Category: Biophilia

December 19th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

I am working as a consulting arborist in the UAE for a couple of large projects.  Whilst there, I have been observing the broad state of the art and there is a long way to go in bringing across current best practice to the Middle-East, and I suspect that is so for many parts of the Middle-East and Asia.  Even in my village in Sussex, in the last month tree butchery has occurred, so the UK still doesn’t always get it right, despite a long tradition of arboriculture.

I have always worked in accordance with the advise given by Dr. Alex Shigo, of the US Forest Service.  His investigations revolutionised our understanding of the way trees react to injury, and this should inform the inquiring arborist.  Sadly not everyone inquires.

Delonix trees in a public park in Dubai - note the cracked branch over a footpath!

Delonix trees in a public park in Dubai – note the split branch over a footpath!

Back to trees in the UAE.  What I am seeing is a gradual awakening of interest in the care of trees, and the acknowledgement of the skills needed to carry out that work.  It seems that as more emphasis is put on landscape and more trees are planted, there comes a point when caring for them becomes a higher priority.  This needs to go right across the board, to include the correct pruning in the nursery, this can save many years of bad growth habit, which is not always correctable later.  Prevention is always better than cure. Perhaps the UAE, and especially Dubai, is maturing to the point of switching from development to maintenance. That’s as true for arboriculture as it is for plumbing and building maintenance.

A part of my contracted work is to train local teams in the correct methods of pruning. Basic techniques can be taught, but in the UK it takes three years to train an arborist, so we have to be realistic in what we can achieve. I think it won’t be long before I have UK based arborists over there caring for trees. With the 2020 World Expo now secured, the demand for trees can only grow, whilst in Abu Dhabi a new law requires 25% of all ground space on a development to be landscaped – the demand for beautiful trees has never been greater, nor the need of skilled care more evident.

Posted in Arboriculture, Biophilia, Dubai, UAE, Environment, landscapes, Middle-East, Trees Tagged with: , ,

November 12th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

Is there a “next place to go” for green/living walls? Absolutely there is – there’s probably two next places to go – in opposite directions, seemingly.  First we have a growing need for the mitigation of environmental factors which are largely of our own making; air pollution, rising temperatures, storm and waste water management and purification. Methods of providing ecosystem services, if you like.  We need these in urban areas, right at the heart of where the problems originate or concentrate.  Linear, end-of-pipe solutions to things such as “waste” water (how can H20 ever be waste?) are becoming increasingly unaffordable, especially in third-world regions where the real population growth is taking place.  So we need cyclical systems to deliver on-site solutions.

Global levels of air pollution.  London looks good here, yet still fails WHO limits

Global levels of air pollution. London looks good here, yet still fails WHO limits

Such systems must be cheap and effective.  They will look green, be alive, but not driven by aesthetics, although that is not to say they won’t look good.  But we need these types of wall to be installed an a huge scale, if they are to make a genuine contribution; with the climate changing so rapidly, we need all the help we can give ourselves.  I’m working on such a system now, focusing on air pollution mitigation.

Vertical greening is particularly effective in the urban environment for two reasons: we have very little open space to implement large-scale greening on, and the effects of pollution are most felt in the urban canyon – where the sides of the streets (buildings) equal or exceed the width.. Greening the sides of urban canyons, therefore, has the greatest potential for capturing particulates (pm10 is the range causing most concern).

It is interesting to note that trees are often cited as being good at removal of dust and particulates – but green walls are far better. For a start, most urban trees are deciduous, so they only have leaves for seven months of the year, then there is the recently researched fact that trees in an urban canyon can actually trap particulates under their canopy, preventing the natural air movement from mixing pm10 into the larger air volumes. I work with trees and love them, so have no bias in this; we just need to understand the interactions between air movement and greening.  So this for me, is the next generation of vertical greening technology.  Interestingly, being next-gen doesn’t mean being more high tech.  Given that things have to be cheaper, they have to be low tech but more effective.  This is where understanding the effect of things is crucial.

The street canyon is the best place for vertical greening to remove air pollution.

The street canyon is the best place for vertical greening to remove air pollution.

I said that vertical greening developments would move in two directions; the other is for increased human interaction, for biophilia.  As 80% of the world’s population will be urban by 2050, many of the projected nine billion will have little access to nature.  We need to make our cities green forests – not the urban jungles they have become.  Every building needs to have vertical parks and gardens built in as standard, giving us direct contact with nature (whilst at the same time giving us all those ecosystem services I mentioned earlier), which brings the two directions (function vs beauty) right back into one place. Furthermore, such systems must be easily retrofit-able onto existing building stock.

