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Living Walls Put the ‘Green’ in Greenbuild

Nov. 19, 2018

A growing trend in both exteriors and interiors, a variety of living green walls were on display at this year’s Greenbuild Conference in Chicago. So, what are the perks of plants and how do you go about picking the right one for your space?

Nothing says dedication to green building like putting actual greens on a building. Displayed at more than one booth during this year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Chicago were several examples of exterior and interior living green walls.

(Photo provided by SageGreenLife)

A growing trend, these living walls have become an easy way for companies in a variety of sectors — healthcare, office, hospitality, etc. — to incorporate sustainable design into their building or facility while also promoting the health and well-being of employees.

How Does It Work?

Nathan Beckner, horticulturalist and plant designer for SageGreenLife, showcased during GreenBuild just how SageGreenLife’s exterior and interior walls work exactly - it turns out to be much simpler than one thinks.

SageGreenLife’s living walls, for example, are comprised of a PVC backing board and drainage mat on the bottom, and then battens hold up tile and irrigation on the top. “The tiles fit between the battens and each one is irrigated individually,” explains Beckner.

“So that’s really key to show how it’s different from other systems because each row of ours has its own dedicated line, so it’s really going to be able to control the water. You can really dial it in and have as minimal water waste as possible,” he continues. (Photo provided by SageGreenLife)

Important to the installation process is providing easy access for future maintenance and changing out plants. Beckner points out that when designing green walls for exteriors, one must consider the location of the plants, their exposure to the elements and the region’s weather.

A Green Wall Gave Life to this Parking Garage

Squares of colorful flowers and plants spill out of an entire column of windows – giving what was once a standard, utilitarian six-story garage a lively addition to its exterior.

See how this parking garage in Bloomington, IN, took its climate into consideration and decided to use annuals for its colorful exterior display.

“For interiors, it’s a completely different animal” adds Beckner. “You have to take into consideration high traffic. Are a lot of people going to be touching the plants? This happens often. A lot of interaction with social media also happens so you have to make sure the plant material is durable enough for the space.”

(Photo provided by SageGreenLife)

What are the benefits?

We hear time and time again that having plants inside can bring about a plethora of positive outcomes. While exterior plants are easy on the eyes and make for great visuals, it seems that the benefits of interior plants are more profound.

(Photo: Yawkey Gallery of the Charles River provided by Ambius)

“There’s a lot of benefits on installing green walls in interiors, especially in office spaces,” says Zack Sterkenberg from Ambius, another living green wall provider on display at Greenbuild. “There’s been studies that have proven just the view of greenery increases productivity and health and wellness.”

Plants are natural air purifiers and have proven to be mood boosters, enhance concentration and memory, help increase compassion and improve relationships. Even moss has proven to possess acoustical benefits when incorporated into a facility’s interior.

When asked why companies should consider installing a living wall, Ambius architect Matt Hills says it just depends on what the company is looking for.

“Are they looking to attract new talent?” Hills asks. “Green walls are great for branding, so if somebody walks in - especially someone from the millennial generation - they’re looking for a company that’s thinking about the environment, that’s thinking about what they are interested in and sustainability, and green wall branding is a great way of doing that.”

Picking Your Plants

If considering installing a living green wall, the most important part of the process will be selecting the right plants and space to put them in. Both SageGreenLife and Ambius have a wide range of plants available to use for exterior and interior projects.

(Photo provided by Ambius)

It’s crucial to take light into consideration - some species like ferns, evergreens and snake plants can tolerate low light while others like cacti and chrysanthemums need a bit more. You can learn more in Perks of Plants: How to Pick the Right Plant for Your Space.

Remember that regional species are best for exteriors, while interiors have a bit more flexibility when it comes to the selection process.

What does it take for a living walls company to make sure even the worst brown thumbs keep their system alive?

Kadie Yale, interiors+sources’ editor-in-chief, sits down with Nathan Beckner, lead plant designer of sagegreenlife to discuss their latest collaboration with Gensler.


“If it’s more for a visual look, we have designers that put together design options based on industry trends and also feedback from the clients,” says Sterkenberg. “So if the client is looking for a specific type or feel to the wall, we can design small plants, large plants, etc.”

(Photo: George Washington University provided by Ambius)

Sterkenberg also adds that because some plants remove different chemicals than others from the air, clients can customize specific plants to incorporate into the wall to take out varying pollutants.

5 Air Purifying Indoor Plants

Research into air purifying indoor plants like the Golden Pothos (pictured) has yielded several top species that are especially good at absorbing VOCs with their leaves and roots.

See which greenery can give you a breath of fresh air in 5 Air Purifying Indoor Plants.

With sustainable design and a sharp focus on health and wellness continuing to evolve the building process, it’s likely the popularity and sight of living green walls will continue to flourish. While building and facility managers don’t need a green thumb to take care of their space’s living wall, it is always helpful to learn what to expect with them once installed.

Get growing!

Janelle Penny, senior staff writer at BUILDINGS, contributed to this article.

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About the Author

Adrian Schley | Staff Writer

Adrian Schley has been writing for interiors+sources magazine since March of 2018 and creates content for the BUILDINGS team. She earned her BA in journalism at the University of Iowa, where she also studied English.

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