As concerns about global warming and declining air quality continue to grow, hotels around the world are working to minimize the impact they have on the environment. Certain properties have embraced a somewhat novel approach to this by planting vertical gardens, a flourishing trend among the style-conscious and eco-minded.
But just what is
a vertical garden? Also known as “living walls,” vertical gardens are just what they sound like: a collection of plants secured and grown along an upright structure. In urban environments where space is limited, planting greenery up and down a building’s unused real estate is an ingenious way to make the most of the available surface area, and the advantages far surpass mere aesthetics.
Living walls have been found to produce significant environmental benefits in cities, where the flora can clean the air of pollutants, reduce urban heat and create a natural habitat for birds and helpful insects. In addition to aiding the local environment, these walls are just as good for the hotels upon which they grow, since the gardens can often act as soundproof barriers as well as natural insulators, cooling the interiors and protecting the exteriors from the elements. Along with these obvious advantages, vertical gardens are certainly dramatic things to behold.
Head to Buckingham Palace Road in South West London and you can’t fail to notice the colossal carpet of greenery that clings proudly to the wall of The Rubens at The Palace Hotel in Victoria. Standing almost 70 feet high and spreading across 1,200 square feet—and containing over 10,000 plants and 16 tons of soil—this incredible monument to Mother Nature is the city’s largest living wall.
Not only does the perpendicular plant patch offer a unique aesthetic, but its contribution to the environment was a deciding factor for The Rubens. “The wall has a very serious purpose beyond just looking great,” explained GM Malcolm Hendry. “We’re excited to be able to positively impact the people living and working in—as well as the huge number of visitors passing through—this area by improving the air quality, attracting wildlife and reducing the risk of urban flooding.”
In fact, this particular garden was designed by Gary Grant of Green Roof Consultancy specifically to help reduce urban flooding in London. Plants on the wall are irrigated by harvested rainwater caught in rooftop storage tanks that are capable of holding up to 2,600 gallons, thereby reducing surface water, which often has no place to go in such a congested city. Moreover, the ferns and herbaceous plants that envelop The Rubens mitigate air pollution and attract pollinators, thus aiding biodiversity in the local area.
While The Rubens may be the largest of these living walls in London, the first hotel on the city’s green scene was the Athenaeum in Mayfair. In 2009, the Athenaeum sparked the vertical style by cultivating a wall with the likes of yucca, lavender, fuchsia, rosemary, juniper, mosses and wildflowers.
“We commissioned our living wall to echo the fantastic open space of Green Park, opposite the hotel,” explained the Athenaeum’s GM, Jeremy Hopkins, “to provide an important haven of biodiversity in the capital and to create a fun, striking and intriguing design statement for our guests and Londoners to enjoy.” The wall was designed by Frenchman Patrick Blanc, the celebrated botanist responsible for popularizing vertical gardens. His elaborate creations can be found in shopping malls, private properties and hotels around the world.
Hop across the English Channel to the Pershing Hall Hotel in Paris, and you’ll find a vertical garden (also a Blanc creation) that stands nearly 100 feet tall. With its more than 300 species of verdure from various exotic locations—such as the Philippines, the Himalayas and the Amazon—the garden makes quite an impression in the outdoor dining area of the hotel.
But, as anyone who’s stayed in luxury hotels around the world can attest, the living-wall trend is by no means limited to Europe. Blanc has also been tapped to design similarly impressive gardens at luxury outposts like Hotel Icon in Hong Kong, where the 8,000 plants he placed across a 750-square-foot space make up the largest indoor living wall in Asia. The garden is essentially a giant, living work of art, flowing across the wall like a textured mosaic, “enhancing the experience of our guests when they walk into the hotel,” said Richard Hatter, Hotel Icon’s GM. “It’s a visual statement that says we care about the environment immensely, and the garden has a positive effect on indoor air quality.”
In addition to curating a living wall, Hotel Icon demonstrates its commitment to sustainability and eco-initiatives by way of a roof garden and a landscaped outdoor garden, both of which prove their worth by reducing the amount of energy the hotel uses for heating and cooling. “We cut CO2 emissions and save between 25 and 28 percent on energy consumption by using water cooling systems instead of air for our chiller plants,” explained a hotel representative. “We convert what would be waste into energy to create precooled (in summer) or preheated (in winter) fresh air, and to preheat water for our swimming pools and guest rooms.”
Blanc was also commissioned by the Sofitel Dubai The Palm Resort when the property decided to add a bit of an oasis-like touch to its aesthetic. As is often the case in Dubai, one good thing just wasn’t enough for the hotel: It’s home to an impressive 24 vertical gardens, with 170 species of plants covering over 2,000 square feet. Proud that the property is “renowned for a certain sense of style,” GM Christophe Schnyder said: “It seems highly appropriate that a French luxury hotel brand should embrace sustainability with such a chic display.”
And chic these walls certainly are. Gone are the days when the idea of eco-minded lodgings brought to mind rustic cabins in the woods. These luxury landmarks demonstrate that a commitment to sustainability and the environment need not equal a compromise on style or splendor.
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