Category Archives: green walls

Dry stone walling in Crossbones Garden, a 2015 Chelsea Fringe event


Dry stone walling is flexible; it does not use mortar; it is good for wildlife; it is a sustainable. The only minus points arise if fuel is used for quarrying and transporting the stone.
This video is of a Chelsea Fringe event in Crossbones Garden, near London Bridge Station. Participants receive a certificate of attendance at the end of the session. John Holt is a great teacher.

The Skycourt and Skygarden by Jason Pomeroy – book review by Tom Turner

We are seeing the approach of a new architectural style. Let's call it GHA.

Are we seeing the approach of a new architectural style? If so, let’s call it GHA.

Jason Pomeroy The Skycourt and Skygarden: Greening the urban habitat Routledge 2013 ISBN-13: 978-0415636995
Jason Pomeroy studied architecture in England and now leads a design studio in Singapore. He has a special interst in above-ground greenspace and Singapore is a world-leading city in this respect: it is rich; it is very well run; it sees itself as a Garden City.
Over half the book is a really useful set of case studies, wisely categorized as Completed, Under Construction and On the Drawing Board. I am as full of admiration for the architects and clients who launched these projects as for the author who assembled and analyzed the details. Some, like the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, look as good as the design drawings promised. Others show lush vegetation on the drawings and less vegetation on the photographs. The plants may grow – or they may be removed, because much of it is on balconies and residents like glazing such spaces to create extra indoor accommodation. This is common practice in China, South Korea and elsewhere.
The author’s definitions on page 41 are:

  • Rooftop garden: ‘a landscaped environment built on the roof’
  • Skygarden: ‘an open or enclosed landscaped open space that can be dispersed through the higher levels of the urban habitat or tall building’
  • Skycourt: an enclosure ‘created by the void space being bordered by other buildings within the immediate urban context, or formed by its own internal facades’.

One can hardly expect satisfactory names and definitions for a new spatial typology – and I am unhappy with the above definitions. They use the verb ‘landscaped’ to mean ‘planted’, which is incorrect, while the author makes no reference to the involvement of landscape architects with the design of above-ground space. It is not enough for a space to be planted: each space should be well-planned and well-designed to fit its intended social use. Some of the spaces described as skycourts are what I would call balconies. Others are fashionably weird bites taken out of buildings which have many floors below and many above. In London, spaces like this are cold, windswept and unpleasant. In Madrid’s hot summers the Mirador ‘skycourt’ may be pleasant; in its cold winters the bites must be grim. In Singapore’s hot sticky climate the bites may be shady, breezy and delightful. But they will also require artificial irrigation. One needs to be skeptical about ‘green’ buildings: they can be ‘green’ in the sense of ‘vegetated’ without being ‘green’ in the sense of ‘sustainable’ – like Patrick Blanc’s green living walls. The design of every building should respond to the genius of every place.
In the absence of good evidence we should have no more trust in architects’ claims for buildings being sustainable than we have in politicians who describe their policies as ‘sustainable’. The technical term for both is ‘greenwash‘. For some of the Future Vision projects in Chapter 2 (see examples above) the technical term is ‘hogwash’. This is Greenwash-Hogwash Architecture (GHA)and I wish Pomeroy had been more critical of it. We are not going to get good green buildings (‘landscape architecture’, as we might call it) without thoughtful analysis of what is good and what is bad and what is awful.

The analytical aspects of Pomeroy's book on Skycourts and Skygardens are commendable

The analytical aspects of Pomeroy’s book on Skycourts and Skygardens are commendable


Two real strength of Pomeroy’s book are his analytical diagrams and his systematic charting of the characteristics of above ground greenspace. City planners and urban designers should certainly be analytical and everyone who wants greener cities must read page 69. I won’t spill the details but it explains the legislative and financial principle which has encouraged Singapore’s architects to go green. It’s wonderful.

