Biophilic design is not a new concept, and for thousands of years people have looked for ways to incorporate the natural habitat into the design of homes, workspaces and public places. Playing on our inherent need to be connected to the natural world, bringing the outside in focuses on far more than just the aesthetic benefits, and is proven to have a positive impact on our general health and well-being.
Today, people are more conscious than ever before of the role that our surroundings play in achieving these benefits, with interior designers now being held responsible for recommending design strategies that have a positive effect on occupant wellness. This is even more important in urban areas where space is in short supply and pressure is rising for more sustainable or greener design solutions.
This means far more than just adding a few strategically placed potted plants, with installations like living walls, harnessing the power of nature to transform a standard design into something sensational. With a raft of benefits, from improving internal air quality to balancing acoustics, living walls are quickly becoming the go-to for clients and designers seeking achievable design features with easy processes that breathe new life into interiors.
As a living piece of artwork and usually featuring lush foliage and vibrant flowers, living walls are designed to make a statement, while improving the internal atmosphere of a space. Providing occupants with an accessible connection to nature, living installations work around the demands of a designer and/or client, by utilising natural elements and materials, such as plants and light, to transform a wasted space into a thriving vertical garden.
With a recent interior design survey revealing over half of clients are “extremely” or “very willing” to invest in a wellness-promoting space, living features are emerging as a growing movement in response to the increasing demand for biophilic interiors, with plants having the power to change how we feel both physically and emotionally.
From working with architects during the early design process to growing greener existing spaces, these living installations are easily adaptable, creating a key feature in any room. From the kitchen and living room, to bedrooms or hallways, the scope for interior living walls is vast, and with no restrictions on size, no two installations are the same.
Working with an experienced and trusted living wall specialist is essential to ensure a natural installation meets the needs of not only the client and design brief, but also the internal environment, elevation, space and climate. These elements will also dictate the type of plants used, with the right combination and balance ensuring the living feature has the ideal environment to thrive for the long term.
Living walls can also be adapted to suit the style, colour and design vision of the space, with plants such as vines, ferns or wildflower reflecting that of a natural landscape, while succulents, ivies and flowing grasses can create a standout flowing artistic tapestry. Planting herbs and soft fruits also encourage human interaction with the wall, with herbs such as mint, thyme or sage adding a distinctive, pleasant scent to an internal space.
Living walls are not just limited to spaces with ample amount of natural light, with additions such as spotlights and mirrors, helping to turn a basic plant requirement into a powerful statement, transforming a wall into a living, breathing architectural canvas. With almost no design restrictions, wood and metal can also be incorporated into designs, while plants can be fitted into any shape, from circles and squares to swirls or stripes.
Once a design has been agreed, living wall specialists will ensure that features are installed without damaging the wall or compromising the building structure. Depending on the type of wall, a vertical bracket system – made from the appropriate material, such as batten, aluminium or plyboard – can be used, alongside a breathable membrane to ensure the space does not become damp.
Helping to ensure plants are fully established and thrive instantly on installation, the wall is pre-grown offsite and delivered as individual modules and installed alongside a fully automated irrigation system, keeps occupant maintenance to a minimum. However, it is advised that monthly maintenance checks are carried out by an expert to ensure the design stays looking its best, which should include trimming the plants, checking the irrigation system, valves and timer, as well as dusting or shining the leaves.
Based on the core principle of connecting people with nature in a non-natural space, living installations bring a range of biophilic benefits to building occupants, ranging from the physiological to the psychological. Helping to maximise space within urban built environments, biophilic designs, such as living walls, have been proven to help improve productivity, creativity, mood and even cognitive functions.
Having the potential to change the internal environment for the better, living walls are also a solution to air pollution, with plants absorbing carbon dioxide and dust particles in exchange for clean, fresh air. In fact, just one square metre of vegetation generates enough oxygen for a human for a year.
While creating a healthier internal environment, living walls are also an asset in improving the performance and efficiency of a home. Acting as natural defences against noise, living walls can improve the acoustics of a building with its soil doubling up as a softening barrier. Plants also work to moderate temperatures by acting as natural insulation barriers, ensuring the air is not only clean but comfortable; providing occupants with the added benefits of reduced carbon emissions, along with lower heating and air conditioning costs.
Interior design can no longer focus on just design aesthetics, with the emerging approach being to provide solutions that are not only unique, but also have a marked positive impact on the lives of building’s occupants, with designers now playing a critical role in creating a greener and more sustainable future within the built environment. Providing a solution to today’s environmental and urban space challenge, living walls have the potential to not only significantly improve occupant’s quality of life, but also transform a wasted space into a living, breathing design masterpiece.
 Darlington, 2001
By Steve McIntyre, Urban Environment Consultant, ANS Global