Living Walls

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Chair of the Month

Andree Iffrig
Andree Iffrig
Andree Iffrig, LEED AP, works at DIRTT Environmental Solutions, the manufacturer of the Breathe living wall system.

Living walls: just the term conjures up visions of a healthy, natural environment. Once an expensive and complicated proposition, affordable new technology makes it possible to incorporate a living wall into any building interior. Research demonstrating the ability of plants to cleanse indoor air of impurities and enhance productivity in the workplace is encouraging their adoption.

A living wall can be as small as 5 sq. ft. or as large as an entire atrium. The smaller versions are easily mounted on existing wall surfaces and usually take the form of a box system, i.e. modules of plant boxes arranged next to each other in a row.

DIRTT – Breathe Wall

In larger hydroponic systems, plants are rooted in an artificial medium, and their roots grow up together. These applications are more expensive and take time to establish themselves, unlike box systems that can be erected and planted with full-grown specimens within a short time frame.


A Remedy for Toxic Interiors

Urban dwellers spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. The air they breathe is anything but salutary. Measurements of indoor air toxicity have revealed high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene, as well as carbon dioxide. The effect of these chemicals is most pronounced in buildings that are mechanically ventilated.

To address toxic elements circulating in the air and render it fit for human use, most buildings condition air through a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. Conditioning air requires energy, further contributing to greenhouse gas production and the cost of building operations.


DIRTT – Water Filter

This is still the first and major strategy for dealing with indoor pollution, but the use of plants is gaining in acceptance as a secondary approach, together with the selection of material assemblies low in VOCs and the design of buildings with windows that open.


DIRTT – Plant Holder

Plant landscapes on a building interior are known to remove harmful environmental toxins found in buildings, and can lighten the load of the mechanical system by removing many of these pollutants, resulting in less energy use in buildings. Numerous studies also support the idea that plants improve cognitive performance in office workers. They are more productive at their tasks, happier to be at work and less likely to call in sick.

Living walls facilitate biophilic design – design that reflects a love for the natural world. The use of plants indoors, to realize biophilia objectives and improve indoor air quality, has helped secure Innovation Credit 1.2 in buildings certified to LEED standards. To secure this credit, the owner or occupant must have a multi-year contract in place with a plant professional and demonstrate how the assembly promotes biophilia.

DIRTT – Breathe Wall

Designers planning on incorporating living walls need to account for the structural weight of plants, water and a growing medium. Research the merits of box-type systems versus hydroponic ones before making a selection. Ease of maintenance and simple plumbing in some box-type systems mean anyone can care for a living wall, and enjoy the health and biophilic benefits it brings.


  • Product featured – DIRTT‘s Breathe: Breathe™ is a (patent pending) simple system for incorporating plants into DIRTT Walls. Breathe mounts to the tile layer of the wall, can be retrofitted on existing DIRTT walls, and mounted to any flat, vertical building surface: gypsum, concrete, stone, etc. It is scalable and easily expanded from one panel to a monolithic wall of plants. Designers can incorporate Breathe living walls, or interior plantscapes, to bring nature indoors and beautify and detoxify interior spaces.
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