Why Living Walls are Blossoming in Cities Worldwide

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When was the last time you felt a deep connection to a natural landscape?

The simple view of a river makes Keane feel “complete” in the song Somewhere Only We Know. This phenomenon everyone has experienced is getting better understood by both private companies and public administrations, which start seeing the value of bringing nature back into the city. That’s why they’re adding green living things in public spaces and to urban infrastructures. Why not live in a lush atmosphere if we can? If plants are a great addition to the home and to the office, so they are to stores and streets. So, I cannot be happier because my favorite things in the world (i.e. plants) are becoming a go-to solution against dry and dull urban environments.

Discover the benefits of adding plants in urban areas and why living walls are growing everywhere.

The Benefits of Plants in Urban Spaces

So, why am I seeing living walls blossom in cities around the world? The answer is written in our innate connection to nature as human beings, which has been passed from generation to generation over the centuries. Recent studies, referred to by Florence Williams in The Nature Fix (1), have shown that regular contact with natural landscape has benefits on our state of mind, making us more relaxed, more focused, more present. To prove this, just completely ban any access to nature to somebody and after a few weeks, you will see the negative effects on mood and overall performance. Unfortunately, some cities or neighborhoods have been designed without nature in mind, which, I believe, can be harmful in the long term. City planners, home and retail designers, architects, the entire community involved in places we live in and work at are now having nature in mind. Get ready!

Indoor green wall in a Brooklyn coffee shop, NY. Photo by Emmanuel Kontokalos

Indoor green wall in a Brooklyn coffee shop, NY. Photo by Emmanuel Kontokalos

Benefits for citizens

  • Plants bring a sense of calm, they are aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

  • Plants add a lively presence to any room. There is an emotional bond with plants. People give them a name, care for them and watch them grow as members of the family. Reason #1 why people have plants is for the joy to watch them grow! By the cycles of the seasons and leaves dropping, plants unconsciously remind me of the cycles of life: birth, growth, maturity, death and young growth again.

  • The benefits of being in connection to nature are referred to as the "biophilic" effect. "Biophilia" is the innate human attraction to nature.

  • Among these benefits, studies showed that people working in direct contact with natural elements (or mimicking natural elements) are more productive and have a better mood than those who are exposed to dry artificial elements.

  • Improved air quality: on top of that, plants are known to detoxify the air from harmful pollutants and reduce carbon dioxide levels, which results in cleaner air.

In-store living wall in H&M Westfield London, designed and installed by Scotscape

In-store living wall in H&M Westfield London, designed and installed by Scotscape

BenefitS for companies and retail stores

In a study entitled The Economics of Biophilia, the environmental consultancy Terrapin Bright Green reveals the financial aspect of biophilic design. With the rise of online purchasing, bricks and mortar retail spaces have understood that it’s all about the customer experience. If biophilic design can attract more customers, make them feel relaxed during their shopping and even make them stay a tiny bit longer, retailers should think that it’s worth investing in a green wall, shouldn’t they?

There are hundreds of examples of retail spaces having made a transformation in this direction. An H&M store in London biggest shopping mall, Westfield, has been recently redesigned to incorporate both live and faux plants in store, resulting in a jungle-like atmosphere. Quite a unique choice for a popular fashion store!

I bet that you will keep seeing more and more interior living walls, bespoke planting stations, and urban kitchen gardens blossom everywhere around you, from your tube station to your shopping mall. Why? Since 68% of the world population is going to live in cities by 2050 according to the UN, incorporating natural elements indoors is becoming a priority for new developments and refurbishments. Historically, cities took nature away from us and people are asking nature back.

Interesting fact: plant walls act as thermal insulation, making the building less energy consuming.

BENEFITS FOR public SPACES and institutions

Streets, schools, hospitals, public buildings all have something in common: they have not been designed with nature in mind. In an other article, I’m going to focus on the potential public spaces offer for living walls and planting stations.

SINGAPORE, A REFERENCE IN BIOPHILIC URBAN DESIGN

Left: a green rooftop in Singapore (credits: Timothy Hursley)    Right: Singapore international airport has its own indoor forest (credits: Getty Images)

Left: a green rooftop in Singapore (credits: Timothy Hursley)

Right: Singapore international airport has its own indoor forest (credits: Getty Images)

Singapore, the city-state island populated by no less than 5 million people in 2018, has a nation-wide passion for greenery. Quite unusual for one of the most urbanized places on earth, with a density approaching 8000 per km2. In Singapore, both administrations and the general public share the same view: urban spaces don't need to look dull and hostile.

Did you know that Singapore law makes it compulsory to replace any greenery a building removes?

Adding plants, even forest, to the city landscapes influences people wellness positively and creates a sensation of relaxation. One of the biggest challenges of this country-city is the extreme density of people, which comes with a number of stressful situations. Given these conditions, small improvements in the way people live, travel, interact with each other and with the city infrastructures make a big impact. Singapore officials understood this decades ago (since the mid-21st century actually, when major development of the city was conducted). But it goes beyond that. Singapore's vision is to prove to the world that is a must-see place in South East Asia and that it has one of the most unique urban landscapes. The whole city's designed like a garden, the airport terminal hosts its own indoor forest and the highway is sided by palm trees all the way. The sensation of being in a tropical jungle, that's what residents and visitors must feel like when they're in Singapore.


GREEN your city!

Anyone can contribute to green their city, office, street or neighborhood. You know it, I’m a big fan of anything and everything green. That's why I personally support initiatives around where I live that aim at reintroducing nature in cities and in the home. And I encourage people to do so as well. With InvincibleHouseplants.com I help people caring for their indoor plants. On the side of that, I'm part-time involved in promoting living walls, in urban gardening and farming, in tree planting schemes and even in renovating a former nature reserve in London’s outskirts.


FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Living Walls and Green Urban solutions:

For more information about living walls (how they are installed, how the irrigation system works, what the benefits are etc.), visit this great article by Scotscape. Scotscape is the complete green solution and living wall specialist in the UK:

Scotscape designs and installs interior planting at H&M Westfield, Scotscape, 2018

References:

  1. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative, by Florence Williams, 2017

  2. The Economics of Biophilia: Why Designing with Nature in Mind Makes Financial Sense, Terrapin Bright Green, 2012

  3. Plants@work, the trade association for the Interior Landscaping Industry in the UK.

  4. Urban population projections by the UN, 2018

  5. How did Singapore become such a Green City?, Meera Senthilingam for CNN, 2016


I hope this gives you an introduction to the biophilic movement currently spreading in urban areas worldwide and why it’s so important.

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Take care!

xoxo