11 Buildings Wrapped in Gorgeous Green and Living Walls

Flower Tower building by Édouard François against a blue sky.

Fred Romero / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines." It turns out that his suggestion is also a good idea for creating handsome buildings. And who wants to hide an investment in green away on the roof when you can hang it out for everyone to see?

Vertical gardens reduce cooling loads in summer by shading buildings; this "blanket effect" also cuts heating loads in winter, with the green layer acting as extra insulation. As the plants grow, they trap carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, and soak up such pollutants as lead and cadmium. Green walls absorb noise; help reduce the heat island effect, keeping cities cooler; and provide a habitat or insects and spiders, which in turn feed birds and bats. And, as Wright noted, these interventions can hide a lot of ugly buildings.

Green Façades by Edouard François

Randy Sharp of Vancouver's Sharp and Diamond describes two kinds of green walls: green facades, where a trellis structure is attached to the ground, and living walls, where the wall becomes the growing medium.

Edouard François is the master of the green façade, saying "'Man can live solely within architecture. He needs a complex building which must be decorated. Only in this way can he be happy.' Indeed, in François' view, working with nature offers a welcome complexity: 'Watch a tree. It has a thousand branches, it moves, grows, changes colour!' Green facades are much simpler as they are planted in the ground and do not need elaborate watering systems.

Eden Bio by Edouard François

Edouard François is also working on Eden Bio, featuring 100 terraced units set within dense organic gardens, with stairways enclosed in greenery.

Sharp and Diamond's Vancouver Aquarium

A living plant wall in Vancouver, B.C.

Stuart Dee / Getty Images

Randy Sharp of Sharp & Diamond, designed the Vancouver Aquarium's 50-square-metre green wall of polypropylene modules filled with wildflowers, ferns and ground covers. It has a modular grid of wall panels, a soil or felt growing medium, and irrigation and nutrient-delivery system and a support structure; these are the virtually universal features of a living wall. That isn't a lot to grow on, but Sharp notes that there are many native plants that cling to rocks and shallow soils and survive harsh winters. The trick is to blow all of the water out of the system before it freezes, and the plants go dormant.

Patrick Blanc and Le Mur Vegetal

The Le Mur Végétal, or Plant Wall by Patrick Blanc.

Patrick janicek / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

But the reigning king of the living wall is Patrick Blanc. He invented a version that he calls Le Mur Vegetal, or Plant Wall, a dense sheet of vegetation that can grow against any surface, or even in midair. It works by doing away entirely with dirt, instead growing plants hydroponically in felt pockets attached to a rigid plastic backing. His most famous is at the Quai Branley Museum.

Caixa Forum Museum's green plant wall in Madrid Spain.

Kris Arnold / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Blanc also built a big wall at Madrid's newly opened CaixaForum museum. It is 24 metres high and takes up one wall of the square in front of the building. It has 15,000 plants of 250 different species and has become an instant drawing card to the area.

He is even working on a boat design with Dutch architect Anne Hotrop. "The effect of the plants will be double. First, they will make the houses look like green hills floating on the water. This underscores the idea of the landscape approach. Second, the plants produce oxygen, compensating for the CO2 produced when the houses are manufactured."