Green Living Walls CPD Seminar Conference in London on 15th April 2014

Living walls are a ‘growing’ trend… Mayor Boris Johnson has a target to increase green cover across central London by 5% by 2030 (2011 London Plan). Urban greening is a key element of the much broader Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, which encourages the use of planting, green roofs and walls and soft landscape. By increasing green space and vegetation cover in the city flood risk and rising temperatures can be managed. London Plan Policy states the Mayor will and boroughs should expect major developments to incorporate living roofs and walls where feasible and reflect this principle in LDF policies. See Seminar Details and see Seminar Booking
Living green walls seminar
Living Walls are an exciting new and emerging technology. This one day seminar forum will reveal and share the latest information about the different types of available living walls from a range of perspectives including academia, designers, plant specialists, installation and maintenance experts and living wall system manufacturers. Highlights include a review and discussion of the latest research in living walls, recent developments in living wall systems, ecosystem services and case studies. The key manufacturers and installers will also exhibit and present their living wall systems and attendees will be able to inspect and ask questions about the systems on the day.

  • Latest academic research to do with living walls (thermal, carbon & energy studies, urban agriculture, social well-being, etc);
  • Life cycle analysis;
  • Ecosystem services;
  • Policy (UK and EU) feeding design, system development and vegetation use;
  • Latest substrate research for green roofs & walls (Hillier Nurseries & Boningale GreenSky);
  • Installation & maintenance (costs & issues);
  • Gary Grant will keynote & present vertical rain gardens; and,
  • 6 case studies of different systems by manufacturers from EU & UK will present and exhibit their systems for a hands-on approach.

Sustainable green roofs and solar walls in urban landscape design

Amazing but true: the price of solar panels after dropping at about 6% per year for a decade, the price of solar panels is now dropping at 20% per year. If this continues for 5 years solar power is going to be cheaper than coal power. But the cost of electricity transmission is not falling so it will be advantageous to have solar panels as close as possible to the buildings in which the electricity is used. So the likely future of urban design is: solar panels on the walls and vegetation of the roofs. No more dead walls and, since pv panels are reflective, we can look forward to sunlight being reflected into the previously dark corners of cities. Retaining the ‘matchbox’ form of recent cities would not be sensible. We can look forward to some entirely different urban forms and to a much fuller integration of landscape design with architectural design.
Images courtesy afagen and mgifford,

Bosco Verticale – vertical forest garden balconies in Milan

Green walls and green roof makes a forest appartment block in Milan

Congratulations to Stefano Boerion his Vertical Forest. He proclaims: ‘The first example of a Bosco Verticale composed of two residential towers of 110 and 76 meters height, will be realized in the centre of Milan, on the edge of the Isola neighbourhood, and will host 900 trees (each measuring 3, 6 or 9 m tall) apart from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants. On flat land, each Bosco Verticale equals, in amount of trees, an area equal to 10.000 sqm of forest. In terms of urban densification the equivalent of an area of single family dwellings of nearly 50.000 sqm.’
But will it work? I do not anticipate a horticultural problem with growing the trees. But will the residents want them? I am sceptical. A planted balcony with shrubs, flowers and living space is a delight. But there is a long history of residents not wanting large trees too near the windows of their houses. Trees keep out the sun and block views. The trees on top of the building should be a great success – providing the structural, horticultural and stability issues have been properly addressed.

GM Green Wall in Trafalgar Square designed by Shelley Mosco landscape architect

It is a pleasure to have a green wall in Trafalgar Square this summer, to cover some scaffolding. The green wall was sponsored by GE and the National Gallery, as part of its Carbon Plan. It was designed by landscape architect Shelley Mosco. It is based on Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses (below left). Shelley’s planting design (below right) uses pointillist planting blocks for texture. The wall has 36 different species in 250x500mm modules, each containing 14 cells of 125x76mm). The living green wall is 4.8m x 7m and has over 8000 plants. Shelley is also interested in living green walls made with native plants,using a GIS system to guide plant selection for particular localities.

