Green walls have been touted as a balm for cubicle-weary office workers for years, but the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology—a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—has created a new prototype that would work with a building’s existing HVAC system to reduce energy loads and improve indoor air quality. The Active Phytoremediation Wall System is a modular wall system of pods housing hydroponic plants. Because the plants’ roots are exposed, instead of being buried in soil, the plants’ air-cleaning capacity increases by 200 to 300 percent.
Air moves through a perforated air intake duct—a series of mini-jets are being developed to encourage airflow—and directly over the root system. This allows the rhizomes on the roots to essentially digest airborne toxins—VOCs, particulate matter, and other biological and chemical pollutants—without the plant itself becoming toxic (which is what happens when the toxins are taken in solely through the leaves). The cleaned air then flows out of each pod through a series of clean air ducts and is reintroduced to the environment.
The pods themselves are made from vacuum-formed plastic, and the form allows the maximum amount of air to reach the root rhizomes while using the minimum amount of material. On top of that, it creates a beautiful base for the plants. “I would move into an office with that instantly,” juror Craig Hodgetts said.
The wall system can be installed in large commercial interiors, but works equally well in small settings—a four-module system in an apartment would have the impact of 800 to 1200 house plants. The first test-bed site will be PSAC II, an emergency response center in New York designed by the local office of SOM, where it will be the aesthetic centerpiece of the lobby. “Usually, remediation is either technically believable or aesthetically pleasing, but not both,” said John Ronan. “This one’s both.”
Active Phytoremediation Wall System
Principal Investigators Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)—Anna Dyson (CASE director, director of the Built Ecologies graduate program at RPI); Jason Vollen (associate professor, RPI, CASE); Ted Ngai (assistant professor, RPI, CASE); Lupita Montoya (assistant professor of mechanical engineering, RPI); Paul Mankiewicz (biologist/plant scientist, director, Gaia Institute)
Researchers Emily Rae Brayton, Ahu Aydogan
Testbed Site Public Safety Answering Center II, Bronx, N.Y.
Architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York—Carl Galioto (technical partner); Gary Haney (design partner); Peter Magill (managing partner); Rob Rothblatt (senior designer); Joseph Sacco (project manager); Carl Brown (technical coordinator); Julie Hiromoto (project team)
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