You’re likely reading this from within the walls of your home or business. If you are reading this outside, you’re likely not far from a building or any other man-made structure. People spend 90% of their time inside. And 82% of the people in the U.S. reside in urban or suburban areas. Urban areas have become the hub of human activity. Progress in economy, society, and technology may be partially attributed to the concentration of many minds and working hands in metropolitan areas.
Unfortunately, the way that urban areas have developed has left previously verdant land barren, supplanting comfortable greenscapes with harsh hardscapes. Urban areas are consequently associated with temperatures measurably different from surrounding areas (the Urban Heat Island Effect); with reduced moisture availability ; with elevated flash flood risk; with poor air, water, and soil quality; and with artificial and ecologically irrelevant landscaping.
Inside or outside, you are surrounded by pavement, brick, steel, and glass. You are almost always surrounded by vertical structures. Inside, walls partition rooms, apartments, offices, firms, etc. Outside, there are building walls, retaining walls, standalone walls, and fences. These walls surely have purpose (“A world without walls” sounds like a Dr. Suess book), but they often perform their space-dividing function boringly. The walls of most rooms you enter are plain and off-white in color. Blank walls beg for picture frames, calendars and mirrors to cover their mediocrity. Outside, you are greeted by white picket fences, mildly decorative rock and brick building facades, plastic home siding, and often bland retaining walls that repeatedly remind you and any passerby that you have not escaped the urban jungle. Your walls are dead.
But what if they weren’t? What if your walls lived? (Just don’t expect to fine a heartbeat.) What if vegetation could make a comeback in the city and revitalize all of the monotonous vertical spaces?
The truth is, it is now possible to vegetate all kinds of urban spaces. Just as green roofs have begun to grow on homes and businesses in Germany, Japan, the United States, and all over the world, the green wall is emerging as another innovative answer to urban woes.
As technology has progressed, green walls have diversified into two major categories–green facades and living walls. Facades use vines or ivy that climb a wall directly (though some argue that rootlets can damage walls) or indirectly (using a trellis or cable system). Living walls generally use vegetation and media in a modular setup. Living walls can adorn interior walls as living art, as air purifiers, and as productivity and mood enhancers. Living walls can adorn exterior walls as massive building coverings, as plantable retaining walls (mentioned in a previous post), and even as standalone filtration structures (like the Folkewall). Green fences can act as ivy-covered privacy screens. Green walls can even sustain food-producing plants to supplement community gardens!
So, you have options when it comes to softening your urban jungle. Living walls can moderate temperature, stormwater, wind, noise, and mood. Living walls can provide ecological benefits. Living walls can provide food. Your walls can be alive!