, Yulianti said that she would still recommend people to install green walls.

On another case, Jakarta based Indonesian architect, Peter Gunawan, created a vertical garden for his client. The garden is aimed to act as a second skin for the client’s home. His garden consisted of metal framing, U-ditches (pre-cast concrete U-channel) that act planters, a network of irrigation pipe that take water from rainwater and groundwater supply. Growing the plants inside U-ditches planter basically is not unlike growing plants in concrete planters. Placing them on the building façade in a stacked up formation is what considered as newish idea. Essentially, Peter created a ‘vertical garden’ by stacking the green to create a green wall effect. For most homeowners, growing plants in planter would pose less challenge than growing plants vertically ala Blanc which often involves a fair bit of trials and errors as they search for suitable plants and suitable planting medium.

Vertical gardening seems to be a viable answer for the lack of green urban space. The trend is here to stay. Obviously, not everybody and every project have the budget to create a full pledge vertical garden but that should not be an issue. With some creativity and some resourcefulness, everybody can have a vertical garden of their own. With the rapid of urbanization in this region, vertical gardening may be the way of gardening in the future.

By: Devisanthi Tunas

 

 

 

About the author

Devisanthi Tunas is the co-founder of www.greenasiaforce.com, an online platform which promotes sustainability awareness and green building solutions in tropical context. She is a Singapore based architect.