[This post was first published on Spotted By Locals in March 2010)]
Caixa Forum in Madrid (by vladimix on Flickr via a Creative Commons License)

When I read the last post on urban farming, I immediately thought of the next big thing: vertical landscapes. I find the concept rather fascinating and have been following developments in the field.

It isn’t news anymore that our cities lack adequate lung space. As our world gets more and more urbanised, city populations are growing at an unprecedented pace, which in turn, means denser, taller cities, and not enough green space. Another dimension that assumes importance in this scenario is that of food supply. Our mammoth cities need to be fed, and increasingly this demand is being met through food produced far away, and through crops engineered to increase production. Both of which have severe ethical, ecological and environmental impacts.

Rooftop farming is one of the ideas proposed to combat this problem. But as cities grow taller, rooftops get scarcer and smaller. Plus, existing rooftops that are not pre-designed for the purpose of farming pose problems such as structural load capacity, water seepage and plumbing, and plant root penetration. Retrofitting is expensive and cumbersome.

This is where Vertical Landscaping step in – the ‘plant covered walls’ that Carl mentioned in his post.

Vertical Landscapes harness the height of buildings, the vast surface area available on the facades of our skyscrapers. They can either be built into the walls or erected as a separate ‘layer’ which  is essentially a trellised structure that provides for irrigation and support. Care needs to be taken in terms of kind of plantation based on micro climate conditions, i.e. availability of sun, wind speeds etc. So plants requiring more sunlight are planted higher up and seasonal plants or ones requiring more water are planted at lower levels.

This is of course not an entirely new concept – we’ve all seen decorative creeper covered walls – but the exciting thing is that this concept extends that idea to create entire mini ecosystems on our walls. Although in its infancy, the idea has already been put into practice in several buildings in Europe – most famously, the Atheneum Hotel in Central London, the vertical garden wall at the Caixa Forum in Madrid and the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Although not without its own set of detractors, it seems likely that Vertical Landscapes along with rooftop farms might be at least a partial solution to producing food locally and sustainably to feed our urban populations. For now, it’s wait and watch.

Other interesting links:

Patrick Blanc

Wired story on Patrick Blanc’s living walls at the Atheneum Hotel in London


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