Vertical "biomembranes" give us vertical landscapes, satisfy our love for nature - biophilia and deliver ecosystem services

Vertical “biomembranes” give us vertical landscapes, satisfy our love for nature – biophilia and deliver ecosystem services

So there is a huge role for vertical greening to play for humanity, keeping us in a functioning, livable environment, giving us beauty, satisfying our need for biophilia and keeping us sane in an urbanised world. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what we can do and I’m certainly looking forward to upping my game with new products that take is in the right direction.

Update:

I now run a new company Vertology Living Walls and have an advanced, patent-pending green wall system, Viridiwall™.

 

Posted in Biophilia, Climate Change, Design, Environment, Green walls, living walls, Vertical Greening Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

September 27th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

I recently visited newly installed walls at Wilson Street, London, which I designed for Biotecture.These were a joy to behold with lush new growth on the two main walls on the ground floor reception, and later walls to basement areas which were designed and planted up slightly later.

Wilson_St_Green_Wall-2

Wilson_St_Green_Wall-1foliage detail

Wilson_St_Green_Wall-3Basement stairs

Posted in Biophilia, Design, living walls, Vertical Greening Tagged with: , , , ,

September 20th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

I launched my newsletter this week on vertical greening, sending it out to clients and those who’d signed up here or on the website.  From the number of views and feedback, (considerably higher than industry standards) I’d say it was a success!  The aim is to inform interested parties of news and developments in the field of vertical greening.

Don’t miss the next issue – sign up using the form on the right!

newsletter

Posted in Arboriculture, Biophilia, Design, Dubai, UAE, Environment, Indoor Plants, living walls, Retail, Sustainability, Vertical Greening Tagged with: , , ,

September 9th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

A new wall has just been installed at the Aveda Institute at High Holborn.  An unusual design, it is a column wrap-around, which gives some design and technical challenges.

green wall at Aveda by MLD Greenwall_Aveda-0002

Because it was not possible to retrofit drainage into the building (a common problem when buildings are not owned by the occupiers), a recurculating, tank-based system was designed.  Normally, water is not recirculated in a green wall because the addition of nutrients (usually injected into the water-flow) would cause a build-up of excess mineral salts and create chemical burn to the foliage.  This system avoids those problems and solves the drainage issue.

A selection of plants has been chosen which will adapt to the existing light levels, which are low on the face away from the windows. Feedback from staff and visitors has been incredibly positive!

A second wall, also a column wrap, has been commissioned for Aveda at their outlet in Libertys, Regent Street.

Note: final trim detail to be added at the time these pictures were taken.

Posted in Biophilia, Design, Indoor Plants, living walls, Retail Tagged with: , , , , ,

September 1st, 2013 by Mark Laurence

I came across some interesting vertical greening at Borough Market recently, in a glazed atrium/entrance space called the Market Hall which served as a place for people to relax, sit and eat.

Borough_Market-1

Hop Plants in containers

Hop Plants in containers

The plants were obviously chosen for their connections with food, so the climbers were hops (used mostly for beer making) and there were an array of edibles in pots which spiraled up around metal columns; mind you, I wouldn’t like the job of watering, as there did not appear to be any automatic irrigation fitted.  Olive trees were fitted into various seating units.

It made for a lively space and was an created in conjunction with Natural England and Bankside Urban Forest.  I will be interested to see how the hops will do over time, not being in a fully outdoor environment, and I imagine they will still lose their leaves during winter, as it is (I presume) an unheated space.  It always has to be accepted that plants used in close urban environments might be shorter-lived and require more care than in more natural circumstance, but I think that just goes with urban living.

A great initiative, let’s see more such spaces where people get close contact and interaction with plants.

Posted in Biophilia, Edible Planting, Indoor Plants, Sustainability Tagged with: , , , ,

August 30th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

A new green wall I designed has been put up in the HQ of Lend Lease at the Elephant & Castle, London.  It is situated in the company’s main reception foyer.

lend-lease_green_wall-2 lend-lease_green_wall-3

It consists of a variety of plants in loosely vertical banding, including Begonias, Peperomia and Phlebodium (Blue Ferns). Everyone seems very pleased with it! The system and installation was by Biotecture.

An outdoor wall has also been installed on the hoarding of a Lend Lease building site just across the road, the plant design is a simple repeating matrix.  Plants include Pachysandra, Tiarella, Liriope and Euonymus.

