Located on Progress campus, this ‘neat collection of plants’ is both beautifully designed and sustainable.
Story and Photo By Aldis Brennan
When Diamond Schmitt Architects was commissioned by Centennial College to build the Library and Academic Facility, they pitched the idea of creating a new front door to the campus. But not just any front door, one that opens into a welcoming, homey space.
“We thought creating this kind of sky-lit interior courtyard could really create almost like a living room for the college,” Donald Schmitt, lead architect on the project, said.
Along those lines there are huge glass windows and a fireside gallery. But what really draws the eye is a four-storey ‘living wall’. Dr. Alan Darlington, founder of Nedlaw Living Walls, is responsible for creating this vertical hydroponic garden.
“People often come in and look at it and say ‘Wow, what a neat collection of plants,’” Darlington said. “They don’t always understand all the engineering and design that went into making it and getting it to work the way it’s supposed to.”
While the ‘living wall’ is a beautiful assortment of greenery it also serves another, more tangible purpose.
“The living wall is really about making a very healthy indoor environment with good air quality,” Schmitt said. “It actually cleans the air. So you get 80 per cent better air quality in that building than you do in a normal academic building.”
What happens is that tiny microbes growing on the wall eat the pollutants in the air. To them, the chemicals released from furniture or other contaminates are a source of nutrients. This in turn purifies the air.
The wall is 18 metres tall and 10 metres wide. It uses a combination of biofiltration and phytoremediation. It also lowers energy use by fans, heating and colling by 30 per cent.
The choice of the plants themselves is important as well. It is made up of fiscus, ivy an rubber plants. These plants have to be conducive to the growth of microbes and be able to thrive on a vertical wall. Then there’s the specific light, water quality and temperature of the building itself.
But even with the right plants, in order for the wall to do its work, the polluted air must somehow find its way to the microbes.
“Behind the wall are air ducts that have fans on them that are literally pulling air into the wall,” Schmitt said. “So the wall is just like a giant air filter.”
And of course this fresh air needs to be spread throughout the rest of the building. This means that while the ‘living wall’ does much of the work, the whole design of the building must be fully integrated in order for it to be effective.
This cleaner airflow has a psychological effect as well according to Darlington.
“One of the most important factors in people enjoying indoor space is the amount of fresh air you get. It’s related to your ability to concentrate and your overall wellbeing,” Darlington said. “They’re getting more virtual outside air than probably any other building on campus and they’re doing it in a very sustainable way.”