Twenty-eight living walls, contributed to the fact that Biomedicum managed to win the ‘Building of the Year’ Award this spring. Greenworks’ living walls, that spread over nine floors, has added to C.F. Møller’s architectural idea of ’Park in House’, transforming the sterile lab environments into lush vertical gardens. When scientists and students meet at the coffee stations the living walls brings a soothing feeling and is often the subject of conversation while they contribute with cleaner air and better acoustics. Perhaps there is a possibility to add some edible plants and herbs as well?
– They are beautiful, but also significantly better air, Dagmar Galter at the Department of Neuroscience explains. We usually have some pictures when someone has nailed their thesis!
– The variety of lush plants and the fact that the foliage is hanging out and spreading is lovely, my colleague Katrin Wellfelt says, the wilder the better, it should not be too strict. Imagine if it had been artificial flowers, it would not have given the same feeling at all.
Dagmar and Katrin, who originally come from Heidelberg and Alingsås, take the opportunity to take a coffee break from the documentation work at the computers. Inside the lab and the office rooms, there is no vegetation at all. Dagmar points out that the chairs that are facing the plant walls are the ones that go first when it’s time for coffee or lunch break.
– The acoustic environment is definitely better with plants, Dagmar claims and also notes that it will be softer and better lighting as well.
”I would definitely not change the park here outside to only living walls,” emphasizes Katrin, but it is fantastic to have this rich vegetation on the walls, compared to an ordinary painted wall.
Jens Öqvist, a landscape engineer at Greenworks, has ensured that each living wall has its own character, thanks to a carefully designed palette of different plants. Some shimmer in orange, others in white and purple, as well as a vast variety of green shades. Small flowers glimpse into the fine-meshed greenery and in the atrium, and on the other side of the railing, the foliage is allowed to spread even more vigorously. The precisely designed architecture gets a strong contrast with living walls that live their own life and change from day to day. And Dagmar and Katrin, who work with the brain’s memory functions, do not want to reject the idea that even plants can have a memory.
”Of course, it’s not a memory that works like human beings,” says Dagmar Galter, but plants react to much more than we previously thought. For example, trees communicate through its root system and that is a knowledge that our ancestors had, but which we have lost.
– What would you think if we added plants that you also could harvest and eat, Jens contemplates of how Greenworks living walls could develop in future. Would it perhaps be a hygiene problem if everyone inside the building could touch and eat the plants?
– It is, of course, different from person to person, says Katrin Wellfelt without being particularly negative. We could start with spice plants like rosemary, wouldn’t it be nice, or why not fruits, berries and maybe coffee plants?
The problem is, of course, that some plants would need the help of insects with pollination, which could surely work well in other types of premises, but not in Biomedicum where bees and flower flies not are allowed to slip into the laboratories. Jens, on the other hand, is thinking about more fragrant plants such as Scented Geranium. Besides better acoustics, cleaner air and a more varied light, each living wall could also become a fragrance organ.
– I didn’t first see that it was real plants, Han Huirong laughs, who is having a coffee break one level below together with the kidney researcher Xuechen Li. But aren’t these living walls really expensive to maintain? Don’t you have to refill the soil and water all the time?
– It’s just water and nutrition, Jens Öqvist explains, while he removes some leaves that have grown too large. The water systems automatically supply 3-4 walls at the same time, the original soil is the one that remains from the planting, which helps to keep the plants firm and secure and to hold a stable moisture level in the system. The only thing that is needed is to trim the plants a little from time to time.
– It is very relaxing to sit here, says Xuechen Li while sipping his tea, it is purely mental well-being. We come from Northeast China where there is more vegetation outdoors, but in a colder climate like the Swedish one, it is a good idea to let nature grow indoors.
– Is it not possible to have strawberry plants here too, asks Han Huirong and remembers the vegetable and fruit festivals at home. We could have fruit breaks all winter!
Biomedicum has been designed by the Danish architectural firm C.F. Moller and built by Skanska for Karolinska Institutet. The project was rewarded by the magazine Byggindustrin and Business Arena with the award ‘Building of the Year’ among 20 nominated projects. Greenworks has contributed with 28 living walls with a total of 600 square meters spread over 9 floors. Greenworks has previously installed living walls in other healthcare environments, most recently Sollentuna Hospital. At the end of the summer, a 120-square-meter plant wall will be installed in Örebro Hospital.