Clean, green and responsive: the future of architecture?

Lumenhaus inspired by Mies Van der Rohe’s Fansworth House is described by Virginia Tech students as responsive architecture. Responsive architecture according to Nicholas Negroponte’s definition is “a class of architecture or building that demonstrates an ability to alter its form, to continually reflect the environmental conditions which surround it.”

The aim of Lumenhaus designers was to “maximise user comfort with environmental protection” to make the user’s life “simpler, more energy efficient and less expensive.” They say the goal was to balance design quality, resource conservation and energy efficiency to produce architecture which achieves “beautiful enduring sustainability.”

One of the most significant benefits of the Lumenhaus construction concept is that it is off-grid (with options for feeding energy to the grid where appropriate), prefabricated and transportable making it an ideal solution for remote housing (increasing production standards, optimizing costs and providing improved accessibility to remote locations), temporary housing (mining and student communities) and emergency housing (after natural disasters).

Landscape architects could contribute significantly to the concept by, among other strategies, incorporating green wall technology on the wall cladding and designing a compatible site responsive green roof space beneath a solar panel shaded umbrella roof.

Much ado about zero energy buildings

With the European Parliament mandating under the amended ‘Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’ that all new buildings are to be ‘zero energy’ by 2019 the heat is on to produce architecture and environments that contribute to more sustainable energy equations with a zero or positive bottom line.

According to 2006 figures from the US Department of Energy, energy use in the building sector in the US continues to increase “primarily because new buildings are constructed faster than old buildings are retired.” Essentially the net building stock in the US is increasing. The government is not predicting any reduction in demand for new buildings and so is pursuing a Zero Energy agenda. The authors of the report ‘Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition’ say “because design goals are so important to achieving high performance buildings, the way a ZEB goal is defined is crucial to understanding the combination of applicable efficiency measures and renewable energy supply options.”

Under the (Zero Energy Building) ZEB definition four aspects of energy are considered: 1) net-zero site energy 2) net-zero source energy 3) net-zero energy costs and 4) net-zero energy emissions.

Chicago architect Zoka Zola has designed a zero energy urban home with a green roof for passionate gardeners. The green roof is designated as the zone for the home to extend in the future and for the installation of renewable energy infrastructure. The accessible green roofs encourage “bio-diversity and absorb water runoff, while insulating the interior and protecting the roof from thermal shock and ultra violet deterioration.” The tree in the south facing garden provides both beauty and summer shade. The garden also provides the outlook from the rooms with large south facing windows.

With designers giving functional, structural and aesthetic consideration to the zero energy buildings the green future is looking bright.

Is new urbanism old?

The 10 principles of New Urbanism are:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed use and diversity
4. Mixed housing
5. Quality architecture and urban design
6. Traditional neighbourhood structure
7. Increased density
8. Smart transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of life

According the wikipedia entry “This new system of development, with its rigorous separation of uses, became known as “conventional suburban development” or pejoratively as urban sprawl, arose after World War II. The majority of U.S. citizens now live in suburban communities built in the last fifty years, and automobile use per capita has soared.

Although New Urbanism as an organized movement would only arise later, a number of activists and thinkers soon began to criticize the modernist planning techniques being put into practice. Social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford criticized the “anti-urban” development of post-war America. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, called for planners to reconsider the single-use housing projects, large car-dependent thoroughfares, and segregated commercial centers that had become the “norm.”

Rooted in these early dissenters, New Urbanism emerged in the 1970s and 80s with the urban visions and theoretical models for the reconstruction of the “European” city proposed by architect Leon Krier, and the “pattern language” theories of Christopher Alexander.”

