For as long as there have been houses, there have been houseplants. Now landscape architects and technology have joined forces to offer the ultimate in indoor botany: the living wall.
Known alternately as a green wall, or even living art, living walls are self-sufficient vertical gardens that are attached to the interior or exterior of a building. This innovation in landscape design is both aesthetic and environmental; it creates an exquisite visual effect as well as an environmental one, providing naturally-filtered air and other benefits to improve the indoor environment and overall air quality.
Green walls can be placed anywhere in a lobby, a foyer, or even a private apartment unit. They can be as small as 18 inches by 24 inches, or as large as a full wall. They differ from the classic ivy-covered exterior facade in that the plants in a green wall root in a structural support fastened to the wall itself. The plants receive nutrients and water from the support, instead of from the ground or the rain.
Alan Burchell is the founder and principal of UrbanStrong, an urban design firm in Brooklyn that specializes in the design, installation and maintenance of living walls, green roofs, and other environmentally-conscious services and products. He describes a green wall as "vertical gardens," and says that "They can be built into the wall with connections to water supply, drainage and lighting, or simply can be more mobile and temporary, planted in a frame that is mounted on the wall, like art.”
The potential plant infrastructure can be self-sustaining or supplied externally. A self-sustaining frame generally provides for some type of medium in which the plants are set, bringing stability and nutrition in place of soil, and containing an internal reservoir and circulation system to keep the plants watered. While this type of system is more commonly used with smaller living walls -- think vertical terrarium -- it can be utilized with any size green wall. However, larger systems--typically those used in lobbies of both residential and commercial buildings--are likely to have more sophisticated reservoir and pumping systems, which are generally installed in closets or other spaces nearby, but hidden from view.