Diamond Schmitt Architects Cleanse Building with Vertical Living Wall

Architecture Facades+ International Sustainability Technology
Glimpses of the living wall can be seen from the exterior of the building at the edge of University of Ottawa's dense urban campus. (courtesy Diamond Schmitt Architects)

Glimpses of the living wall can be seen from the exterior of the building at the edge of University of Ottawa’s dense urban campus. (Courtesy Diamond Schmitt Architects)

At six stories high, this is the tallest living Biofilter wall in North America.

Neatly contained behind a glass and steel structure is Diamond Schmitt Architects and Nedlaw Living Walls’ latest creation: a 1,370 s.f. vertical living wall assembly, located within a prominent skylit atrium in Vanier Hall, a Social Sciences building on the University of Ottawa’s campus.

What appears as a vertical leafy green decorative wall is actually a sophisticated system fully integrated into the building’s air handling system. Contaminated indoor air is drawn through the filtration mechanism—made of plant and root media—where microorganisms consume airborne pollutants as food, breaking them down into water and carbon dioxide. The biofilter effectively cleanses over 13,800 CFM of air.

The biofilters can eliminate 80% of airborne chemicals emitted from building materials and furnishings, molds, and bacteria. (Courtesy Diamond Schmitt Architects).

Birgit Siber, Principal at Diamond Schmitt Architects, has incorporated over a dozen large living wall installations in her projects: “One of the things I find so elegant about the initiative of using plants on a large scale within buildings is that it contributes to the indoor environment on so many fronts.” Not only does the wall cleanse dust and odor from the indoor air, but in the atrium, the living wall frames the school’s collaborative social space and functions as an acoustical attenuation device. The living wall can be seen prominently from the exterior, contributing to the school’s identity. The cost of the assembly was determined to be “cost neutral” by the University’s administration, which is seeking a LEED Gold Certification for the building.

Biofiltration is a product of research developed at the University of Guelph’s Controlled Environment System Research Facility (1.5 hours west of Toronto), and resulted from an investigation done for the International Space Agency to purify air at a proposed lunar base. Siber teamed with researcher Dr. Alan Darlington, founder of Nedlaw Living Walls, to develop an installation to showcase his research 12 years ago.

The living wall was chosen as the back drop for a press conference for Canadian politician Justin Trudeau’s campaign for Prime Minister.

  • Facade Manufacturer
    Nedlaw Living Walls
  • Architects
    Diamond Schmitt Architects, KWC Architects
  • Facade Installer
    Nedlaw Living Walls
  • Facade Consultants
    Nedlaw Living Walls
  • Location
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • Date of Completion
    September 2012
  • System
    synthetic growth media fed by remote hydroponic system connected to return air system of HVAC
  • Products
    custom components

From this early collaboration between Siber and Darlington, a “no waste” spirit has driven the development of the system, which continues to evolve through seven built versions.  Darlington attributes these developments to an underlying desire to improve building performance, “We’ve done a lot of work to streamline and make this as efficient as possible without losing the aesthetics of this system.” The wall at Vanier Hall is loaded with creative features to close the energy “loop holes” found in traditional building systems. Storm water runoff and HVAC condensation are captured and reused for watering the hydroponic plants, while a sophisticated daylight-integral lighting system limits electricity usage used for plant growth to adjust lighting conditions on the plants.

The biofiltration living wall system is scalable, having been deployed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and Nedlaw Living Walls in city halls, offices, and universities. It has been developed in coordination with both new construction and renovation projects. Darlington notes that under ideal conditions, roughly 10 square feet of biofilters can generate enough “virtual” outside air for 5-10 people. Diamond Schmitt Architects currently have two US projects under construction – a mixed use tower in Buffalo, and a stacked sequence of four two-story living walls in an academic building at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Architect Birgit Siber of Diamond Schmitt Architects will be speaking at the upcoming Cities Alive conference in New York City on October 6th on a panel discussion from 10:30am-noon entitled, “Living Walls Biofilters: Design, Operating Costs and Return on Investment.”

Approximately 1 square foot of biofilters treats every 100 square feet of floor area. (courtesy Diamond Schmitt Architects)

Approximately 1 square foot of biofilters treats every 100 square feet of floor area. (courtesy Diamond Schmitt Architects)

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