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Vertical Landscapes: The only way is up for green cities

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July 28, 2009

Artists impression of a VES in New York

Artists impression of a VES in New York

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Demand for office and housing space in ever diminishing land space has led to taller and taller buildings reaching for the skies in cities around the world. This shortage of land in many cities has unfortunately also led to a scarcity of natural vegetation in urban settings. We’ve looked at several vertical-farming concepts - dedicated buildings that provide space to grow crops in city centers - but a new architectural system from Vertical Landscapes (VL) seeks to invite nature back into our cities on a broader scale. The architectural system transforms buildings into columns of vegetation to add a much needed touch of green, help clean the city air and possibly even produce small scale crops, all while retaining the building’s usual use for office or housing space.

Vertical Landscape’s Vertical Ecosystem Structure (VES) is a freestanding structure that takes the form of a critical architectural component, a load-bearing, shear, utility wall. When incorporated into a larger structure it will both absorb the building’s loads and create conditions for vegetation to prosper. The VES contains all the irrigation and drainage piping and mechanical systems required, which can be customized to meet the needs of different types of vegetation and allow plants to be micromanaged to provide the optimum growing environment.

Since the VES is a freestanding structure it can be built adjacent to an existing wall. And although an add-on VES could be designed to look like a seamless part of an existing structure, developer Nelson Hyde Chick says that a VES is best implemented as part of a new construction.

Chick also says that opting for a vertical landscape provides a number of advantages over rooftop gardens by:

  • allowing the rooftop to remain reserved for solar panels;
  • providing a potentially larger area for vegetation – particularly as the height of the building increase;
  • reducing the risk of water damage since water in a vertical landscape can be mitigated much more easily and cheaply than if a leak occurred in the membrane between the roof and the vegetation of a rooftop garden;
  • allowing for heavier and more diverse types of vegetation, since the additional load of the vegetation is already on the wall, whereas a rooftop garden transfers the weight to the structure’s load-bearing, shear walls;
  • enabling the creation of microclimates based on the orientation of the VES to the sun. For example, an architect in Phoenix, Arizona could place the VES structure facing the southeast to receive the mild morning sun, but be shielded from the harsh afternoon rays. Therefore vegetation that would be exposed to the sun all day on a rooftop garden and not usually suited to the Arizona climate would be able to prosper.

As with the construction of any wall, the cost of building the structural component of a VES would also vary greatly depending on the loads it needed to withstand, which would dictate the amount of concrete, rebar and labor needed. But Chick points out that it would cost no more than a comparable wall that doesn’t have a vertical landscape.

The vegetation part of a basic vertical landscaped wall would cost an estimated USD$30 a square foot, but this could also vary greatly depending on the type of vegetation used.

Currently the VES system is only available in the US, but Chick says VL will make special arrangements for a foreign project if it “is of a high enough profile.” VL will maintain the vertical landscape for two years after construction and after that time the owners can sign a new contract with VL or choose to maintain it themselves.

The VES from Vertical Landscapes might give a city a touch of that post-apocalyptic, nature-reclaims-city look seen in movies like I am Legend, but anything that adds a splash of green to city centers while cleaning the air has got to look good. With many cities around the globe striving to go green, here’s a way to do it literally.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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