Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taking urban gardening to new heights

Artists rendering of the proposed renovation of the Federal Building in Portland, Oregon. The building will have “vegetated fins” that grow more than 200 feet high on the western side of the building, a vertical garden that changes with the seasons -- leafing out and providing shade in the spring and summer while loosing the leaves and allowing light in the winter. The end result? An expected savings of $280,000 per year in energy costs.

The project, however, is mired in controversy, partly because of design issues -- a process for irrigating the fins hasn't yet been incorporated into the design -- but mainly because of the cost. The government views it as a demonstration project; aimed at testing the actual benefits of a conceptual idea. That's a legitimate approach, but there then needs to be some way of assessing the efficiency of the design and, if the design turns out to be effective, to diffuse the concept within the design community. This is not unlike the problems with the LEED standards for green buildings in general, where LEED certification is based on the design of the building rather than its operation and, once built, the buildings turn out not to be as green as expected.


  1. I've always had problems with the idea of "green roofs" and other forms of vegetation on buildings. It's an old idea: the classic Ivy League colleges are so named become of the ivy that grew on them. But ivy breaks down brick and stone eventually. It has to be cut back or it will grow right into the building. I went to a lecture last semester in the Biology Dept. on green roofs. I asked the botanist about green roofs as attractors of insects, particularly wood-boring and others destructive to building materials. He had no answer for that. Green roofs are very expensive to maintain, and of course, irrigation is a huge design problem. Why not just put solar panels on the roof and be done with it?

  2. Architects, like movie producers, are often attracted to high concept and ignore the underlying realities (either of functional design or of audience taste :+)