BREATHING WALLS – Ecological Patterns of Performance
Living Systems – Breathing Walls are a series of experiments bridging theory and practice by envisioning and testing living wall scenarios. These Hybrid living walls optimize urban ecological performance by combining innovative materials and design.
Presentation at the 1st European Green Urban Infrastructure Conference, Vienna, Nov. 2015
by Leila Tolderlund
In 2050 it is projected that approximately 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Most cities consist of an urban fabric where the total area of hardscape surfaces (concrete/beton, brick, glass, steel) significantly outweigh the total area of living system surfaces (green walls, green roofs, and other urban green infrastructures).
Image 1: Pattern Exploration for Optimized Ecological Performance (Z)
Living system surfaces in cities have many social, environmental, and economic benefits that are increasingly being identified, measured, and acknowledged worldwide. The effect and accumulative importance of living systems at an intimate materials scale are closely interconnected to the effect and importance at the larger city scale, based on current growing global challenges. At an individual/personal scale, studies have shown that we seem to be better balanced both physically and psychologically when we are aligned with our environment. Patients with a view to nature recover faster than patients with a view of a brick wall. At the larger scale, studies have shown green infrastructures help promote urban biodiversity, slow and detain rainfall, reduce run-off loads on sewage systems, help reduce cooling and heating loads, and reduce the urban heat island effect through evapotranspiration from these living systems.
Living systems - by nature - have great potential in urban settings, where enormous building envelope surfaces are available and integration of a vegetal symbiotic condition can emerge, grow, and perform.
A better balance of organic (living) and in-organic (hardscape) mass in urban fabric surfaces can help create adaptable building and city conditions. Re-designing and utilizing these horizontal and vertical surfaces can help protect and insulate buildings, grow food, filter, slow and clean water, provide for urban wildlife habitat, lower rising temperatures, and clean the air in and around our buildings, and thereby cities.
Image 2: Pattern Exploration for Optimized Ecological Performance (W)
Living Systems – Breathing Wall projects investigate some of the challenging (if not impossible) conditions related to sustainability in landscape architecture on structure and in urban design. To begin to understand, promote, and maximize resilience of civilizations is to be capable of imagining the magnitude of continuous flux and the unpredictability of its context. There is no static answer.
Image 3: Pattern Exploration for Adaptability/Material Texture Explorations for Optimized Performance (C)
Using design strategies to sustain a certain condition or using ‘sustainability’ as a guide then becomes inadequate and should rather be replaced by strategies maximizing adaptability to current global issues such as increased frequency, size and velocity of climatic events, exponential population growth, increasing demand for inner-city biodiversity, and growing need for local food production. Hybrid living modules derived from current building envelope material are envisioned and tested with an emphasis on their ability to be (and be created from) reusable, recyclable, regenerative, and modular material systems.
These Living Systems – Breathing Walls also emphasize ‘adaptability’ by exploring hybrid living building skin scenarios maximizing the interlinked relationship of form and performance. Outcomes from these explorations help envision and test building surfaces that better prepare cities and their inhabitants for longevity and resistance to unforeseen future events, while at the same time becoming potential growing plots for future cultivate programs.
Image 4: Pattern Exploration for Adaptability/Material Texture Explorations for Optimized Performance (C)
Living Systems – Breathing Walls explore material systems that alongside performing the typical building skin functions simultaneously provide and optimize opportunity for biomass to grow and remain sustained, without compromising the building skin material over time. Energy can simultaneously be harvested, transferred, reconfigured, and released onto and into the building, and the building can in essence become a living, performing organism. Habitats can be created, water can be collected and treated, and energy can be produced and stored on and within the building roofs and walls.
Image 5: Living Systems - Re-Compos(t)ing (with Michael Griffith and Sun Yang)
Image 5: Living Systems - Re-Compos(t)ing (with Michael Griffith and Sun Yang)
The building envelope and transition zone hold great potential for integrating practices to allow architecture to follow nature. Rethinking the form and performance of current modular building materials can help visualize and result in demountable, modular, moveable, and reusable living breathing buildings. Furthermore, these living vertical and horizontal skin plots hold a latent potential we can tap into; potentials for a new urban wild – a new hybrid nature as partner, neighbor and provider – and where human beings can be considered a resource.
