Egypt isn’t exactly renowned for its vast green spaces and pioneering environmental policies. Its capital is the biggest city in the Middle East and it’s also one of the most densely populated in the world. Cairo is famous for being full of people, buildings and traffic – not plants or trees. But recently projects aiming to green the city have been sprouting up all over the urban metropolis.
The walls – also referred to as vertical gardens, green walls and vertical vegetation – use a system that can be attached to either free-standing structures or walls. They utilize space by turning walls into green spaces.The plants are cultivated both vertically and hydroponically, meaning the vegetation is planted in an environment without soil.
Green Studios is a landscape technology and design firm that has taken living wall projects across the MENA region. One of its recent projects was the HS residence in Cairo. Lacking outdoor space, planting vertically was the only viable option left to green the exterior of the private dwelling. The idea was to have the main characteristics of a garden – without having an actual garden. And it looks fantastic!
Wanting to keep it creative and unique, but still garden-like, abstract shapes of trees and shrubs were used on the 120 square meter wall. These were outlined by stainless steel frames held by wooden branches acting as trunks. These trunks diffuse indirect lighting through the entire canvas providing the necessary mood at night. “It portrays how design and hydroponic technology, combined together can create remarkable additions to a space,” Pamela Haydamous, a landscape designer at Green Studios said.
But although the walls are easy to create, issues can crop up. The challenges for living walls usually vary with every site. The main challenge is the fact that the plants are planted in a soilless medium and need a way to adapt to their surroundings.
The technology the company uses allows the plant roots to spread and grow in a healthy environment, and adapt to new system of nutrition, irrigation , drainage and light exposure. In this way even shrubs and trees can grow normally. The Green studios ‘skin, patented in Lebanon and US patent pending, is tested for extreme weather conditions and temperature variations, and also forms an isolation layer to protect the plant roots. It also has a high water retention capacity, is flexible, strong and UV resistant .
And it’s not only private properties in Cairo greening their spaces. The Green Wall in Cairo’s Galleria mall is injecting some well-needed green into public space. The 12 meters high by 100 meters long wall features a vertical garden and waterfall.
The idea was to have a living wall interlocked with modules of grey and beige tiles. This wall is on the main indoor façade of the mall , containing a water feature and is the main area where most of the restaurants are located. It means you can enjoy your coffee in a garden-like environment without even having to venture outdoors!
And the benefits? Apart from looking good, they’re said to improve air quality by removing harmful toxins from the air, are sustainable and can even reduce stress!
According to Indjy Shawket, a lecturer from the Architecture Department at Cairo University, “Urban greening can help dealing with the environmental challenges arising from climate change, such as global warming. Living walls can be a part of this.”
So it seems that living walls are becoming a bit of a phenomenon across the Middle East. Let’s hope they continue to do so!