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Living Wall installation at the Sir David Attenborough building, Cambridge University

The original Arup Building at the University of Cambridge has recently seen a major refurbishment including the installation of an Viritopia living wall. Following its refurbishment, the building has been renamed the David Attenborough Building with the grand opening featuring Sir David Attenborough himself abseiling the 50ft wall. The building will now be used as the new global conservation hub.

Featured Solutions:

  • Interior Living Wall

Size:     25m² - 150m²

Industry:     Universities, Colleges & Schools

Project Drivers


Social Impact

Air Quality

Living Wall looking down on reception

Helping to transform the understanding and conservation of biodiversity

The hub, which is aimed at finding solutions to some of the many challenges facing the natural world, is now the focal point for research and practice helping to transform the understanding and conservation of biodiversity. The driving force behind the campus’ creation is the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) – a collaboration founded in 2007 between Cambridge University and nine biodiversity conservation organisations.

David Attenborough abseiling down the Viritopia living wall

Keeping it relevant

Although the original 500-seat lecture hall, a proportion of the upstairs laboratories, and the museum have been retained, the refurbishment has included significant external and internal remodelling, a new entrance extension to the museum, the complete renewal of the external fabric, and the formation of a new four storey atrium. In addition, project architect, Nicholas Hare Architects LLP, was keen to include a feature that would have some relevance to the building’s users, which resulted in the design of the living wall.

Building lobby

The substantial living wall is certainly a talking point of the newly renovated building. It’s a great way of introducing nature to the interior of a building providing the ideal link back to the work of CCI.

Scope of works

David Lowe of Nicholas Hare Architects LLP, specifiers of the wall said, “The living wall, which stretches the three storeys of the central atrium, aims to be educational and functional as well as ornamental. The design was based on an abstracted world map with the plants used relating to species from the different regions.

Design and installation

Nicholas Hare was aided by the Green Infrastructure Consultancy (formerly the Green Roof Consultancy) in the design of the living wall as well as with Viritopia on both the design and installation elements.

David Lowe continued, “We approached both the Green Infrastructure Consultancy and Viritopia during early stages of the project as we wanted the feature to be ambitious as possible in terms of its scale and visual impact within the space and this has certainly been achieved thanks to this collaboration.”

Top floor of the building

Sustainable approach to refurbishment

The living wall also follows the sustainable approach to the building refurbishment. Rainwater is collected from the roof of the building and is used to keep the plants of the living wall watered by the incorporation of a collecting tank and irrigation pipework.

View from the stairs

Stretching three storeys

EOS Facades worked with AECOM structural engineers to form the 17 metre tall supporting structure for the living wall. The structure stretches three storeys of the internal atrium and now provides support for the plants and mosses. Bespoke oversail bracketry and lattices were also installed vertically up the 17-metre height to assist growth. Future maintenance of the living wall is carried out via abseil rails incorporated in to the new rooflight feature at the top of the newly formed atrium.

David Attenborough abseiling