Another plant in the wall

Perhaps with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in mind, the city of Wrocław, in Poland, is steadily working on improving its living, environmental and ‘colour’ standards with green roofs and living walls.

  • Location: Wrocław, Poland
  • Population: 639 259
  • Theme: Green infrastructure
  • Places visited: Wroclavia Shopping Centre, Capitol Music Theatre, City Office, Xawery Dunikowski Boulevard, Angel River Housing Estate.

Smart, liveable, green. Most certainly, Wrocław is many more things than just that, but those three concepts sum-up what it really stands for, both in its present and in future intentions. European Capital of Culture in 2016, ranked among the top 100 “Best cities to live” in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Mercer Consulting company ranking, and considered among the top 100 smartest cities in the world in the IESE Cities in Motion Index 2017 report, Wrocław, nevertheless, refuses to get stuck in past success.

Currently, the city has focused plenty of efforts and resources on establishing modern forms of greenery around the city, going from green roofs to living walls and open boulevards along the Odra river. The city is convinced that alternative forms of greenery create vivid surfaces that are ever-changing — and, thus, alive — over the course of a year, bringing forth a stimulus for a healthy human psyche.

GREEN IS THE COLOUR

Citizens, entrepreneurs and authorities seem to be coming to an agreement in Wrocław: paraphrasing Henry Ford, you can have your city in any colour you like, as long as it is green. First proof: the Wroclavia shopping centre, inaugurated in 2017, took its architectural inspiration from a 300-year-old natural monument, the ‘Guide’ oak. Now facing the entrance of the mall, the oak inspired the design of the entry roofs and print on the glass surface, which resembles the shape of a tree crown (i.e. urban canopy) and adds references to the tree and forest themes, found in the inside building.

The Wroclavia mall’s façades have specially designed vertical gardens, having used species adapted to the climatic conditions of Wrocław. Photo: Viktória Selmeczy.

The green space in Wroclavia has over 6.000 m² made, among others, from green roofs in the form of gardens, and plant fragments on the outer façade and walls inside the centre. It represents an example of introducing flora into urban space, as well as an example of pro-ecological solutions used by the owner of Wroclavia, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.

The mall also has a 4.300 m2 area in the Grand Kitchen zone acting as a green roof open for visitors. And it is a green masterpiece of Betula utilis ‘Doorenbos’, mixtures of ornamental grasses (including Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, Deschampsia flexuosa, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ and Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’) and perennials, such as the Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’, Phlox subullata and the Vinca minor. How was it made possible? Due to the use of different substrate thickness and an automatic irrigation system. Moreover, there is also an apiary over the entry ramps — with over 300.000 bees — to support the preservation of biodiversity of the greenery in the city.

The mall facades have specially designed vertical gardens, which diversify this surface and make it more visually attractive, having used species adapted to the climatic conditions of Wrocław (e.g. Festuca gluca ‘Auslese’ and Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’). The green walls are made from 690 green panels with over 11.000 plants. The automatic watering system is controlled online, allowing for remote control of the irrigation times — useful for temperature variations throughout the year. Grey water from Wroclavia is also used for irrigating green roofs and vertical gardens.

Following a similar pattern, the Capitol Music Theatre, after concluding its reconstruction back in 2013, came to include a green terrace within its premises. A place to sit down and drink coffee, read a newspaper or a book, and have a relaxing view of a modern wall of living plants in a ​​240 m2 area. In front of this vertical garden, there are deckchairs for relaxation and music playing in the background. The vertical garden system is based on felt pockets filled with a substrate. In such prepared substrates, plant roots have space to grow properly. Altogether, over 5.700 plants gather in that space, with the plant panels equipped with water drippers and an automatic irrigation system, being taken care of with fertilizer dosing, pruning and biological protection against diseases and insects.

Welcome to the jungle: green zone in the Capitol Music Theatre. Photo: Viktória Selmeczy.

A STEADY APPROACH

The Wrocław City Hall has a big responsibility in all these advancements. Both its Ecological Building Office and the Department of Sustainable Development have been actively pursuing the greening of the city, and the vertical garden of the Municipal Office, created in 2014, is an example of it. Due to the narrow buildings and post-war cellars, the use of unconventional forms of greenery was the only possibility to introduce vegetation. With their vertical gardens, they not only increased the aesthetic value of the interior — emphasizing the green image of the city — but also significantly improved the noise level in the surroundings. Over 6.500 plants were sown, with plant panels creating a geometrical pattern within an area of ​​100 m2. With that accomplished, they became the first City Hall in Poland with such an implementation and use of space.

Yes, there are more cases all around the city: the Xawery Dunikowski Boulevard, located in the southern bank of the Odra River — with its 94 deciduous trees, 210 hedge cuttings, over 368 planted vines, 8.148 crocuses, 6.128 ornamental grasses and over 9.481 m2 new lawns —or the Angel River Housing Estate — whose biologically active areas include 50% of green roofs surface — are only a couple of them. And Wrocław seems determined to not stop there. Nor its ever-growing plants in the walls.

The Xawery Dunikowski Boulevard now has 94 deciduous trees, 210 hedge cuttings, over 368 planted vines, 8148 crocuses, 6128 ornamental grasses and over 9481 m2 new lawns. Photo: Viktória Selmeczy.

Tax free haven

Wrocław was the first city in Poland that adopted a resolution regarding “Exemptions from property tax for usable residential premises as part of a project to intensify the creation of green areas within the City of Wrocław,” approved in September 2015 by the City Council. The resolution provides for real estate tax reduction for those who decide to create a public green roof or a vertical garden on their building.