Since its completion in spring 2014, 20 Fenchurch Street, commonly known as The Walkie-Talkie, has become one of London’s most controversial and iconic skyscrapers. The 34 storey commercial building in the City of London financial district has attracted tenants from the worlds of insurance, finance and legal, including Shard Capital Stockbrokers – an independent full-service Financial Institution that relocated to the 23rd floor in 2015.
Shard Capital’s new office space was designed by Sterling Grey who worked to a remit of delivering a modern feel. As office Manager Lauren Clayton explains “We wanted to continue the modern theme and do something different with our office plants. Sterling Grey put us in touch with Darren at The Plantman who discussed our options and recommended a LivePanel system.”
Two LivePanel living walls were installed in a single day December 2015; the larger 10 square metre installation in the reception area, and a second four square metre wall outside the company’s boardroom. The main challenge facing the installer was to choose a mixed selection of plants suitable for the very light environment of the 23rd floor.
“Installation was really rather easy,” continues Lauren Clayton. “We discussed options with Darren in October and by start of December it was all completed with the installation taking only a few hours. The walls have been well received by both staff and visitors, and maintenance is non-existent from our point of view.”
To ensure the walls are maintained and the plants monitored, Darren from The Plantman visits the site every 10 days.
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Early this summer, Brent Council unveiled its £90m new headquarters. Boasting a BREEAM rating of ‘outstanding’, the civic centre has a plethora of green features ranging from a clever natural ventilation system to wildlife friendly measures like bat boxes. It also features no less than 200 of our green screens as part of its landscaping scheme.
It’s an ambitious building. Brent has demonstrated what can be achieved when there are substantial upfront resources available. But valuable energy and sustainability gains can be made with far more modest means and, deployed in volume, can have a major beneficial impact on our the environment, our finances and our quality of life.
Across the board, public bodies are increasingly thinking more creatively about ways to create marginal green gains alongside grander greening schemes like, for example, congestion charging. Consider Bristol City Council which is set to save £500,000 per year on its energy bills by simply replacing high-pressure sodium lamps with ceramic metal halide lamps.
Urban greening is one instant and cost-effective method of boosting the sustainability credentials of both existing buildings and new build. For example, housing association Eastland Homes recently commissioned a 44m high living wall as part of the refurbishment of an apartment block in Manchester. It’s the highest living wall we’ve yet created.
Other public bodies such as Enfield Borough Council are using ‘living’ hoardings to help offset the carbon footprint of new developments – and enhance the locality. Enfield has installed a total of 70 sq m of ivy screens around a major regeneration site in Ponders End.
But the full potential of green screens as a tool to benefit the environment is yet to be tapped. Wherever there is a bare wall, there is an opportunity to reduce pollution, boost biodiversity levels and enhance the appearance of a locality.
If we are to truly tackle the big issues of climate change, excessive energy consumption, pollution and carbon emissions then no stone can be left unturned. We do need the grand gestures like Brent’s new civic centre – they act as a beacon of best practice. But we also need the relatively smaller scale measures like the judicious use of greenery and low energy lighting to ensure that every opportunity to create even a marginal gain for the environment is seized.
When Radisson Blu opened its £22 million luxury 218-bedroom hotel at East Midlands Airport, it was keen to have some eye-catching and innovative features. To help achieve this, the hotel became the first building in the country to feature a Mobilane LivePanel Indoor system, which they installed in their reception area.
The attractive living wall has helped the building achieve the highest ever BREEAM sustainability rating for a commercial hotel in the UK. BREEAM evaluations consider a whole host of desired sustainable features and take into account not only energy-saving factors but also look at the interior environment. By installing the LivePanel Indoor system in the reception area, not only is the hotel ticking all the right boxes for the assessment criteria but it has also introduced a beautiful talking point that makes it stand out from the crowd.
The panel used by Radisson Blu is 10sqm and contains a variety of plants which were grown off-site and delivered ready for installation. The aesthetically pleasing centrepiece of the hotel reception took just one day to install and the only work needed prior to its installation was the fitting of some growing lights. Among the many advantages of the wall is that it has its own integrated irrigation system and is self-contained, cutting out the need for any damp proofing behind the system. The panel contains a specially developed substrate which helps the plants to establish themselves and thrive. The irrigation system is powered by a standard 240v supply and the wall requires minimal maintenance. Any work that is required is done by Hedera Screens, which installed it.
We have been given some great feedback from the hotel on the views that staff and guests have had about the living wall, all of which has been positive. Our hope is that the LivePanel Indoor system will fire the imaginations of more interior designers and architects, who will be inspired to incorporate one into their latest project designs, whether offices, call centres, health centres, gyms, retail or business centres. Their potential application is immense.
We have helped to increase road safety and support the environment in Marlow as we have installed our Green Screens. Our six-foot high Green Screens can now be seen on the central reserve area of the A4155 Marlow Road, on the east side of the roundabout at the junction with the A404. They have already proved effective in the aims of reducing both driver distraction and roundabout approach speed.
This project comes about after the local authority in Marlow following a review of the analysis of reported injury collisions in the last three years took the initiative to act to improve safety at the junction. It was found that these were mainly as a result of excessive approach speeds towards the roundabout. The installation of our Green Screens have restricted the visibility on the approach to the roundabout which has instantly provided the desired effect and created an aesthetically pleasing barrier which is sustainable and environmentally sound.
The addition of the screens serves to restrict drivers’ views of traffic to their right as they approach the roundabout, encouraging them to reduce their speed. Initial results from speed flow data show an average total reduction of around 4mph in approach speeds and also a significant reduction in the number of vehicles approaching the roundabout at higher speeds.
