2 Tips for Successfully Planning a Green Wall Project

It’s a good day! A loyal client has called upon you to liven up their business with a beautiful living wall.

On top of that, the client has already committed to the price ($100-300 per sf installed) and is ready for you to perform the ongoing maintenance (Why is that important? See the quick guide).

That’s a great start, but now there is a lot of planning to do!

Preliminary Planning

The preliminary planning phase, sometimes called ‘pre-design,’ helps clarify the vision for the living wall project. ‘Pre-design’ helps establish the client’s design goals, the site details, the appropriate green wall system, the best plant palette, and the exact project cost.

Here are two tips for this important process:

1. Sitting Down with the Client

First, focus on clarifying exactly what the client proposes. I recommend scheduling a design charrette with the client. It’s a good idea to also include stakeholders and other involved experts (the general contractor, architect, landscape architect, structural engineer, lighting expert, etc.) because, with everyone in the room, you can quickly solve or anticipate technical and practical challenges. Their awareness and input is especially valuable if the living wall is just one component of a complex new construction project or a major renovation.

As for the conversation itself, ask several questions including:

  • What is the primary purpose of this living wall? (Aesthetics, marketing, air quality, water efficiency, LEED Points, etc.)
  • What is the scale of this project?
  • What is the ideal project timeline?
  • How will the plants receive light and water?
  • Any plant preferences? (tropical, succulent, natives, herbs)
  • Any plant design ideas? (random, pattern, custom art)
  • Are there design complexities? (wall curves, 90o turns, custom trim, etc.)
  • How will the living wall system be affixed? (structural wall, frame, free-standing)
  • Favor permanence or mobility? (see Freestanding Systems)
  • Who will install and/or hook up utilities (if not you)?
  • What is the budget for maintenance? (natural and adaptive, pruned like a golf-course)

This conversation will make it easier to reach a consensus on the final proposal, so respond as best as you can promptly. Is the desired plant scheme feasible? Plant selection is ultimately dependent on the site characteristics and the system properties. Does the project timeline allow sufficient time to finalize designs (plants, lighting, and irrigation), source components and plants, grow out plants in the modules (if pre-vegetated), and deliver/install all system components?

2. Assessing the Project Site

Next, take some time to assess the project site for opportunities and obstacles. Like a diligent investigative scientist, you should carefully evaluate the details of the space before finalizing the green wall system, the cost estimate, and the design for planting, irrigation, and lighting.

If at all possible, visit the project site in-person. If that’s not feasible, or the building is under construction, try to obtain design specs, site info, pictures of the site during the construction process, etc.—anything that sheds light on the project location.

Consider site characteristics like these for interior projects:

  • Building and wall orientation
  • Verify dimensions
  • Structural loading capacity
  • Position and orientation of natural lighting (windows, skylights, light tubes)
  • Quantify light availability (use a light meter)
  • Availability of utilities (water, electricity, sewer)
  • Water quality (from tap, from stormwater, filtration assessment)
  • Accessibility and safety (for installation and maintenance)
  • Remote monitoring potential
  • Proximity to drafts (doors, windows, A/C vents)

For exterior applications, additional factors must be assessed (like microclimate, exposure to elements, and seasonal constraints).

Moving Forward

Once you’ve taken these steps, it should be much easier to choose the appropriate green wall system and plant blend. Furthermore, you should be able to more accurately estimate the project cost and develop your budget before moving to the design phase. To learn more about the pre-design phase, consider taking Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design through Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

Bottom Line

The attention to detail during the pre-design phase rewards you and your client with accurate project expectations, efficient execution of the project, reduced maintenance concerns, and a well-integrated living wall system!

What other project planning tips would you suggest?


Featured image courtesy of GSky

Mark is an accredited LEED Green Associate with a background in green wall research and product management and expertise in sustainability, ecology, green infrastructure, and green building. He currently works at Bela Flor Nurseries, a large wholesale supplier of annuals and perennials.

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