New urbanism was fundamentally a social planning movement although it has morphed more recently to include at least a minimalist environmental agenda. Wendy Morris says new urbanism was “….Initially A Reaction to Sprawl…..Now A Basis for Sustainable Urban Growth/Smart Growth…….and a response to Climate Change and Peak Oil…and a Basis for Addressing Physical Health and
Social Well-being.”

Can the old theory of New Urbanism be adapted to adequately address new environmental concerns?

Paris goes green

The French farmer’s protested their financial plight in a charmingly French manner by greening the Champ-Elysee.

Another unusual example of the trend towards green is the Lost House of Paris. The occupants literally live within a greenery covered house. To travel green in the city of romance you simply phone a ‘Vectrix’ taxi.

As Pierre Patel’s 1688 painting of Versailles (below)  shows, axes can be green and they can be canals. And canals can be used for transport.  Civic leaders need courage, imagination, wisdom – and a wealth of ideas from the design professions.

Planning an urban landscape for London's economic and financial future

London has had many economic roles over the centuries and now hopes to settle down as a cultural capital and somewhere between ‘Europe’s financial centre’ and ‘the world’s financial centre’. This requires a planning and design response which is likely to include
(1) more large green buildings, because big firms have big space requirements
(2) more homes for young, rich and mobile people
(3) more urban public space of the highest quality and greatest variety: busy and quiet, large and small, glazed and unglazed, soft and hard, wild and cultured, space at ground level, above ground and below ground, space for shopping and space for prayer, space with quiet water, bright water, dark water, swimming water, boating water and living water, biodiversity, socially diverse space for each cultural group (listeners to Radios 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 etc) and social space for the particular interests of ethnic, work and leisure groups.
London’s new amenities could be provided on a spatterdash basis – or London could have an urban landscape plan. The Canary Wharf development on the Isle of Dogs was a key project. It points to what should be done, to how it should be done – and to where it should be done. London’s traditional rival is Paris, which has a bold plan, now over 300 years old, for projecting the axis of the Tuileries westward – to the Place de la Concorde, to the Arc de Triomphe, to La Défense and beyond. London has a modest plan for projecting Crossrail into the Thames Gateway. But London landscape planning lacks spatial imagination – and axes were a baroque idea.
London will require many new buildings. They should be of the best available quality – and they should be grouped to ‘define and contain’ new urban space of the best quality and variety. The urban space should be designed before the buildings. A great new urban landscape should be planned to run east from the Isle of Dogs. Olympia and York made a significant start when they commissioned Laurie Olin to plan Westferry Circus and the Canary Wharf central axis. Before this, the Isle of Dogs was being developed with small cheap buildings and a pitiful lack of long-term vision. The Hanna Olin plan was much better – but it was more of a plan for Visual Space than for Social Space or Ecological Space. The present period of relative economic stagnation is an opportunity to take a broad perspective on the eastward projection of London and its financial future. There should be a 3-year plan, a 30-year plan and a 300-year plan.
London should remember that ‘He that the beautiful and useful blends, Simplicity with greatness, gains all ends’. Urban designers, architects and landscape architects should plan a multi-functional urban landscape with the highest visual quality and as much sustainability as can be planned at this point in time, with conceptual principles prioritised over design deails.

Patrick Blanc green walls are beautiful – but are they sustainable?

Patrick Blanc has made a great contribution to the technology of green walls, with beautiful results. But do they make useful contributions to environmental and sustainable design objectives? I do not know and would like to hear of any scientific evidence and environmental impact assessments. My guesses are (1) Patrick Blanc’s green walls use more energy for pumps/materials/manufacture than they save through insulation (2) more of Patrick Blanc’s green walls use tapwater than use rain which has fallen on the site (3) Patrick Blanc’s green walls make useful contributions to noise attenuation and dust capture (4) the contribution of Patrick Blanc’s green walls to biodiversity is negligible (5) one could achieve more environmental benefits, though less beauty, by using climbers.
The above example is on the Athaneum Hotel in Picadilly, London.
Stephen Alton shares my scepticism.