Walls have a thoroughly impressive past. They have been a lot of things: white, red or stuccoed; padded, fortified, divided and collapsible. They have been paper, wattle and daub, and myriad types of stone. They’ve been all around the world, witnessed the last 10,000 years of human history (at least), travelled through space. They’ve housed the brightest minds and harshest rulers, even watched murders taking place, religious leaders being born. One must ask, is there anything the wall has not yet done?
Indeed, I’m not sure that there is. For, as I saw this morning, walls can also be alive.
Yes, life itself has been written on the wall’s list of meritorious accomplishments, and it’s happened here, too, at U of T: appropriately dubbed the “Living Wall,” this wall is not like most others. Grown hydroponically (using aqueous nutrient solutions, but no soil), the living wall stands 2.5 metres tall and 7 metres wide and hosts a thriving community of mosses, ferns, flowering plants and specialized microbes. The microbes break down air pollutants into such constituent parts as carbon and water molecules, and thus produce significant amounts of clean air that are circulated throughout the adjoining room and building in the Multi-Faith Centre.
Also called a biowall, green wall, or vertical garden, the idea behind an indoor living wall is to integrate the wall’s biofiltering abilities into a building’s air circulation system. Because a living wall contains powerful filtering microbes, it works to clean the atmosphere immediately around it by pulling air into the plants’ roots, degrading pollutants (thanks to the microbes), and subsequently spewing out clean air into the room – a process dubbed phytoremediation.
Since they’re able to filter contaminants out of the air, living walls are most frequently found in cities, where industrial and automotive emissions unfortunately reign supreme. Like their close relative, the green roof, living walls have further uses: because cities are essentially big, dark slabs of heat-absorbing concrete sitting on an otherwise green and blue Earth, urban centres retain a lot of solar radiation. Unlike city streets and rooftops, vegetated areas remain quite cool under the sun, thanks to transpiration. This means that by creating green walls and roofs, heat absoprtion in cities is decreased while air is simultaneously purified, with obvious benefits for those nearby.
Designed by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, the living wall is located in U of T’s Multi-Faith Centre (569 Spadina Ave.), an architectural treasure which deserves a post of its very own. The living wall is tucked away on the building’s second floor, yet accessible to all. From the south-west stairs, it’s found by entering the doorway reading “Male Ablution,” but sticking to the right. The room is then right around the corner, strewn with pillows and scarves on which to sit and get comfortable, and filled with the sound of trickling water, bathed in pure white light, and infiltrated by sublimely clean air.
While the wall appears to have done it all, it might yet have some competition. Other parts of buildings on campus are about to inherent some living personality: a roof-top garden and green roof on top of St. Hilda’s College residence has been planned, and U of T is currently a hotbed of research on the topic.