Living Systems – Breathing Walls projects investigate new modular living strategies to create vertical and horizontal plots involving technology, materials, and production methods. Exploring the synthesis between landscape and architecture (along with engineering and business through testing) can help facilitate a deeper understanding of the role living systems play in maximizing the quality of life in urban areas.
Image 7: HoneyComb Living System (with Hans Flinch and Kate Swasey)
As the parallel Ken Yeang draws to the use of prosthetics in human bodies; the optimization of the relationship between the living and non-living components rely on the prosthetics being fitted so well, that after a while we forget that the ‘arm’ or ‘leg’ is artificial. This altered or re-designed architectural skin simply performs seamlessly to operate the body/building. By splicing, fitting, and optimizing inorganic and organic architecture--by thoughtfully and carefully knitting this transition to partner the two, beneficial and productive hybrid living building skin conditions can emerge.
Operating in the in-between transition zone, Living Systems – Breathing Walls explore opportunities for living modular membrane systems on, in, and through building skin surfaces such as roofs and walls. How we design, thicken, program, grow and cultivate this membrane matrix of urban landscape becoming building, inside becoming outside, and nature becoming city, is essential.
Image 8: Pattern Morphology [EXO]TIC2 (with Anthony Pozzuoli and Jennifer Keese)
Using Living Systems – Breathing Walls strategies with awareness and nurturing intent can bring about more intelligent, modular, flexible, and adaptable urban living building skin. This new adapted, permeable and integrated modular building envelope can help ensure an informed and continuously adapting resilience of our cities and our civilization.
Image 9 and Image 10: Pattern Exploration to Promote Accidental Growth (with Brittain Allison)
Living Systems – Breathing Walls features a series of hybrid living walls. These prototypes are created to optimize ecological performance through re-thinking conventional materials in innovative ways and testing relationships between form and performance.
(with Aynlsee Joyce and Molly Somes)
Wabi Sabi is a hybrid green wall with built-in air purification made from organic concrete inspired by the principles of the Japanese philosophy; Wabi Sabi, providing urban living systems benefits through ecological patterns of concrete membranes or skins celebrating change over time.
Image 11: Wabi Sabi (with Aynlsee Joyce and Molly Somes)
Wabi Sabi walls are constructed using a combination of traditional Portland concrete, air purifying porous concrete, and biological concrete. The three materials are stacked horizontally like veneer and each type of concrete has its own properties that contribute to the overall performance. Together they require little maintenance, are cost effective, and induce unique patterns of growth.
Image 12: Wabi Sabi wall elevation (with Aynlsee Joyce and Molly Somes)
Wabi Sabi walls are layered membrane walls that can be applied to – or replace - traditional exterior concrete structures. In addition, this filtration system purposefully allow for plants to take hold in their own time and composition. Plant varieties are determined by the orientation of the structure towards or away from the sun. However, the biological layer is extremely effective at promoting lichen growth, a known indicator of air quality – in addition to providing reflection and inspiration.
Image 13: Wabi Sabi public space (with Aynlsee Joyce and Molly Somes)
(with Lauren Leskovac)
B-Hotels is a hybrid ‘living’ wall system that challenges the way we currently think about urban architectural surfaces. B. Hotel living walls are designed to help mitigate the bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CDD) and help grow and accommodate life locally for mason bees.
CCD is one of the most important recent concerns associated with food supply in relationship to growing cities worldwide. Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates the value of the global crops that are pollinated to 200 billion US in 2005 – and Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres to 217 billion US$ in 2008 - and it has increased exponentially since then. Shortages of bees in the US have caused farmers to rent them for pollination, increasing farmer cost up to 20%. Causes of CCD are still unclear but they may include pesticides, infections, malnutrition, and loss of habitat.
