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Have you ever come across a living wall that really struck you as something different?

Everyone feels better when they look at something as unique and vibrant as a living wall, especially when it’s unexpected.  But there are some living walls in the UK that really stand out as having the greatest social impact, based on community response, air quality improvement and placemaking.

Working with our friends at Biotecture, we’ve picked the top 6!  Let’s go:

Trafalgar Square, 2013

  • By Viritopia

Designed to mimic Van Gogh's famous painting, ’Wheatfield with cypresses’, using colourful plant species, this piece of living art was instantly recognisable.  Installed in 2013, this living wall was located on the hoarding around London’s National Art Gallery in Trafalgar Square for just 9 months.

During that time, it had no protection and was open to the public, yet it experienced no vandalism, in one of the busiest spots in London.

When the hoarding was to be taken down the piece of art unfortunately had to go too.  When we did remove the living wall, we had many questions from the local community asking us “where’s the wall going next, where will we see it?”.  The truth was the wall was going to be given to charity.  “Well we’ve seen it grow, we’ve seen it flower and now you’re taking it away?” was the sentiment of many of the regular passers-by.

What does this mean?

The community had connected with that space, that space had become valuable to them.  It had become part of their commute to and from work.

We never have seen, even now in 2022, so many people stop and take photos and selfies in front of a living wall installation.  That, along with the response we had from the community when we took it down, is the reason the living wall at Trafalgar Square makes it our number 1 on this list!

See more of Trafalgar Square

Regal House, 2017

living wall outside a tube station

This living wall was designed and installed by Biotecture to transform an existing building in Covent Garden. The client’s long-term plan was to demolish and replace the building, so the living wall was originally designed as a temporary measure, with planning permission granted for just 2 years. But after seeing the building’s transformation, CapCo put their plans to redevelop the site on hold and the living wall was granted permanent planning permission.

Why is this important? In the face of rising climate emissions, designers and developers need to prioritise retrofitting existing buildings over demolition to save carbon emissions. Living walls are a great way to extend the life of existing buildings with the added benefit of enhancing wellbeing, increasing biodiversity, and improving air quality.

St James’s Market, 2019

a long striped living wall in pedestrian area
  • By Viritopia

One of the most unique projects we’ve worked on due to the seasonally changing designs was here at St James’s Market.  Working with Crown Estates, the long living wall with a subtle striped design was transformed either with the season, or an occasion.  Valentine’s day, Remembrance Day, the start of Spring or as a backdrop to the Wimbledon game…

Today it stands once again with the subtle stripe it was originally installed with.

Let’s follow the journey of this living wall.

St Valentine's Day, February 2019
Spring, June 2019
Wimbledon Live, July 2019
large tv screen in front of living wall with deckchairs
Remembrance, November 2019
living wall with red flowers and people on a bench

Southampton Highway, 2019

highway with green walls

Biotecture worked with Balfour Beatty Living Places and Southampton City Council to create a magnificent and welcoming feature on the Millbrook roundabout, a key gateway to the city. Biotecture designed and installed ten freestanding living wall structures below the Millbrook Flyover, one of the city’s busiest roads.

Each year, health problems from air pollution cost the UK more than £20bn and cause around 40,000 deaths. As well as improving the visual appearance of the concrete flyover structure, the living walls will bring down the levels of particulates and NO2 around Millbrook roundabout, reducing exposure to residents and passers-by to these damaging pollutants.

Canary Wharf, 2021

We all have an innate connection to the natural environment, being surrounded by nature is calming and restorative, but this link is often severed by urban living which contributes to increased stress and discomfort.

As part of their commitment to providing revitalising spaces that allow people to reconnect with nature, Canary Wharf Group appointed Landscape Architect Gillespies to create a landscape framework for a large programme of landscaping works across the Canary Wharf estate. Working in collaboration with Biotecture and Willerby Landscapes, Gillespies established a vision and toolkit for each area including modular timber furniture, planters and green walls based on the site’s location, character, climate and usage. The scheme was designed to enhance biodiversity, improve wellbeing and create enlivened spaces.

Canary Wharf Management appointed Biotecture to design and install the living wall elements in multiple prominent locations across the estate to enrich the public realm and contribute to their ambitious sustainability goals.

The living walls are formed using ‘PlantBox’, a unique, stackable, modular living wall system that delivers immediate impact. Using this system allowed Biotecture to deliver a big impact within a short timeframe.

The project has helped to transition the Canary Wharf estate from a Monday-Friday work zone to a seven day a week live-work-play destination.

Bradford-on-Avon, 2022

people standing in a street in front of a green wall
  • By Viritopia

The most recently created living wall in this list, is one that transformed what was called “the ugliest wall in Wiltshire”.  We love this project for its social impact – with the initiative started by a local resident, and funded by local groups and council, and then the communities clear delight at the unveiling of the new space.

Stephanie Edwards, a local resident, kick-started the project in 2019 by bringing her idea to the Town Council, as a way to help mitigate air pollution in the town centre.

Local groups of Wiltshire crowdfunded £2,800 to help change the face of the wall and improve the space, with the council making up the difference.

 "Funding for the Living Green Wall was extremely difficult during Covid. I approached Councillor Alex Kay to support this initiative and she actively engaged the Town Council and thanks to everyone involved the project has been a great success."

Chair of the Environment & Green Spaces committee, Councillor Alex Kay said: “With the addition of the living green wall, Bradford on Avon is making further strides toward becoming a town which can be held up as eco-friendly and eco-conscious.

“I hope the whole community – residents, businesses and visitors will look on at this wall, smile and think ‘what can I do greener today?’"

Using over 3,500 plants, it is not only improving the air quality, but providing alternative ecological habitats for local wildlife.

"Already the plants have brought with them bees and insects, and we've had a couple of birds sitting up there so it's working for sure and we must not forget the health and wellbeing benefits", Stephanie noted within days of installation.

Suddenly, this spot is not one you hurry past, but stop and take in the new sights, scents and atmosphere introduced by the vibrant plants.  The community have noted a clear difference to the feel of the immediate area since the wall was completed.

See more of Bradford-On-Avon

This most recent living wall project in Bradford-on-Avon rounds off our list of the top 6 UK living walls that have had the greatest social impact.  But what’s coming next?

Are you an architect, planner or developer looking to create a similar reaction?  Send us a message here or give us a call on +44 (0)1243 545818 and we’ll help answer your questions or advise on what would be possible in the space.

Get in touch with us

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The Top 7 living walls of 2022

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The Top 7 living walls of 2022