The Rubens at the Palace hotel, on Buckingham Palace Road in London, unveiled a new, massive living wall that dramatically transforms a blank expanse of tan brick into a lush, green tapestry of ferns, ivy, and flowering plants. Solent News and Photo Agency
A historical structure near Buckingham Palace has added an iconic living tapestry of ferns and flowers on what was once a blank wall.
September 17, 2013—The Rubens at the Palace hotel, in London, unveiled a new, massive living wall recently, dramatically transforming what had been a blank expanse of tan brick into a lush, green tapestry of ferns, ivy, and flowering plants.
The stately luxury hotel occupies a high-profile site at 39 Buckingham Palace Road, overlooking the Royal Mews of the Palace, where the horses and coaches used in coronations and state occasions are housed and maintained. The project covers approximately 350 sq m on the hotel’s west façade, and was designed by Green Roof Consultancy Ltd., of London. Gary Grant, CEnv, a partner in the firm, first identified the potential of the project while working on green infrastructure audits for the city.
“It was just a huge, blank wall,” Grant remembers of the two 21 m high walls, which were strikingly plain compared to the hotel’s elaborate Victorian facade. “It just looks rather bland. It’s unusual to have a wall with no windows and no services. Frankly, there was no reason not to do it—subject to the structure being up to it.”
Engineering studies revealed that the robust brick walls of the hotel, which opened in 1912, were easily up to the task of supporting a 16-ton assemblage of planters without requiring additional reinforcement. During World War II the hotel survived the dropping of an unexploded shell, which fell through its roof and several interior floors, Grant says.
“We usually find that these living wall systems can happily sit on most walls,” Grant says. “I wasn’t surprised. You can usually transfer the weight through a frame if you have to, but we didn’t need to in this case.”
Instead, the team affixed a geotextile barrier to the brick wall, securing it with steel rails. The rails are secured into the robust brick buttressed walls via expansion bolts. Each planting module is approximately 2 ft by 3 ft, and protrudes from the wall approximately 4 in. The high-density polyethylene modules, which are UV-resistant, are hooked onto the rails and secured with screws.
“There are quite a few different approaches, but we tend to use green roof substrate, which is either pumice or crushed brick mixed with organic material,” Grant says. “The crushed brick or the pumice is very light, but very water absorbent and free draining.”
A matrix of evergreen ferns and ivy is augmented with carefully
selected flowering species arranged in patterns that will change
with the seasons. The green walls will help reduce energy needs
for cooling the building. Solent News and Photo Agency
Treebox, a London firm specializing in living walls, installed the system and maintains the wall. There are more than 10,000 individual plants, representing 23 species. Grant explains that a matrix of evergreen ferns and ivy is augmented with carefully selected flowering species.
“There are a lot of flowering plants and bulbs put in patterns to create drifts of color at different times,” Grant says. “I’m very keen on attracting pollinators, too. The idea is helping to improve the biodiversity of the area. We tend to stick with things that we know are going to survive in the wall.”
The project includes a rainwater-collection system on the roof that diverts water to two tanks with a combined capacity of 2,641 gallons. The water is then pumped into the living wall irrigation system as needed. A piped system with emitters irrigates each module for a few minutes each day. The system can tap into the building’s potable water supply during times of extreme drought.
Each cell drains into the one below it, Grant says. At the bottom of the wall are gutters which collect any overflow. The irrigation system is tuned so that no water reaches the gutters except during rainstorms.
Collecting water is an important concern in the area surrounding the hotel where heavy rainstorms frequently cause flooding that forces the closure of local subway stations, Grant says. City leaders hope that if green roofs, living walls, and rainwater-collection systems become commonplace, they can play a role in alleviating flooding problems.
With a cost of $60 per sq ft, living walls are a significant investment for many building owners. But the cost is partially offset by the fact that living walls provide a cooling effect for a structure, reducing air-conditioning demands.
“The wall looks great. It helps the neighborhood. But the benefits of that to building owners are not immediately apparent,” Grant says.
The project has won positive reviews from city leaders who have expressed an interest in developing similar projects in the area, Grant says.