AE4: Vertical Garden

The seemingly impossible vertical gardens -- vegetation growing on soil-less vertical surfaces -- that are finding popularity in the ever-more-green-minded media and public are the almost single-handed product of one person: Patrick Blanc. Contributing to the architecture of many high-profile architects and their commissions, and the author of a forthcoming book on the subject, it's hard to deny the appeal of vegetation appearing to take over an architect's creation, something that might have only seemed possible with Photoshop until very recently.

Green vs. Stone
[Musée du quai Branly | photograph by rolando g]

The Musée du quai Branly in Paris, France by Jean Nouvel is one of Blanc's most well-known installations, overshadowing the architect's formal bravado on the museum's other faces. It makes the relationship between old and new striking, even though Nouvel picks up on the regular openings of the neighbor. It seems to indicate that now real vegetation is architectural ornament, where the old building only represented nature in the engaged Corinthian capitals.

Contrastes callejeros
[Detail of Musée du quai Branly | photograph by atwose]

Another recent, high-profile installation by Blanc is at the CaixaForum Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron. The vertical garden stands in opposition to the rusted steel mass protruding from the stone base. These two facades front a small plaza, making the vegetal wall a backdrop for art and/or a billboard for "green".

[CaixaForum Madrid | photograph by m_granados]

Of course, even though Blanc holds a copyright for his installations, this does not preclude others from attempting other vertical greenery. Coinciding with the AIA Convention in Boston next month is "Parti Wall, Hanging Green," a project by Young Architects Boston Group, comprised of Ground, Höweler + Yoon Architecture, LinOldhamOffice, Merge Architects, MOS, over,under, SsD, Studio Luz, UNI, and Utile.

The installation "will be suspended from the newly converted loft building known as The 1850, located at 90 Wareham Street in Boston’s South End. The five-story-high planted structure will face Wareham Street across from the pinkcomma gallery, where an exhibition of the installation’s collaborative design process and works of these ten firms will be on display."


In Boston the installation will be as much a test (for the success of different plants in different systems) as an expression of the potential temporary uses of blank party walls throughout the city, something other cities also have too many of, making the success of the installation potentially exportable.


  1. Aside from looking really cool, do these wall gardens have any practical benefit? I'm not asking this snarkily--I am seriously wondering if they have some beneficial effect on heating or cooling the building, or if their net energy use is positive or negative.

    Also, are they intended to be permanent? And if so, how are they maintained? (How do you weed a 40 foot wall?)

  2. the solar decathlon in Washington DC last fall had an entry with a "green wall"

    See it here:

  3. Robert - It's a valid question, but one that I don't think has been answered. I'm guessing the walls might create micro-climates that would be cooler than the surroundings in hot weather, for example, aiding in cooling a building. That's just a guess. The more it's done, the more studies will show the effects. I'm also guessing that weeding wouldn't be required, as the constraints of the planting medium are much less that soil in the ground. Of course this raises another question: what happens if and when the roots try to make their way in the building? Certainly roots tend to grow horizontally in soil, but what about their behavior on a vertical surface?

  4. I like the parti wall / hanging green project, but one thing that hasn't been thought out is how they will keep the plants moist. As they have designed it, it is like hanging a sponge out to dry.

    Other vertical green walls I've seen have small "buckets" of soil that attach to a structure behind. Of course, this would ruin the design they are aiming for...

  5. In researching this man's work last year, I found out that his installations require a large sum of water for irrigation and are not yet "green" per se, but have tremendous visual appeal none the less. There are many examples of more sustainable living wall systems.

  6. I think looking cool is enough. I thought it was paint at first but it's nice to see that it's natural decoration.

  7. Discovery channel,Daily Planet show,did a piece on the worlds oldest trees and where they were growing On a cliff face.there is some science to this. sorry, can't find the link


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