B. Hotel focuses primarily on accommodating mason bees. While mason bees are smaller in population than honeybees, they are much more efficient pollinators. One mason bee can pollinate that of which 60 honeybees can. Mason bees are solitary bees, meaning they don’t live in hives. They rarely sting, and are therefore ideal to have around. B. Hotels are designed to be strategically located throughout the city within 300 feet radii of each on surfaces receiving partial sun/partial shade throughout the summer days forming a larger ecological matrix. Furthermore, the B. Hotel living walls are designed to precisely accommodate bee habitat with •••” diameter holes. Each hole has removable tubes that are cleaned each season to prevent buildup
Of course B. Hotel living walls are not your typical ‘green infrastructure’. It is more a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ urban texture material surface, specifically patterned to enhance ecological performance. An essential living layer that helps ensure bee survival in our cities, mitigation of the CCD effect, and in turn pollination which means growth of a healthier and more sustainable urban plant life – green roofs and green walls – and particularly supporting and sustaining potential crop yield in dense urban city settings.
(with Kelly Finskowski and Lisa Hanano)
Living Gills is a hybrid modular system that uses sound, sculpture, light, plants, and network to create meaningful connections and beautiful spaces in the urban environment. This modular pocket system is inspired by mushroom gills with organic patterns of appearance, yet simultaneously modular qualities.
Image 17: Fungi gills. photo credit: Image
18: Living Gills public space (with Kelly Finkowski and Lisa Hanano)
This elegant structure can be flexible or rigid, vertical or horizontal, and anywhere in between. Its pattern has an organic quality, yet it is modular. These modules harness the ever-growing influence of technology and create microclimate opportunity based on variance. They record information, such as temperature, air quality, noise pollution, and other site factors. This information can be retrieved on a smart phone and compared with other modules throughout the city.
Living Gills modular pocket systems are designed to promote education and awareness of environmental qualities, to influence improvements to our built environment, to encourage curiosity, and to inform the general public about the importance of nature in cities.
Image 19 and 20: Living Gills. Modular, replicable material pattern explorations for optimized ecological performance (with Kelly Finkowski and Lisa Hanano)
Unlike traditional flexible modular systems currently on the market Living Gills modular pocket system provide a variety of growing spaces maximizing potential for microclimates and in term providing a healthier and more sustainable green wall or green roof living system.
Living Gills module helps connect 1) Plants to People and 2) People to Place. Connectivity is enabled through the use of sound, light, vegetation, and network. Studies show that sound and light waves effect plant growth positively. There is also evidence to suggest that plants can communicate with one another and with insects. Living Gills use light and sound waves to create stimulating environments for plants and all living beings.
Image 21: Gardnet ® Photo Courtesy: American Hydrotech Living Gills (with Kelly Finkowski and Lisa Hanano)
(with Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon)
Deposition City is using a similar base product (Image 21), but used in a very different way. Modeling itself on the natural processes of erosion, deposition and succession, this design creates a unique and beneficial living system.
Working in alignment with and harnessing natural forces, Deposition City takes advantage of typhoon floods and heavy rainfall and deposition is directed and concentrated in areas with deeper pockets; areas of in-between spaces in the city, where plant life is encouraged to take hold.
Image 22 and 23 Deposition City (with Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon)
The design consists of a network of mesh-like structures that retain soil and allow plants, trees and related biological systems to develop and mature. Deposition city re-thinks the flexible potential of building surfaces to open, stretch, cover and spread. The successive process is steered and guided by human intervention, but simultaneously molded by process of nature.
Image 24: Deposition City Diagrammatic Extensions of Skin (with Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon)
Image 25: Deposition City Section - Extensions of Skin (with Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon)
The end result is an ever-changing living system that provides unique means of circulation, and recreation areas of urban wild natural beauty throughout the city.
Image 26: Deposition City – Public Space (with Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon)
Space as Sponge
(with Hans Flinch and Xiajiao Guo)
Space as Sponge explores how living systems can be implemented into public spaces to store and clean water like sponges. Space as Sponge looks at challenges and rewards associated with the creation of urban space using water management as a design and aesthetic tool. It takes a new look at how a biophilic design approach to city planning can provide an opportunity to enhance the experiential and eco‐revelatory qualities, while maintaining water responsible urban spaces.
Image 27: Space as Sponge – Public Space (with Hans Flinch and Xiajiao Guo)
Sponges can retain up to 40% of its own body weight in water and act as a filter for whatever aquatic ecosystem it inhabits. Buildings and adjacent plazas can be designed to similarly hold or slow rainfall at the source for later release.
