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Vertical Gardens: A Growing Design Trend in Green Construction

What if you could create a building that would conserve energy, improve air quality and save water? And what if that building also served up the visual feast of a lush, green oasis in the midst of a concrete jungle?

By using vertical gardens as part of your architecture, you can achieve all those benefits and more. As one of the newest trends in the world of sustainable design and construction, vertical gardens — also known as living walls or green walls — are creating quite a stir across the globe.

What are vertical gardens?

To create a vertical garden, builders completely or partially cover a wall with vegetation, including soil or another growing medium, along with an integrated watering system.

This environmentally friendly solution to dwindling horizontal spaces can be either freestanding or part of a building. Plants used in vertical gardens run the gamut and include grasses, herbs and even vegetables. The gardens are literally taking root in all kinds of environments and work especially well for properties without space for traditional greenery, as The Times of India notes.

Vertical gardens are a new variation on the older theme of green facades, which use soil at the base of a wall and include climbing plants that eventually cover the wall. True vertical gardens can be used indoors or outdoors, and they appear in a variety of sizes.

The popularity of vertical gardens has surged in recent years. The International Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database indicates that of 61 large, outdoor vertical gardens, more than three-quarters were built since 2009.

How have vertical gardens evolved?

In 1938, Stanley Hart White patented the first known vertical garden system. White, a professor of landscape architecture, described in his patent a new method for “producing an architectonic structure” with visible surfaces permanently covered with growing vegetation, reports the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. In six beautifully illustrated pages, White provided details about his invention, the execution of which would not be fully realized in his lifetime.

Since White’s time, vertical gardens have evolved to include various uses and implementations. Often constructed with modular panels holding a growing medium, vertical gardens are built to cover eyesores, to provide greenery in the middle of a city, to promote sustainability or simply for the love of growing things.

Vertical gardens around the world

The world’s largest vertical garden covers more than half an acre at Los Cabos International Convention Center in Mexico. Architect Fernando Romero designed the building for the 2012 G-20 Los Cabos summit and included a number of sustainable features such as water treatment capabilities hidden under the parking lot. The hydroponic vertical garden naturally cools the whole building and reduces energy consumption.

In addition, many public places around the world now feature vertical gardens to improve aesthetics and reduce energy costs. For instance, a number of airports - including Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in India, Singapore Changi Airport and Edmonton International Airport in Canada - all include vertical gardens in their architecture.

The Museé du Quai Branly in Paris includes a 650-foot vertical garden created by French botanist Patrick Blanc, who is sometimes credited with having developed the green-wall concept in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, British power distribution company National Grid recently unveiled Europe’s largest vertical garden, intended to demonstrate sustainability in action.

Interest in sustainable design continues to surge

In 2013, just under a quarter of new, nonresidential construction was considered “green” according to Green Building Education Services. This year, nearly half is expected to be green.

Owners of commercial buildings and homes alike continue to recognize the value of sustainable construction such as the use of vertical gardens, with benefits that include reduced carbon footprints and energy usage, healthier indoor environments, lower energy costs and better resale value.

The U.S. Green Building Council reports that more than 60 percent of construction projects involve retrofits. The organization projects an estimated investment of $960 billion by 2023 on efforts to improve environmental sustainability of existing infrastructure. And in 2015, the share of environmentally sustainable construction activity for retrofits and renovations will more than triple, the council predicts.

Expanding role for vertical gardens

With the continued growth of sustainable design and construction, vertical gardens will play an increasing role, bringing improved aesthetics and energy use to buildings around the world.

If you’re interested in green building, a great place to start is our Sustainability page. See what’s driving this exciting sector and what products you can choose to make greener decisions.

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