Ugly Cooling Tower Gets Vertical Garden Makeover in Spain

Images: Paisajismo Urbano

Inspired by the legendary hanging gardens of Babylon, a Spanish company specializing in vertical and roof gardens has created a new spectacular "plant cube" out of a humdrum cooling tower on top of a mall in Getafe, Spain. According to the company Paisajismo Urbano (Urban Landscaping in English), the four-sided vertical installation of 2,500 types of ferns, herbs and perennials will supply enough oxygen for 128 people in a year. It's an impressive feat of urban gardening, considering the design problems they faced.
"The development of this work was a challenge for us," says Nacho Solano, director of Paisajismo Urbano. "One of the most important factors when selecting the different specimens of species to use, was one hand the orientation of each side as the sun shines differently on each of them, and on the other hand the effect temperature or 'heat island effect' that is being generated inside the cube (all of the refrigerating machines are situated in the shopping centre) would have on them."

Customized for sun exposure and SMS alerts
To tackle this issue, they created a sun-specific plan for the 128 square metres of plantings covering all four different walls, in addition to installing a smart irrigation system that automatically waters and fertilizes the plants. If anything goes wrong, the system can send an SMS to the caretaker.

They also planted in winter, which presented a logistical challenge. "Another handicap that we faced for other reasons/due to no fault, was when to begin planting," says Solano. "We had to make the vertical garden in Getafe at a time that was not good meteorologically - obviously early winter planting is something that any professional would advise against, yet we decided to accept another challenge and take on the responsibility as always."

Apparently the designers able to prevail, though Solano wants to keep it hush-hush: "Earlier this year the vertical garden suffered a frost but we solved the problem and it was a total success, although we cannot reveal how we did it," he says.

Some images of the tower before full bloom:

As living walls go more and more mainstream, integrating vertical gardens like these would be a boon to cooling towers everywhere. Not only would a carpet of green improve their drab looks, but they can also absorb airborne particulates and reduce the noise pollution the towers generate, transforming them from rumbling eyesores to beautifully flowering towers.

Paisajismo Urbano
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