Green Wall

Deepak Vashishth, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS), speaks at the unveiling of the green wall prototype. Photos by Mary Martialay.

Researchers from the School of Architecture working at the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) in New York City have spent the past several years researching ways to harness plants’ natural abilities to filter toxins out of the air into an application that could be used in indoor spaces like office buildings.

On May 12, the researchers unveiled the first public-scale prototype of their green wall. Two panels of plants, each 6 feet long and 7 feet tall and containing about 30 densely packed plants, will hang on a wall in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).

“The work at CBIS is the result of years of interdisciplinary research at CASE spanning the fields of environmental and mechanical engineering, biology, and architectural sciences. We have recently expanded the team to include collaborators from the Rensselaer Smart Lighting Research Center and departments in Science and Engineering. The technologies CASE researchers are developing, like this green wall, have the potential to revolutionize our ability to deliver clean air to urban populations, and reduce the carbon footprint of cities and buildings, by reducing the fossil fuel consumption of the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems,” said Anna Dyson, director of CASE.

Green WallCBIS is supporting the installation as part of an ongoing interest in expanding the boundaries of biotechnology research—beyond the core disciplines of science and engineering—to include interdisciplinary projects in architecture, humanities, arts and social sciences, and management.

“We are very pleased to host the first public-scale prototype of this technology in CBIS,” said Deepak Vashishth, director of CBIS. “Our partnership with CASE is one example of the broad spectrum of research we are developing. As our efforts mature, we expect to draw many more partners under our roof, and realize the vision of CBIS as a true campus hub of research.”

The concept of bringing the outdoors inside buildings isn’t a new one in architecture, but what makes this green wall prototype different is the way air is pulled through the plants to maximize the amount of airborne toxins filtered out.

“This particular green wall takes a step beyond previous green walls in that it seeks to improve air quality by amplifying the air filtration that naturally occurs in plants,” said Matt Gindlesparger, a lecturer at CASE who has led the research and prototyping of the green wall.

“This particular green wall takes a step beyond previous green walls in that it seeks to improve air quality by amplifying the air filtration that naturally occurs in plants.” —Matt Gindlesparger

Removing toxins from the air is an increasingly important area of research, Gindlesparger said, because nearly every material used in building construction—including paint and carpeting—involves synthetic finishes that contain, and slowly release, volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. By harnessing the power of plants, the effects of those VOCs can be mitigated.

Gindlesparger said CBIS was a natural choice as a venue to showcase the green wall prototype. “CBIS is uniquely situated as part of the larger research culture of the Rensselaer campus and so this is a strategic alliance of the work we’re doing at CASE and the School of Architecture and the larger Institute,” he said.

The prototype green wall is designed to be mobile so research on its effects can be conducted in different settings. The two panels can be coupled or de-coupled and moved into different environments within the building; they will initially be connected directly to the plumbing at CBIS, but the system is also designed with a water tank so it can operate without being directly connected to plumbing.