What is Living Architecture?

Someone on Twitter recently asked me about living architecture.

So, what is Living Architecture?

Well, what is architecture?  Google tells me that it is the ‘art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.’  By extension, then, living architecture could be defined as the practice of integrating vegetation into the design and construction of the built environment.  Living architecture generally refers to green roofs and green walls.  That is the primary focus of the Living Architecture Monitor magazine.  I suppose the term ‘green infrastructure‘ could also apply to these technologies, which seek to mimic natural systems in an effort to maximize environmental benefits (stormwater control, UHIE reduction, air quality, biodiversity, etc.).

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I have touched on Living Architecture numerous times in the blog.

Saving Rain for a Dry Day

The Nature of an Urban Jungle

Your Wall Should be Alive

A Green Retaining Wall

Boschert Greenway Living (Retaining) Wall

Living Wall Prezi (Presentation)

Living Architecture is beautiful, useful, and beneficial to human and environmental health.

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Black Eyed Susan at Boschert

Just a few more photos from my recent visit to the Boschert Greenway Living Retaining Wall.  If you are in the St. Louis region, follow Highway 370 through St. Charles, the wall will be visible from the road near the N 3rd Street exit.  As it grows out and the Missouri native plants establish, the wall itself will almost become invisible under vegetation!

Have you seen living walls in your neck of the woods?

Boschert Greenway Living Wall

The Ribbon Cutting for the Boschert Greenway in St. Charles was today.  A living retaining wall (visible from Highway 370), native landscaping, and permeable pavement make this trail stand out as an example of sustainable development and Low Impact Development.  This is part of an effort to build up parks, greenways, and trails by Great Rivers Greenway and promote walking and bicycling.

The wall, with new native plant plugs.  They will soon grow to cover the wall!

Black-eyed Susan already blooming in one section of the retaining wall.

Your wall should be alive!

Some street trees, but many dead-walls.

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.

All pavement, all the time.

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.

The beginning of a green facade!

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!

It's alive!

Learn more about Living Walls HERE or join the LinkedIn group to join the conversation!.

A Green Retaining Wall

During my studies at SIUE, I was introduced to innovative technologies that are designed to address urban environmental problems.  Green roofs, blue roofs, green walls, rain gardens, bioswales, etc. can help mitigate stormwater runoff and/or the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE).  I conducted  my thesis project on a specific kind of green wall, a green retaining wall.  A green retaining wall (or some variant of living landscape wall or green landscaping wall) is designed to stabilize a slope and create space for development just like a conventional retaining wall.  The difference is that these retaining walls are plantable.

Remember the eyesore of a towering retaining wall at the edge of a parking lot?  How about the monotonous wall in a hilly yard?  Well, plantable retaining walls give us the opportunity to beautify urban space without compromising function.  In addition, they can provide environmental benefits like stormwater management, temperature moderation, noise reduction, and biodiversity improvements.  These retaining walls have been employed all over the country, including the St. Louis area.  Although, not all of the walls have been planted.

While the blocks themselves offer great texture compared to a traditional retaining wall,  not seeing them for the greenery is ideal.

Hmm….if anyone happens to see these walls left unplanted, consider some guerrilla gardening. Just kidding…maybe.  And maybe learn about living retaining walls through a new St. Louis-based company, The Living Wall Company.

Have you seen something like this before?