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With space at a premium, many householders have converted their front gardens into driveways or extensions and this, along with the general urbanisation of green spaces, has contributed to flooding from storm waters, and increased pollution of rivers and waterways.
Many concerned property owners are keen to do something about this, but what do you do if you have no ground area for planting beds or laying grass?
Green or living roofs have been around for several years, but how familiar are you with living walls?
Earlier this year The Rubens at the Palace Hotel, on the doorstep of Buckingham Palace, created their own – and London’s largest – living wall designed to reduce urban flooding.
Standing at 350 square metres with over 10,000 ferns, herbaceous plants and 16 tons of soil, the wall reaches over 21 metres high and is packed with over 20 seasonal plant species including buttercups, crocuses, strawberries, spring bulbs and winter geraniums. The flowers have been chosen to ensure the wall is ‘in-bloom’ all year round, attracting wildlife such as birds, butterflies and bees.
It’s hoped the permanent feature will provide a vibrant focal point for the local area and become one of London’s most visually impactful and colourful vertical gardens; brightening the popular tourist walk from Victoria station to the Royal residence.
The ground-breaking green project came to light following a Green Infrastructure Audit, a mapping process that sought to identify new locations for green space in Victoria that was carried out by the Victoria Business Improvement District (Victoria BID), the body representing over 250 businesses in the Victoria area including the Rubens at the Palace Hotel. As a result of the audit, the hotel commissioned concept designs for the wall in recognition of the environmental benefits the wall will have for Victoria.
The wall’s unique design enables it to capture rainwater from the roof of the building in dedicated storage tanks. A key environmental challenge in Victoria is the risk of flooding during periods of heavy rain, due to the low absorbency of urban surfaces. According to the Environment Agency, there are now around 534,000 properties in London on the Thames floodplain, and one in four in London are at risk of flooding.
Water collected by the tanks is channelled slowly through the wall, nourishing plant life and helping to reduce the risk of surface water flooding in the area by storing up to 10,000 litres at any time. The project has received support from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, through his Greening the BIDs programme (co-ordinated by the regeneration agency Cross River Partnership).
In addition, the wall will improve the air quality in the area, deaden noise and help to keep the hotel cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The vegetation can trap microscopic pollutants known as particulate matter (PM10s), high levels of which have been shown to cause respiratory illnesses.
Jonathan Raggett, Managing Director of Red Carnation Hotels, of which the Rubens at the Palace is a part, said; “We’re excited about the Living Wall on the side of the Rubens at the Palace. It was a project we bought in to from the very beginning and thanks to the belief and investment of our owners, it’s not only been brought to fruition but significantly enhanced from the original concept stage. We take the issue of sustainable tourism very seriously across the entire Red Carnation Hotel collection, and this wall will minimise the hotel’s impact on the environment and also improve the air quality and aesthetic in this part of London.”
Ruth Duston, CEO of Victoria BID, says; “While green infrastructure inevitably improves the aesthetics of the area it also has a substantial positive impact on the long-term environmental sustainability of an area. The Rubens at the Palace Hotel has demonstrated a huge commitment to the delivery of a sustainable agenda, their appetite to engage and lead on such an iconic project really showcases the greening agenda overseen by Victoria BID to deliver a model of best practice for London.”
Matthew Pencharz, the Mayor’s Advisor for Environment and Energy, said: “London’s abundance of trees, parks, gardens and increasing numbers of living roofs and walls not only makes the city a more attractive place to live and work, but also boosts the local economy, improves air quality and can increase resilience to extreme weather. So the Mayor is encouraging even more green initiatives, just like this fantastic living wall in Victoria, to make sure London can continue to compete, not only as the greenest city in Europe, but as the best big city on earth.”
Armando Raish, managing director of Treebox, said: “Due to the variety of plants used in its construction, we expect the living wall to significantly increase the number and variety of bugs and bees in this part of Victoria, helping to promote biodiversity and return nature to this urban environment. The wall will also help improve the respiratory health of the people who live and visit Victoria by absorbing pollutants; an important feature of the wall given the mounting evidence that shows just how harmful particulate matter can be to human health.”
Cllr Ed Argar, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for City Management, Transportation and the Environment said: “We welcome this vibrant, attractive and green addition to the streets of Victoria. Not only will the living wall prove a lively talking point, but with sustainability more important than ever this wall shows that good design and improving our urban environment can go hand in hand with being practical and useful. The Victoria BID and Rubens deserve recognition for this forward-thinking scheme.”