Purify your air, improve your mental well-being and productivity, and create a green piece of living art with the latest eco-trend. Living walls are vertical gardens, or in French, mur végétal, that until recently, have primarily been created for outdoor spaces. Differing from green façades, such as ivy walls, the plants in a living wall root in a structural support which is fastened to the wall itself. The plants receive water and nutrients from within the vertical support instead of from the ground. Creating connection between people and nature, Bianca Bodley at Biophilia Collective, designs and builds living walls locally for exteriors and increasingly for commercial and residential interiors. “Having plants around us in our indoor environments serve to increase productivity and the health of the occupants by cleaning and cooling the air and by re-connecting us to nature,” explains Bodley.
Dating back as far as 600 BC, living walls had a romantic emergence as one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, the hanging gardens of Babylon. However, the first vertical garden was patented almost 80-years-ago by a professor in Illinois. For the last 30-years, Patrick Blanc, aka the “Green Man”, a French botanist and artist, has modernized the vertical garden to become the modern master of living walls. From Saudi Arabia to Australia, Blanc has created over 300 vertical gardens spanning the globe. For Blanc, the rationale behind creating living walls is the positive psychological effect they have on those who experience them. Blanc has been known to describe them as art, as something poetic.
Living walls are an ideal solution to injecting low maintenance green space into urban environments: commercial, residential, or public spaces, without commandeering horizontal space. Beyond aesthetics, living walls purify the air and can also be used as a source for food production. Perfect for condo dwellers, “living walls can absorb and dampen noise pollution and cool the air through converting the liquid water they absorb into water vapour, which they release through their leaves (evapotranspiration),” says Bodley.
As Bodley states in her recent TedX talk, and as the name of her company, Biophilia reveals, “we have an innate connection and love of nature. With more and more people living in urban centres we need nature in our lives now more than ever.” As we all know, we need plants to absorb carbon dioxide. As Bodley points out, “plants absorb harmful chemicals that are off-gassing in our interiors from carpets, paint, and even furniture. Chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzine, and ammonia, for example, get absorbed and purified into oxygen by plants.”
Bodley describes living walls as opportunities to offset the over-stimulating outcomes of modern life. From technology, traffic, and general noise of the city and people around us, “naturalized areas in our cities and interiors create sacred spaces to turn off, to rest, recuperate, and to just be quiet.” The dismal statistic that we spend 90% of our day indoors makes a potent argument for bringing the outdoors in.
Diversity in plant colours, textures, and sizes is the key to creating striking patterns and dynamic designs. The vertical system can accommodate flowering perennials, beautiful foliage plants, ground covers and even allows for bushes, shrubs, and small trees. Living walls can be any size. Bodley has created herb boxes for chefs, small size living walls in condominiums for both food production and art, and she is currently designing a living wall for a local secondary school as a way to teach children about food production. “Public art causes pause. Engaging with art and something that is alive creates connection. The more connected we feel to nature the more connected we will be with each other,” states Bodley.
Description of images in order of appearance: 1. Residential living wall art in this modern home makes a dramatic, yet healthy statement. 2. Custom, free-standing living wall unit. A luscious ten-foot tall display of tropical plants is now the welcoming focal point for Float House Victoria. 3. Twin living walls define the dining area at the University of Victoria’s newly renovated food court. All living walls designed and installed by Biophilia Collective.