Greening Built Environments

Built environments bring with them many detrimental consequences including high energy costs for heating and cooling, hard surfaces that contribute to higher city temperatures and stormwater runoff, and degraded air quality and noise. However, emerging technology is turning many buildings green with significant human and environmental benefits. A name that is synonymous with reclaiming the built environment is the Greenwall Company.

By Steven Carruthers

During the past few years there has been a trend towards greening built environments, transforming office spaces and walls into living vegetation. Referred to as greenwalls, living walls, biowalls and vertical gardens, they are either free-standing or part of a building, that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and, in some cases, soil or an inorganic growing medium. Many greenwalls use innovative hydroponics technology. These building adaptations are designed to mimic the growing conditions found where greenwalls occur in nature.

The concept of greenwalls dates back to 600 BC with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. And now they are making a comeback to green city buildings. Interior and exterior greenwalls can now be found in airports, shopping centres, office buildings and homes around the world, including New York, Montreal, Chicago, Mexico City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, London and Paris . They can also be found in many buildings across Australia.

From a practical point of view, greenwalls reduce building temperatures, and help alleviate ‘sick building syndrome’ (SBS), which is related to poor indoor air quality. However, the immediate benefit of a greenwall is its incredible beauty, bringing the outside inside for building occupants. Greenwalls are also said to improve property values!

Tallest greenwall
The latest greenwall installation is also the tallest greenwall in Australia. Spanning over 22 floors of the Origin Energy head office in Melbourne, each floor has its own unique make up, specifically designed to maximise the varying angles and lighting. Designed and installed by the Greenwall Company (www.greenwall.com.au), the corridors and stairways are alive and breathing with epiphytic and lithophytic plants, including endangered species to help preserve their existence. The medium used in the greenwall panels is 94% recyclable materials that otherwise would have been destined for Australian landfill. Irrigation water is captured at the bottom of the panels and recycled.  The irrigation system is not only energy efficient, but also low maintenance.

Based in Mosman on Sydney’s northern beaches, the Greenwall Company specialise in greenwall and green-roof applications for the built environment. The business founder is Mark Paul, who has over 25 years’ experience in the Australian horticulture industry. His name is synonymous with reclaiming the built environment, a passion he has had since childhood. With over 200 greenwalls installed in Australia and overseas, he is recognised as Australia’s leading greenwall expert. In 2012, Mark won the Melbourne Design Awards for the Origin Energy project.

“I’m thrilled to have received such a highly regarded award within my industry as there were a number of great candidates in my section. Horticulture is a clear passion of mine and I’m committed to greening the built environment, so this is a great achievement for me,” he said.

The Australian Institute of Horticulture award was judged on originality, innovation and quality of horticultural work (50%); meeting the client’s needs and budget (30%); and community, environmental and social considerations (20%).

The EcoPillow
On the cutting edge of innovation, the Greenwall Company recently launched the next advancement in green roof technology – the EcoPillow. Modular in design, the EcoPillow is a pre-grown living roof that offers all the proven benefits of a green roof while radically reducing risk and cost of the roofing structure.

“The EcoPillow structure and the growing medium were developed for their lightweight properties, making the EcoPillow just 60kg/m2. Creating a lightweight and modular product were the design priorities. By reducing the overall weight, we reduce the builders need for additional structural support and open the possibility of retrofitting – something we feel the market is demanding,” said Mark Paul.

As a pre-grown, and fully encased product, the EcoPillow is incredibly quick to install and reduces the risk of failure from extreme weather conditions, wind scour or rain erosion. The semi-mature plants provide cover from day one, reducing establishment time, and the likelihood of weed invasion – the two primary drivers of maintenance cost.

The EcoPillow can also be easily relocated, further enhancing its adaptability.

The Greenwall Company took out the Product Design Award for Housing and Building at the 2012 Sydney Design Awards for their innovative and environmentally friendly EcoPillow projects.

“We’re thrilled to have received the Product Design Award for the EcoPillow as they really are a great environmental benefit,” said Mark Paul.

“With over 200 entrants across the award categories, we are grateful that the EcoPillow came through as the top project in the Housing and Building category.

“Horticulture is a clear passion of mine and I’m committed to greening the built environment. The EcoPillow Projects are a clear reflection of this as one of their many benefits is not only natural beauty for the area covered but an innovative way of using Australian landfill and reducing the carbon footprint,” Mark said.

In late 2012, Mark Paul was the recipient of the highest annual award to be given to a horticulturist in Australia, the AIH (Australian Institute of Horticulture) Australian Horticulturist of the Year Award.

Greenwalls gaining momentum
Internationally, and here in Australia, the trend towards ‘greening’ buildings is gaining momentum. Green roofs not only radically reduce stormwater runoff and therefore the cost of disposal, they also provide greater insulation for a building, prolong the life of the roof membrane and reduce noise penetration.

“Installing a green roof makes a valuable contribution to the external environment, reducing water runoff, and providing an inhabitable environment to promote biodiversity,” said Mark Paul.

They are also great to look at and use, increasing the worth of the real estate they are on and viewed by.

With 94% of the materials recycled, it is an innovative way to take waste products destined for Australian landfill to reduce our carbon footprint. Lighter, faster, with less risk, the EcoPillow is a no brainer for anyone wanting the benefits of green roofs for a wider range of projects and budgets.

Working with architects, landscape architects, designers and builders, the Greenwall Company uses award-winning design techniques, passion and expertise in horticulture in residential and commercial projects , to bring greenwalls to a new level of integration within the built environment.

PH&G  January/February 2013 – Issue 128


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