Monthly Archives - March, 2011
Paris Vertical Wall

When the Musee du Quai Branly opened in Paris in 2006, the Jean Nouvel-designed building was highly controversial, but there was almost universal acclaim for one aspect of the new museum--Patrick Blanc’s Mur Vegetal (living wall), which formed part of the street façade of the complex. Blanc, a professor of botany at the University of Paris, Jussieu, who had been designing living walls for 20 years, and was known and admired by a rather small coterie of avant-garde designers, became an instant celebrity.  His handsome living wall, which covers a building with similar proportions to its Haussmannian neighbors, seemed an inventive and creative way of greening the city.   He used a proprietary technique that he had refined over many years: he tucked the thousands of plant that make up the façade into a felt-like medium, and the plants are nourished by drip irrigation.  The one caveat voiced by admirers and skeptics alike, was whether it would age well. As soon as it went up it suffered from vandalism--much of it not malicious as people tugged and touched the hundreds of plants at eye level inevitably causing unattractive bare spots to appear.

Since then there have been an increasing number of green walls and an explosion of technology to create them.  Going back to Blanc’s green wall after 5 years, it is apparent that this is indeed a vertical garden, as opposed to a work of architecture, and it suffers from the problems--and provides the joys--of the horizontal kind.  There are some troubled spots, and some areas that have worked even better than expected. The hostas look dreadful in the winter (so do ours) but the sublime smell of a blooming mahonia at nose height makes up for it. The effect driving past it on the Quai Branly is still magical but you have to ask yourself: will the growing medium still be able to support all these plants in ten years? Time will tell, but it passed its five-year test with flying colors!