Can Leafy, Sensor-equipped ‘Living Walls’ Help Make London Greener and Cleaner?

An engineering firm has constructed one of London’s first ‘living wall’ scaffolding structures on a building site. Good for air and noise pollution, as well as the local scenery, green walls are one example of sorely needed solutions to big-city pollution.

Autor*in Daniella Mattiuzzo, 11.21.16

An engineering firm has constructed one of London’s first ‘living wall’ scaffolding structures on a building site. Good for air and noise pollution, as well as the local scenery, green walls are one example of sorely needed solutions to big-city pollution.

London’s air pollution problem is no small matter. A study revealed in July this year that around 9,500 Londoners die annually due to long-term exposure to air pollution. Unsurprisingly, the UK Government was recently admonished by the High Court in London for its failure to address what it considers a public health crisis. With air pollution being one of the biggest challenges facing the world’s megacities, re-vegetation is one solution that many cities are embracing.

Giant engineering firm Arup recently teamed up with property developer Grosvenor to install a living wall – that is, a vertical garden – on the scaffolding of one of its developments in London’s upmarket Mayfair area. ‘Living Wall Lite’, as Arup has named it, is 80 square metres large and is made up of grasses, wild flowers and strawberries. The Wall was designed by Arup and manufactured by Swedish living wall-makers Green Fortune, who are responsible for a host of other plant wall installations in various hotels, retail chains, and offices across Europe and in Dubai.

The company claims that other than the obvious effect of making scaffolding look a whole lot better, the wall has the potential to reduce air pollution “by up to 20 per cent”, and noise pollution “by up to 10 decibels”. The wall will also be fitted with sensors that monitor temperature, noise and air pollution, and is part of their commitment to ‘green infrastructure’ in all of their developments. A number of questions remain open though, such as what happens to the plants once the development is finished in 2017, and what will the data collected be used for.

© Arup

Green vs Grey

But are these types of structures really effective? Covering buildings and urban spaces with plants certainly has a number of benefits, such as improving air quality by absorbing carbon and producing oxygen. It also provides shade and insulation in extreme weather, and offsets the urban heat island effect that many concrete cities suffer in the hotter months. It can also produce psychological benefits, such as decreasing stress. For example Heathrow airport recently unveiled a new indoor ‘Garden Gate’ designed to help passengers relax during hectic airport trips.

© Arup

Elite Gardens?

While projects like these certainly contribute to the overall solution towards London’s air pollution problem, more efforts needs to be made to ensure that green infrastructure is being constructed in the areas where it is needed the most. Wealthier areas, like Mayfair, undoubtedly benefit from greener buildings and better air quality, however a recent study showed that marginalised and ethnic minority communities are the worst affected when it comes to city air pollution. More and more town planners will have to start thinking about the way they effectively integrate green architecture initiatives into the cities of the future.

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Air Pollution

The term “air pollution” conjures up a broad array of images – from hazy smog to acid rain and buildings stained from exhaust fumes. Equally broad are its causes and negative effects on human and environmental health. In fact, the vast majority the world’s population is adversely affected by air pollution, perhaps without even realizing it. The good news is, since most air pollution is caused by human activity, it's a problem that all of us can do something about.