Learning from a Dead Living Wall

Paradise-Childrens-centre-dead-wall

At one time, Paradise Park Children's Centre in London had a lush vertical hydroponic garden covering certain portions of the structure.  That time is no more, reports The Architects' Journal, the BBC, and the London Evening Standard.  The building, designed by DSDHA, called for a living wall to mitigate against planting the structure on a portion of open park space.  DSDHA retained landscape architect Marie Clarke and had the green wall system installed at a cost of £100,000.

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According to the Architects' Journal, a spokesperson for Islington Council said, "The wall was the first of its type to be installed in the UK and, as with anything new, carried a certain element of risk … Of course, we're disappointed that it hasn't thrived.  It seems this could be down to its design and we're looking at the best way to restore it.

To which, Tim Newark, Islington Taxpayers' Alliance, responded that the green wall was a costly waste of taxpayer money: "The architects should have worked out all the problems before it was installed … The council should not experiment with taxpayers' money.

It's an interesting situation.  A lot of green technology is new and using it will certainly be an experiment.  Plus, here in the states, public money is chasing LEED and green building, so there will be some high profile blunders — kind of like this one.  But after reviewing all the commentary and various articles, there's still no clear cut articulation of the what exactly happened.  Why did Paradise Park Children Centre's living wall die?  Was it the design?  Construction?  Maintenance?  Or some combination of all three. 

One of the guys in charge of maintenance told the London Evening Standard that the fancy watering system never worked.  It either underwatered or overwatered the plants.  So although some observers seem to want to blame the lack of maintenance for the wall's death, there's something more to the story.  Maybe it was designed to require too much maintenance?

The industry as a whole will be better off knowing what worked and what didn't so let's hope litigation doesn't muddy the facts.  We'll keep monitoring the situation. 

Update 9/22/09: New discussion on The Architect's Journal.

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Photo credits: dead wall (The Architects' Journal); living wall (Islington).


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  • http://metrohippie.com metrohippie

    great piece Preston! thanks for reporting on good and bad, as transparency is necessary to move everyone forward.

    The living wall concept is certainly exciting and looks amazing when plants are thriving, but yeah, kind of a depressing site when it doesn’t work… keep us posted if there’s any evolution in this story.

    -j

  • MrSteve007

    “Maybe it was designed to require too much maintenance?”

    If it requires more maintenance than a standard in-ground watering system (1 or 2 times a year), then yes, it requires too much maintenance and was a bad design to spec.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen more than one dead “living wall.” In fact, I’ve seen more failures than success. I wonder if these products aren’t being oversold, with buyers thinking the implementation as something akin to buying a house plant.

    The idea seems to have merit, and there are surely successful implementations. However, I think it’s time someone did an impartial assessment of the efficacy of these systems.

  • http://mportlandrealestate.com/ Portland Real Estate

    Yeah, the thing is such an eyesore when its dead. They need to fix this before people get dissilussioned against the idea.

    -Tyler

  • EJ

    Where did the missing plants go?

  • Fabio Figueiredo

    “A perfeição leva tempo, se é que um dia chega”.
    Perfection takes time, if it ever arrives…

  • Ericjt of Las Vegas

    It amazes me that designers/artists with grand ideas like this make it all unnecessarily complicated and so it results in failure like this. I have a degree in horticulture and can give you a fast and easy solution that wont cost £100.000 either. Shouldn’t have cost that much in the first place. I could have set this up for probably £1000 or two. Simple: clear the dead vegetation off the grid. Install irrigation along the base of the wall. Maybe install another irrigated planter “ledge” half way up with a cross section of 2×2 feet, well supported, to help speed up coverage. Plant fast growing vines, maybe a few varieties, maybe some that flower. Within a couple years the whole thing will be covered. It doesn’t need an irrigation any more fancy than what waters a lawn. Main issues will be which vines over take other vines, and then keeping them from swallowing the whole building. I grew up in New England and we had buildings 3 stories tall covered in ivy growing in the ground. What is so difficult about this? It’s not like they were inventing the idea of greenery on a wall.

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