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Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Bringing nature into our cities is a vital component for a sustainable future. Our connection to the natural world is often overlooked in this increasingly urban world. Green infrastructure such as green walls, green roofs and pocket parks, can be targeted to bring plants to the very places where we need them and where they can add value. Outdoor living walls, in particular, reach into the heart of our cities where space is literally and financially at a premium.

Benefits of outdoor living walls

No other building material can do all this

Green infrastructure occurs in the liminal space where architecture meets landscape architecture, structures integrate with the natural world and buildings adjoin nature. These are the spaces and places where we at Biotecture can be found working and this is where we specialise.

No other cladding material can provide the following combined benefits:

  • Remove air pollutants
  • Reduce urban temperatures
  • Thermal benefits to buildings
  • Improve biodiversity
  • Attenuate rain water
  • Reduce noise
  • Increase productivity & creativity
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sense of well-being
  • Health benefits

In addition living walls and green infrastructure can help to:

  • Meet CSR targets
  • Satisfy planning requirements
  • Increase income potential
  • Demonstrate sustainable credentials


Environmental benefits of external living walls

Greener Streets = Better Air

According to a wide ranging 2016 study the World Health Organisation cites poor air quality as being a link to more than 5.5 million premature deaths annually.

In densely populated areas of high rise these pollutants can become trapped in urban street canyons. The potential for Green Infrastructure to mitigate these pollutants has been explored in academic studies.

Effectiveness of Green Infrastructure for Improvement of Air Quality in Urban Street Canyons

Effectiveness of Green Infrastructure for Improvement of Air Quality in Urban Street Canyons – Pugh, MacKenzie, Whyatt and Hewitt, Environmental Science & Technology, 2012

Plants helpfully capture toxins, gases and particulate matter by engaging a number of natural processes. The scientific term for this is biogenic regulation. The three main processes that control particulate deposition are sedimentation, impaction and Brownian motion. These are really useful processes that help to clean the air we breathe. If you would like more details of how these biological processes actually work then please get in touch and we can direct you to some of the detailed scientific research.

Outdoor living wall case study: Edgware Road

Do some plants ‘work’ better than others?

In 2011 Biotecture was commissioned to design, install and maintain a living wall on the side of the Bakerloo Line Edgware Road Underground Station. The principal driver for the green wall was to reduce air pollution in this urban street canyon.

We included fifteen plant species in the living wall. Each of these were then tested at Imperial College for their ability to capture PM10s by the APRIL (Air Pollution Reduction In London) group. Note: PM10s are particles of approximately 1/25th the diameter of a human hair.

This and other more recent studies has informed us as to which species to include in our living walls to maximise the capture of pollutants. Targeted plants for targeted benefits.

Delivering cleaner air for London is a top priority for me; this ingenious green wall traps harmful pollution on one of our busiest roads, helping to cleanse the air at this popular spot, as well as helping to soften and beautify the local environment

Boris Johnson The Mayor of London (Edgware Road Underground Station), 2011

Greener Buildings  = Better Thermal Performance

Climate change science predicts that London will have similar temperatures to those currently experienced in Marseilles by 2050. London, and other UK cities are not designed for these sustained levels of high temperatures and there are plenty of places at street level where heat becomes trapped.

Plants lower temperatures through evapotranspiration—the combination of water evaporated into the atmosphere and plant transpiration—during even the warmest part of the day. On a city wide scale the introduction of vegetation can have a dramatic effect on reducing the extremes of the urban heat island effect. The scale of green infrastructure will be directly proportional to the potential impact.

A simple way to demonstrate this is with an infrared camera as discovered by the Ecology Consultant Gary Grant when he visited one of our living walls in Southampton Row, Holborn, London.

Here the living wall covers the building surface with a heat-absorbing canopy, creating a shading effect that prevents the building surface from absorbing solar radiation and re-radiating it back into the surrounding environment. This will reduce the building’s energy consumption. The living wall will have an ameliorating effect as a buffer against both high summer temperatures and the cold of winter.

Greener Streets = More biodiversity

Our maintenance team have observed bees collecting nectar from the flowers at the top of the Edgware Road living wall. This wall was installed to reduce the air pollution and some of the busy main road at the base of the wall is one of the major sources of air pollution in the area. But the bees don’t care why the living wall was installed. All they know is that it is there and that they can use it for their own purposes.

In association with Buglife we designed and developed our own integrated habitat boxes. They slot neatly into our living walls and provide refuge for a number of species including solitary bees, butterflies, ladybirds and lacewings. Our 1,800m2 living wall on the Veolia Energy from Waste Facility in Leeds includes 750 of these for example. This helps to create a well-balanced local ecosystem.

Living walls not only increase the biodiversity of an urban space with plants, they offer vital nesting space, shelter and food for birds and insects. We often see bees and butterflies on our living walls within days of installation. We like to work with native plants where possible and have developed a reliable and robust list of these over the years.

Outdoor Living Wall Benefits for People

Greener Streets – Happier People

We like to be in nature. We like to look at nature. It calms, uplifts and restores us. At weekends, we “escape” to the country, or spend long hours lounging in or working on our gardens. People are meant to connect with the planet. By bringing nature into the hearts of our cities, we remind ourselves of our place in—and our responsibility for—the world. We create a sense of environmental stewardship—and nothing is more essential if we are to live in thriving urban environments. There is a great sense of value in this and organisations that enrich the spaces around us will benefit from this value.

Health & Wellbeing

We all share an instinctive bond with nature known as biophilia. Spending time around plants improves our health, well-being and productivity. This bond is often severed by urban life, which can be stressful—to the extent it can affect our psychological and physical health. While traditional planting is not always practical, especially when space is at a premium (financially and literally), living walls offer a dynamic solution in connecting people with nature, even in the most densely populated urban environments.

The living wall in the courtyard of our office has totally transformed the space we work in. It’s going strong and we’re currently working with Biotecture on several projects for living walls, which is itself an endorsement

Michael Friel Principal Architect, David Morley Architects, May 2014 (Hatton Place)

Outdoor Living Wall Benefits for Business

Greener Buildings – Better Value

Studies show that city buildings increase in value the closer they are to green spaces. Hotel rooms that overlook an outdoor living wall, for example, can command significantly higher room rates than those that overlook the car park. Perhaps even more valuable is the enhanced corporate image that is gained by green infrastructure. With environmental concerns becoming increasingly more prominent in our personal and professional lives, a living wall is a commitment to sustainability—one seen by staff, clients and the public.

Greener Buildings = Targets Met

Planning authorities will often encourage or expect to see elements of green infrastructure included in proposals. The well thought through inclusion of living walls where space is at a premium can help development take place in sensitive areas. In addition, and without taking up valuable ground space, a living wall can help a development to achieve a number of sustainability targets including BREEAM credits.

The inclusion of green walls into a project can help to

  • Meet planning requirements
  • Match sustainability targets
  • Maintain or enhance CSR requirements

This is our speciality at Biotecture. We can help you to achieve these targets.

Designed to achieve a BREEAM “Excellent” rating, a host of environmental features will be utilised including a living wall.

Mansell press release Construction Index website (The Minories)

Too see some of our wonderful outdoor living walls and learn more about the projects please visit our portfolio


You can also learn more about living walls in indoor spaces and why you should consider introducing more plants into your home or office by reading about the 9 benefits of indoor living walls