Goldsmith Hall Living Wall

The University of Texas at Austin celebrated the opening of its first “living wall” on June 1, 2016.

The 10-by-25-foot honeycomb structure (constructed by Austin’s Drophouse Design) adds a touch of wonder to “The Drag” (the portion of Guadalupe Street that runs through campus), inviting students and passersby to pause and ponder the relationship between architecture and ecology — and the role of green spaces in urban environments.

The wall is made up of interchangeable drop-in cells planted with native plant species such as prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). Some non-plant cells were designed especially to attract bees, lizards and birds as well.

In fact, wildlife habitat is only one of many benefits provided by a living wall. Other perks include sequestering of carbon, slowing rainwater and helping to mitigate flash floods, filtering particulate matter from polluted air, cooling the attached building (which saves energy), providing oxygen and lessening the urban heat island effect. These benefits are similarly provided by green roofs.

The connection to green roofs doesn’t stop there. As a west-facing wall in Texas, this feature soaks up plenty of heat and sun, much like a rooftop. The wall’s designers saw this as a welcome challenge. The solution? Applying lessons learned from green roof research to the wall’s design. That includes those carefully selected native plants and developing self-shading, angled cells that can hold enough soil to retain water, insulate roots and deter plant desiccation.

The project is the culmination of a five-year research-and-design collaboration between the Wildflower Center and the university’s School of Architecture, led by Environmental Designer Michelle Bright and Assistant Professor Danelle Briscoe, respectively.

The wall is dedicated in memory of Dr. Mark Simmons, former director of research and consulting for the Wildflower Center. Dr. Simmons believed that, if designed correctly, urban areas can be ecologically rich for the betterment of human health and the environment. Bright echoes this belief in her hope that the Goldsmith Hall Living Wall will help people realize that “we can bring ecological systems into cities in a thoughtful way.”

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Wildflower Center Living Architecture Projects

PRESS

UT’s First Living Wall is Built to Endure the Texas Summer” – Alcalde
Video: “Living Wall” – The Hook
UT Austin School of Architecture students install living wall on campus – The Architect’s Newspaper
Video: “Campus Installs First Living Wall – UT News
UT to install its first living wall” – The Daily Texan

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