Green & Responsible, Insights & Opinions / Jan 31, 2024
As more and more of the world’s population transition from rural and naturally vegetated areas to urban centres, we must find new and innovative ways to better integrate nature into our ever-expanding cities. While green roofs and parks serve as valuable means of achieving this goal, vast amounts of vertical space remain largely untapped. Green walls not only reintroduce nature into urban life but do so in a manner that is accessible to all. However, there are still a number of common misconceptions associated with living facades and green walls.
Here, we try to dispel some myths to highlight why living facades are crucial, viable solutions for urban greening and helping to combat biodiversity loss.
Living walls don’t support biodiversity
Living walls have long been dismissed as being poor in supporting biodiversity. Why is this? They usually use non-native species, grow with a limited variety of plants typically chosen for their evergreen nature (ivy, wide leafed grasses etc) and they are sprayed with pesticides or use bio controls to manage ‘pests’.
This does not have to be the case. At Vertical Meadow we grow only native wildflowers on our walls that have been selected and approved by experts at The Wildlife Trusts and Buglife to support invertebrates. We have a wide range of wildflowers on our walls to provide a mixed sward essential for supporting biodiversity. Because of its complexity and the variety of insects it supports, a wildflower meadow is self-regulating so we can’t imagine ever employing pest control. For us pests do not exist, they are just one of the delights of nature!
Living facades are expensive to install
Depending on which system you choose the cost varies. They can be expensive if you choose pre-planted systems with expensive plants in them. They are also often add-ons to buildings or hoardings rather than integrated.
Our Vertical Meadow solutions have been designed to integrate with the structures they are attached to. Our Wrap staples seamlessly to existing site hoardings, whilst our Cladding is installed like a standard rainscreen panel onto vertical cladding rails. As we grow from seed at Vertical Meadow, the fixed costs of the plants are avoided and make our walls significantly cheaper.
Living walls are difficult and costly to maintain
Living walls placed in difficult to access locations can be expensive to maintain. You can reduce this by filling up the walls with low maintenance species such as ivy and non-native grasses, however these don’t provide significant benefits for biodiversity. Additionally, if they are designed to be perfectly manicured all year round, this also increases maintenance costs.
Our Vertical Meadow walls require very little maintenance as they are designed to be wild and seasonal. Once they are installed, they will typically only require one or two annual cuts. Basic monitoring through a bespoke inspection app is undertaken by the site team as part of their rounds coupled with an irrigation system app that monitors weather, power and water supply remotely, making adjustments and sending alerts as required.
Living facades are purely aesthetic
They are definitely more substance over style! Aside from being beneficial to biodiversity (as mentioned above) they can also help contain dust, lessen noise reverberation, and reduce the urban heat island effect locally (surface temperature measurements we have taken show a 5 degree reduction). Beyond the physical benefits, they instil a sense of community pride and environmental stewardship whilst acting as educational tools for children and adults.
Our Vertical Meadow products also produce less embodied carbon than alternative living wall systems – so the benefits are definitely more than just purely aesthetic! The embodied carbon associated with the growing and transport of 1000’s of pot plants to fill up traditional living walls is significant compared to our seeded approach. Our Cladding product is designed to last for 25-50 years and can be fully disassembled at the end of its life.
However, we should also be careful not to overstate the benefits of living walls. Their ability to sequester carbon and clean air is sometimes overplayed by practitioners, and here the evidence from research is limited. At Vertical Meadow, we see biodiversity and impact on well-being as the main benefits living walls bring.
Living facades should be perfectly green and flawless all year round
Nature needs time to rest. And living walls are no different. They will need periods of dormancy in order to recover from the stresses of the growing season. In some cases, it may be necessary to allow for some limited browning of the meadow walls in the winter months for a period of time in order to allow the natural processes of regeneration to occur in spring. This makes nature’s spectacle of spring all the more thrilling.
Living facades are only suitable for new buildings?
Living facades can be retrofitted to existing buildings, however, there are some factors that need to be considered such as the structural integrity of the building (weight of living wall system) and ease of access for maintenance.
Our Cladding is compatible with all standard metal rainscreen systems and easily installed by any facade contractor. It’s also the thinnest and lightest system on the market, and the only one that acts as fit-for-purpose cladding, rather than an additional layer that sits in front of the cladding.
For buildings and sites in transition, our Meadow Wrap provides a simple solution for site hoardings and scaffolding which ensures continuity of habitat for site biodiversity between pre-development and post-completion.