Planting Urban Buildings: Cooling and Connection in the Built Environment
Urban architectural design and construction is advancing toward greater symbiosis with the natural environment. A complex and promising trend situates plants on the building exterior, encouraging absorptive surfaces and bringing water retention to both the built and natural city surface. In the past, cities primarily bridged the human made and existing world with parks, street trees, and small planters. Expanding the possible context of planted surface to building edges provides greater continuity across the entire city, without threatening the human connection cities facilitate. In addition to the benefits of water retention and visual appeal, plants also mitigate heat island effect, expand habitats, provide insulation to buildings, shade interiors and streets, and provide psychological benefits to humans. Vegetative integration with urban buildings is explored through current events, historical and recent examples, and anecdotes. This analysis aims for balance between simple but troubled installations and more effective but complex costly designs. The merits and struggles of each are evaluated to determine general best practices and next steps. Urban buildings integrating plants add a layer of complexity to projects already marked by notably intense collaboration between technical experts. However, the public can improve even an experts’ understanding with engagement. There is wisdom existing in contractors, gardeners, and everyday people, whose lived experience provides a human scale understanding of complex issues. There is a consensus that psychology and ecologically integrating plants with urban buildings more would improve city life. Regularly though, concerns emerge over cost of adding plants to buildings due to initial cost and continued maintenance following installation. People worry work will be too extensive, plants will die, and resources will be wasted along with time and money. Mitigation of worry requires a paradigm shift. If many people desire greater connection a view of nature, they must also, if perhaps only subconsciously, desire a connection with nature themselves. What if integrating plants with buildings was seen less as a declarative art piece with difficult maintenance required, and more as an opportunity to bring gardening and connection to urban dwellers?