The outdoor green wall on hoarding at Elephant & Castle

The outdoor green wall on hoarding at Elephant & Castle

Posted in Biophilia, Indoor Plants, living walls Tagged with: , , , , ,

August 24th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

I’ve got to admit it; plants do something to me.  When in their proximity, either indoors or out, things feel different.  It could be because they change the air, giving me oxygen, removing pollutants and humidifying the atmosphere.  It could be because they give me a subtle but direct contact with Nature.  Maybe they talk to me; I don’t know.  But I know I can’t live without them, and that too many people do just that; they don’t know what they’re missing.

Plant shelve in my office

Plant shelves in my office

Of course, I should have a green wall in my office and will have soon, for a new design I am prototyping.  But shelves will do, as will window ledges, if not in direct sun.  My shelves are beside a window, which is often actually the darkest place in a room.  To illustrate, I have several Tradescantia, of a variety called simply “Dark Green”.  One sits on the window sill and one on the shelf corner almost next to it, a mere 450mm away.  Yet the one on the window sill (West facing) is compact, fully dark green with purple undersides, whilst the other is leggier with larger leaves and less purple.  a quick test with a umol meter (which reads the light that plants “see”) shows that the window plant receives  (this morning on a dull day) a reading of 74, whilst the other plant gets a mere 20.  Come to the far end of the shelf and the reading drops to 03, leaving the plants, effectively, in the dark. Many plants can (amazingly) survive these conditions, but they will not be photosynthetically active and so not delivering the benefits I outlined above.  And of course, they can’t be happy.  So lighting is crucial, yet is a surprisingly difficult thing to fix.  Good fittings and bulbs not intended for greenhouse production are a rare thing.

It is worth mentioning, that what we call houseplants are simply plants that originate in sub-tropical regions and can tolerate the conditions found inside many buildings, such as low light levels, because many of the plants are from forest origins, low nutrient requirements and constant temperatures (little or no seasonal variation in the original home).  Low humidity can be the biggest problem, especially with central heating or in air-conditioned offices.

"inddor" plants on a green wall

“indoor” plants on a green wall

So given the right conditions (and even with a bit of light-abuse), plants will thrive indoors and ultimately, a green wall is the best way to display them, for several reasons: you get a huge area of leaf mass index in a small footprint, giving the maximum amount of benefit, whilst watering and feeding is automated, so you don’t have to worry about that.  The only problem with green walls is that they are expensive, and they need plumbing in to drainage, water and electrical supplies.  I’m about to change all that, so watch this space.

And there are so many plants to grow, although sadly, finding a good source of houseplants, outside of the standard ranges supplied by supermarkets and the larger garden centres, is surprisingly difficult.  Almost all come from the Netherlands these days.  Dibleys are an exception and good for gnesneriads (www.dibleys.com).  In my Biotecture days I had walls of plants being trialed, all gone now and I miss them, but I plan to resume trialing again soon, on a similar scale and have many new plants to test.  They excite me more than (almost) anything, and especially when I think we’re getting ecosystem services from them – but that is the subject for another post, other than the brief mention I gave above.

So do yourself a favour, rediscover your biophilic urges, give yourself a treat and buy some houseplants!

Posted in Biophilia, Ecosystem Services, Indoor Plants, living walls Tagged with: , , , ,

May 28th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

I’ve been reading several websites by visionary developers in Azerbaijan, who are proposing some massive Dubai-style developments to the Bay area of Baku, the country’s capital. One, the http://khazarislands.com/ seems like an ambitious Dubai-competitor, an ultra-sleek development on up to 30 artificial islands (think the Palm Jumeirah), the other is based on an existing island and whilst just as pretentious,  http://www.ziraisland.com/ at least aims to generate all its own energy from renewables, and to be carbon-neutral.

Zira_Island

The buildings are all based on the forms of nine iconic mountains in the Caucasus Range.  Actually, not a bad idea from the point of view of seismic safety and thermal efficiency etc.  Serious plans to make a huge modern metropolis that is self-sufficient are rare, with perhaps only the Chinese actually trying this with some of their Eco-Cities.

Zira_Energy

What is needed is to develop a coherent urban greening policy to integrate technologies like living walls and urban tree planting and care, with a carefully thought out irrigation policy.  People still don’t see how essential green walls will be in integrating ecosystem services into a buildings basic functionality, but it will come.  Let’s watch with interest.

Posted in Arboriculture, Biophilia, Climate Change, Dubai, UAE, Economic Issues, Ecosystem Services, Environment, Green walls, living walls, Middle-East, Sustainability, Trees, Vertical Greening Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,