Looking Up: How Vertical Gardens Transform our City

Aini Jasmin Ghazalli provides examples of direct greening, indirect greening and pocket system (modular).

As more and more of Canberra is occupied by concrete buildings, many are concerned about the loss of urban green space. After visiting Singapore over summer, I became intrigued by the idea of vertical greenery systems (VGS), which involve implementing vertical gardens on buildings by covering them in plants. PhD candidate at the Fenner School, Aini Jasmin Ghazalli is researching how VGS might impact air quality and workplace stress. I asked Jasmin some questions about her work and how she sees VGS being incorporated into urban design in the future.

R: What is your background and what drew you to researching vertical gardens?
J: I have a Diploma in Agriculture and my interest in arts brought me to a Degree in Landscape Architecture. I was working as a landscape designer for several months and found out that my true passion is teaching. I accepted a job offer as a research assistant and also enrolled as a Masters student in Universiti Putra Malaysia. I did a study on the effectiveness of indoor plants in absorbing volatile organic compounds in a small office (Lady palms worked best). My interest in how plants influence air quality and further overall health encouraged me to study the possibilities of using VGS in urban areas to improve living conditions.

R: The Nishi Building in NewActon has a few plants growing vertically on the building, does this count as a VGS?
J: Yes! VGS is generally defined as growing vegetation on vertical surfaces. There are several popular terms other than vertical greenery such as green walls, living walls, and vertical landscapes. Each of these terms is influenced by the planting system. Three of the most common systems are direct greening, indirect greening and modular system. The one’s in NewActon uses an indirect system, where plants are grown in planter boxes with a trellis that allows climbers to climb up.

R: I know you’re looking at VGS in relation to air quality and workplace stress – what sort of impacts do you think you might find they could have?
J: The study I’m doing is focusing on indoor VGS. Previous findings explored various possibilities of outdoor VGS. Previous studies have proven that outdoor VGS affects surface and ambient temperature, which in turn, means energy saving benefits for buildings. Covering building façades with plants also effectively absorbs particulate pollution, which protects building surfaces. For areas with high noise pollution levels, modelling studies shown VGS mitigate unwanted sounds. Outdoor VGS also provides habitat for certain arthropods and birds. A VGS is also seen as a work of art that beautifies and increases the value of a space.

R: Do any cities currently incorporate VGS into their urban design, and where do you think the best example of a VGS in action is?
J: Patrick Blanc created some of the best VGS designs. They can be found in Hobart (retrofitted on the Museum of Old and New Art), Sydney (One Central Park, Trio Building and the Qantas lounge) and Melbourne (Qantas lounge and the Shot Tower). He patented his creation in 1988 and since then has been retrofitting beautiful vertical gardens all around the world. His best works would be in Europe, where he spent most of his years perfecting his creations. In Canberra, along with the Nishi Building, a VGS can be found in Canberra Centre.

R: Are there any benefits, other than the two you’re studying, that you think VGS might have?
J: From our findings, we can conclude that VGS have positive impacts on the environment, as well as perceived physiological and psychological benefits. The most interesting finding to date is how people’s behaviour changed in the presence of VGS. Retrofitting VGS in a less used corridor increases the number of people walking through it. Through observation we know that building users often stop in front of the VGS to wonder and admire the plants.

R: How do you see VGS as being able to transform a city?
J: The number of people moving into cities is constantly increasing. As designers and researchers, it is important that we find responsible and sustainable ways to ensure acceptable living condition in cities. Loss of vegetation due to urban expansion comes with a price: increase in urban heat that leads to increasing energy consumption and air pollution, as well as negative impacts to health.

VGS is an attractive and effective way to increase green space in cities. If we look up, there is a lot of available building façade that can be retrofitted with VGS. The challenge is to choose the correct and suitable planting system, as well as the correct planting media and plant species.

R: What is your favourite green space in Canberra?
J: My favourite green space in Canberra would be the University Avenue, ANU. I see it as the heart of ANU – several important assemblies are done here, and I always see people using the green space to rest or have their lunch. I love the seasonal transitions the avenue portrays – it brings life to the place and tells a story of changes. The avenue reminds me that change is inevitable and what we have to do is commit to change as well, for the benefit of humanity and the environment.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.