Image 28: Space as Sponge - Function (with Hans Flinch and Xiajiao Guo)
Image 29: Space as Sponge – Water Circulation and Reuse Diagram (with Hans Flinch and Xiajiao Guo)
Space as Sponge investigates water recycling systems for adjacent buildings and explores how a holistic living systems approach to stormwater management can provide a wide range of possibilities for water conservation and preservation in urban areas.
Altogether, Living Systems – Breathing Walls are living wall experiments bringing innovative theoretical ideas into practical forms through envisioning and testing new living wall scenarios created in advanced vertical studios at University of Colorado Denver lead by Assistant Professor (CTT) and Associate Chair Leila Tolderlund, MLA, GRP, LEED AP at the University of Colorado Denver, College of Architecture and Planning (CAP), Department of Landscape Architecture. New relationships between ecological patterns and rhythms of building blocks are investigated, and modules optimizing the synthesis between landscape and architecture are created and tested. These new modular building skins are created to help promote public health and become a platform for a new way to define, inspire, and grow resilient and adaptable living cities.
Living wall scenarios are currently being tested in collaboration with College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) and is part of an ongoing research project collaboration between CAP and CEAS.
This article was a contribution to the 1st European Urban Green Infrastructure Conference, Vienna Nov. 2015
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Special thanks to: University of Colorado Denver, College of Architecture and Planning (CAP), Dean Mark Gelernter and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture Professor Ann Komara.
Also special thanks to College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), Dean Marc Ingber and Professor Peter Jenkins.
Image 1: Pattern Exploration for Optimized Ecological Performance (Z) © Leila Tolderlund, 11/2015
Image 2: Pattern Exploration for Optimized Ecological Performance (W) © Leila Tolderlund, 11/2015
Image 3: Pattern Exploration for Adaptability/Material Texture for Optimized Performance (C) © Leila Tolderlund, 11/2015
Image 4: Pattern Exploration for Adaptability/Material Texture for Optimized Performance (D) © Leila Tolderlund, 11/2015
Image 5 and 6: Living Systems - Re-Compos(t)ing. Image courtesy: Michael Griffith and Sun Yang
Image 7: HoneyComb Living System. Image courtesy: Hans Flinch and Kate Swasey
Image 8: Pattern Morphology [EXO]TIC2. Image courtesy: Anthony Pozzuoli and Jennifer Keese
Image 9 and 10: Pattern Exploration Promoting Accidental Growth. Image courtesy: Brittain Allison
Image 11: Wabi Sabi. Image courtesy: Aynlsee Joyce and Molly Somes
Image 12: Wabi Sabi wall elevation. Image courtesy: Aynlsee Joyce and Molly Somes
Image 13: Wabi Sabi public space. Image courtesy: Aynlsee Joyce and Molly Somes
Image 14: B Hotel, Material pattern explorations for optimized habitat. Image courtesy: Lauren Leskovac
Image 15: B Hotel. Material pattern explorations for optimized habitat. © Leila Tolderlund, 11/2015
Image 16: B Hotel. Material pattern explorations for optimized habitat. Image courtesy: Lauren Leskovac)
Image 17: Fungi gills. photo credit: http://www.thephotoargus.com/inspiration/32-intriguing-examples-of-
fungi-photography/, accessed 11/8/2015
Image 18: Living Gills public space. Image courtesy: Kelly Finkowski and Lisa Hanano
Image 19 and 20: Living Gills: Modular and replicable material pattern explorations to optimize ecological performance. Image courtesy: Kelly Finkowski and Lisa Hanano
Image 21: Gardnet ® Image courtesy: American Hydrotech
Image 22 and 23: Deposition City. Image courtesy: Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon
Image 24: Deposition City Diagrammatic Extensions of Skin. Image courtesy: Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon
Image 25: Deposition City – Section. Image courtesy: Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon
Image 26: Deposition City – Public Space. Image courtesy: Kenneth Biesiada and Joe Meardon
Image 27: Space as Sponge – Public Space. Image courtesy: Hans Flinch and Xiajiao Guo
Image 28 Space as Sponge - Function. Image courtesy: Hans Flinch and Xiajiao Guo
Image 29: Space as Sponge - Water Circulation and Reuse Diagram. Image courtesy: Hans Flinch and Xiajiao Guo