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Thursday, January 26, 2012

When Walls Become Alive

The concept of the green wall dates back to 600 BC with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon..Legend says these gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar in the ancient city-state of Babylon so that Queen Amyitis, his wife, would have a lovely, private, terraced garden to enjoy. 

Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between the two nations. The land she came from, though, was green, rugged and mountainous, and she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing, so the king decided to relieve her depression by recreating her homeland through the building of an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens. 

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. They were supposedly built along the bank of the Euphrates River (south of the modern day city of Baghdad, Iraq.)

No one knows if the gardens actually existed, but the gardens were rumored to be about 400 feet wide, 400 feet long, and over 80 feet high. Some historians believe the gardens were built in a series of platforms that all together were 320 feet high. There were paths and steps and fountains and gorgeous flowers, all build to make a homesick queen feel welcomed and loved. 

Caixa Forum Museum, Madrid

A "Living" Wall

Are you familiar with modern living walls? Some call these structures biowalls, green walls, vertical gardens, or Vertical Vegetated Complex Walls. The walls can either be free-standing or part of another structure, and they can be internal or external. A living wall is constructed from modular panels, each of which contains its own soil or other growing medium. This increases the variety of plants that can be used beyond the use of climbing vines.

The vertical gardens can also feature geotextiles and irrigation systems. Many designers prefer the structural media of "blocks" as the most robust option for a living wall for both exterior applications and for interior applications. These blocks are not loose, nor mats, but incorporate the best features of both into a block that can be manufactured into various sizes, shapes and thicknesses.

These block media have certain advantages: (1) They do not break down for 10 to 15 years; (2) they can be made to have a higher or lower water holding capacity depending on the plant selection for the wall; (3) they can have their pH and EC's customized to suit the plants; and (4) they are easily handled for maintenance and replacements. Depending on the installation, blocks do tend to be more expensive to install, but cost less to maintain.

Recently, the larger green walls concept has been utilized with innovative hydroponics technology by the French botanist Patrick Blanc.

Green walls are found most often in urban environments. Here, they are particularly suitable as they allow good use of available vertical surface areas. They are also suitable in arid areas, as the circulating water on a vertical wall is less likely to evaporate than in horizontal gardens.

The living wall could also function for urban agriculture, urban gardening, or for its aesthetic contribution as natural art. It is sometimes built indoors to help alleviate sick building syndrome.

Advantages of Building a Living Wall
  • Living walls are extremely space efficient. Living walls make use of vertical walls - areas that would otherwise be wasted space in the garden. In small city lots, they are a perfect way to expand your garden and increase the number of plants you can grow.
  • Living walls can help cut heating and cooling bills. On exterior walls, both the growing medium and the plants themselves provide insulation and shade to the sides of buildings, cutting heating and cooling bills, in many regions significantly. Interior walls provide insulation. Plant surfaces, as a result of transpiration, do not rise more than 4–5 °C above the ambient.
  • Living walls also make excellent sound barriers to reduce unwanted noise.
  • Living walls can improve air quality. Both exterior and interior living walls can improve air quality. So-called "active" living walls are specifically designed to provide biofiltration and improve air quality. "Passive" living walls may or may not significantly improve air quality, depending on the choice of plants.
  • Some active living walls are also designed to reuse or purify greywater or stormwater runoff by absorbing dissolved nutrients. Bacteria mineralize the organic components to make them available to the plants.

Even More Possible Benefits of These Structures

* Living walls may have a positive impact on both physical & mental health and wellbeing. Green views and access to green spaces in cities help and relieve the everyday pressures of crowding and noise.

* Living walls may have a positive impact on crime reduction since residents living in ‘greener’ surroundings actually report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less violent behavior. 

* Living walls can benefit communities socially by instilling higher public esteem and pride for an area.

* Living walls are unlikely to be homes for graffiti. They improve the quality and perception of the urban environment, and can provide security as a dense and natural barrier for unwanted guests.

* Living walls can have seasonal variations in color, growth, flowers, and perfume which provide all year round interest.

* Living walls can provide local fruit and vegetation for the community.

* Living walls and other planting have the potential to increase residential and commercial property values by between 7% and 15%. They help to create a positive perception for prospective purchasers of property.

* Living walls soften newly built houses and give immediate character and warmth. 

* Living walls provide screening and /or barriers where fencing regulations may limit alternatives. 

* Living walls increase biodiversity, along with aid for food and shelter for wildlife.

"Our personal consumer choices have ecological, social, and spiritual consequences. It is time to re-examine some of our deeply held notions that underlie our lifestyles."
- David Suzuki

"The mistake made by all previous systems of ethics has been the failure to recognize that life as such is the mysterious value with which they have to deal. All spiritual life meets us within natural life. Reverence for life, therefore, is applied to natural life and spiritual life alike. In the parable of Jesus, the shepherd saves not merely the soul of the lost sheep but the whole animal. The stronger the reverence for natural life, the stronger grows also that for spiritual life."
- Albert Schweitzer

"When the act of reflection takes place in the mind, when we look at ourselves in the light of thought, we discover that our life is embosomed in beauty."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The highest knowledge is to know that we are surrounded by mystery. Neither knowledge nor hope for the future can be the pivot of our life or determine its direction. It is intended to be solely determined by our allowing ourselves to be gripped by the ethical God, who reveals Himself in us, and by our yielding our will to His."
- Albert Schweitzer

"Follow your bliss and the universe 
will open doors where there were only walls."
- Joseph Campbell

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