Green screens are a simple yet remarkably effective concept, featuring a biodegradable pot which holds a wire mesh ‘fence’ onto which vegetation, usually ivy, is grown. Our screens are cultivated offsite and are delivered ready to install. As soon as they are installed they provide an attractive barrier solution with aesthetic, environmental and maintenance benefits over traditional walls and fences. They also provide an acoustic barrier which reduces the traffic noise in the surrounding environment. Unlike hedges the vegetation in the screens does not grow significantly above the height of the wire fence, so they do not require regular pruning, and they are much narrower yet more dimensionally stable than hedges.
Green Screens have a wide range of uses, including encouraging biodiversity, improving air quality and tackling graffiti. Local authorities are increasingly adopting innovative uses of the screens as they continue to see their versatility, sustainability and low maintenance costs. We are pleased to see Marlow leading the way and the results from this installation.
A lack of regulations and standards is to blame for a commonly held belief that living walls are problematic. Sean Farrell of living wall supplier Mobilane explains why.
While the concept of adding foliage to buildings is an old one – the greek historian Dionorus recorded a technically detailed description of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – the modern market for living walls is relatively new, yet it has suffered some negative publicity due to the failure of a few high profile examples. These have been pounced upon by critics who have claimed that living walls are both vulnerable and cannot be considered sustainable due to the watering and feeding requirements. These criticisms are wrong and the logic behind them is flawed. It is akin to claiming that cars are not a good idea because Toyota made some mistakes in 2009. It fails to take into account the development of successful systems which are far more efficient and sustainable.
The sustainability criticism is flawed because it fails to consider the green benefits against physical footprint which living walls deliver. For example, if you have a cube shaped building – a square plan and 4 square walls – with all four walls and a roof which are all greened, then that building will have a green ‘footprint’ which is five times the physical plan size of the building. Or to look at it another way, if the building were demolished and its footprint given back to nature, it would still not match the same area as the entirely greened building.
While it is a nice idea that areas of our towns and cities are given back to nature, the reality is that we need all those buildings and roads. There simply is no way that we can realistically introduce sizeable new green spaces in built-up towns and cities when we are already pushed for space. The government’s controversial push for expansion into the countryside reveals just how unrealistic it is to think about returning urban areas to green land. If we are going to add greenery to towns and cities, we have to look at adding it to new and existing buildings, both roofs and walls, that means going up the sides of buildings, and across the tops of them.
The sustainability of a living wall also depends on the efficiency of the system itself and the substrates used. The best modern systems are highly efficient, using low energy sensors to deliver only the exact amount of water required by the plants with no wastage.
However, while the environmental and social benefits of living walls are well understood, living wall systems, screens and living roofs are relatively free of regulatory frameworks and concepts which apply to most other parts of the building envelope, and there are no nationally recognised performance standards in place to reassure the specifier interested in adding greenery to buildings. Designers and specifiers are having to trust living wall suppliers’ claims on the performance of their systems and do not have minimum standards to guide them.
The Government and construction industry has, for many years, been committed to a programme of sustainable and more efficient construction. During this time Building Regulations have become increasingly onerous and there is a myriad of performance and quality control criteria which apply to the vast majority of building products and systems. This has been welcomed by manufacturers and suppliers and as a result the envelope is being pushed when it comes to research and development. Insulation systems, cladding systems, waterproofing systems etc, all have to meet minimum standards to exist in the marketplace and to be competitive. However, living systems such as green walls do not currently have the same requirements.
With no minimum standards in place, and no strong regulations governing the marketplace, suppliers of living systems are free to take systems to market which have not been properly tested and which are not fit for purpose. The result is a marketplace which has seen several high profile failures and in which good systems and good suppliers are being tarnished by the failure of bad systems. It is hardly surprising that living walls are viewed with some suspicion in some quarters, but living wall systems are incredibly important and offer many environmental and social benefits. It is a tragedy that development of the market is being hindered in this way.
Yet it is a market which is developing at a phenomenal pace. The latest living wall systems offer designers a phenomenal design palette and support a huge range of plant types. The external living wall has even moved indoors and it is now possible to have a LivePanel interior wall system installed within a building in less than a day and with no need for alterations to the building fabric. All that’s needed is a blank wall and a power point. The effect is stunning and the benefits to users of public sites such as airports, offices, shopping centres cannot be overstated.
As for the longevity and robustness of exterior living wall systems, there are many examples where the best systems have been thriving for many years. For example, the 150m long, 8m high living wall system at the O2 arena in London which four years after installation continues to thrive with minimal maintenance. The system took a little over a week to install and has not lost a single plant. There are also other excellent examples, such as the impressive living wall installed at Kendal College in Cumbria, the wall at Parkside Hospital in Wimbledon, the Mercedes Research and Development Plant, and a stunning wall at Monaco (surprisingly a harsh, water impoverished marine environment) which six years after installation is still regarded as the best example of a living wall in Europe. All of these installations thrive silently and without fuss, never drawing attention to themselves but always drawing admiration.
Maintenance of living walls is an important consideration and reflects on the lifetime cost of a wall. But the best suppliers will offer competitive maintenance packages.
Until such a time when minimum standards are introduced, designers and developers who are interested in specifying living wall systems need to ensure that suppliers they are speaking to can illustrate their heritage and can prove their systems perform as stated at a fixed price with guarantees for planters. At Mobilane we are able to show photos of progression of growth over 6, 12 and 18 months, as well as examples which continue to thrive after many years. Specifiers should also ensure they choose suppliers who can offer maintenance systems to protect their investment. In our opinion, green walls should not need replacing every four years, they should last a lifetime.
[This article will appear in a future issue of fc&a magazine]