Living Green Walls & Selling Biophilia

Humans are disconnected from nature now more than ever.  About 80% of the United States population lives in urban and suburban areas. On top of that, we spend 90% of our time indoors!

With this disconnection from nature (Richard Louv calls it Nature Deficit Disorder), in combination with our affinity for natural relationships, it’s no wonder that the interior living wall market is growing. Humans have an inherent desire to affiliate with nature and living systems, especially in the built environment filled with so much steel, glass, and concrete.  If you’re in the interiorscape business, you are innately aware of this basic human desire, known as biophilia.  It is perhaps the basis of the industry.

With biophilia in mind, designers can integrate nature with architecture (biophilic design).  Examples of biophilic design can range from landscape artwork to nature-inspired décor, from windows with a view to artificial skylights, and from natural ventilation to living green walls.  Given that living walls and green roofs are often called “living architecture,” it’s no surprise that a living wall perfectly illustrates the concept of biophilic design.

Whether you are pursuing new prospects or maintaining clients that are on the fence about that extra expense for interior vertical landscapes, make an effort to explain the benefits in the context of biophilic design.  The direct and indirect benefits that living walls provide to clients/occupants can easily double as selling points!

Here are a few important ones.

Living Walls Provide a Visual Connection

Done right, a living wall is a beautiful sight to behold.  Living walls are physical, albeit carefully crafted, examples of nature in the built environment.  By design, living walls put vegetation at eye-level for maximum viewability and natural connectivity.  And unlike a motionless landscape portrait, a vertical garden holds real foliage that grows and dies back and perhaps even flowers, provides a relaxing and rejuvenating view of colors, shapes, patterns, and textures, and even rustles in a slight breeze.  Furthermore, you can add in a relaxing water feature by enlarging a living wall’s collection basin.  It’s in the human psyche to remain close to water sources, but it’s visually appealing as well!

Living Walls Provide a Non-Visual Connection

For now, the primary selling point of a living wall is aesthetics.  But we humans use all of our senses to instinctually assess our surroundings.  This multi-sensory awareness has been key to human survival and health for ages, allowing us to evaluate potential dangers and to recuperate from stressors.  Anyway, as it turns out, living walls can potentially appeal to us in non-visual ways.

  • The aroma of foliage, flowers, soil (in soil-based systems), and water can be invigorating.
  • The sound of rustling leaves, flowing irrigation, trickling water, and insects/birds (real or artificial) can be relaxing and stimulating.
  • The subtle sense of the thermal and humidity changes (especially near a large living wall) can be comforting.
  • The feeling of clean air filling your lungs (especially in an active living wall) can be uplifting.

Natural Ventilation & Cleaner Air

Interior spaces house a variety of airborne contaminants, originating from outdoor and indoor sources.  Biophilic design recommends natural ventilation to improve Indoor Environmental Quality.  This can often involve operable windows, low-VOC building materials, and better HVAC filtration.  But the indoor environment can also be enhanced naturally.  Passive living walls can moderate temperature and humidity while purifying the air (Certain plants can remove specific pollutants).  And active living walls, integrated into the HVAC or a separate system, can purify and naturally ventilate the air.

A Living Wall Thrives in Natural Lighting; So Do You! 

One of the most important design considerations for an interior living wall is the lighting.  Of course, the plants are positively impacted by the natural light.  But don’t forget, skylights and enlarged windows also positively impact the occupants.  Natural lighting not only affects the occupants’ ability to see, but also impacts productivity by improving mood and worker satisfaction while decreasing illness and absenteeism.  Natural lighting can also provide occupants with a view of their surroundings or a view of the sky, which can promote a sense of safety and serenity.

Overall, there are 14 biophilic design patterns within 3 major categories, according to Terrapin Bright Green.  Living architecture appeals to our need for nature.  Make sure your clients realize that living walls, within the scope of biophilic design, have a multitude of applications (living spaces, work places, hospitals, etc.).  Make sure your clients know that the plants provide the occupants with a much-needed connection to nature.

Bottom Line: As biophilic design replaces traditional architecture, expect to see living green walls in the mainstream.  Sell your clients on all of their features and benefits, not just their aesthetic value.

Green wall image by 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.

Fiberglass Planters

One response to “Living Green Walls & Selling Biophilia”

  1. gardenbeet says:

    Hi Mark – my biggest clients on verticalgardenonline are interior designers looking for assistance with specifying a vertical garden. I find it interesting that many are now considering artificial vertical gardens. An interesting design response as there is no environmental benefit BUT its probably a sound solution. Why? Indoor vertical Gardens require maintenance. This can break the budget. The long term cost of maintenance must be factored into the cost of the design. If you want your living wall to look fabulous the plants require replacement, irrigation and feeding. If a living wall is over 1.2 meters in height there is a need to start considering access and OHS. Also be aware irrigation can fail if there is a power shortage. A wall of plants can be lost over one long weekend. That could mean $1000’s in replacement plants. Other design issues include failure of the water overflow systems. Water damage is expensive.
    Of course all these issues can be overcome – but they need careful consideration.

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