Fall is in the air, which means the leaves are changing, but it’s not just the ones outside. Renovations are under way for the new plant wall featured in the University of Guelph-Humber’s (GH) atrium.  

 

According to Spencer Wood, director of facilities management at Humber College, the old structure had to be taken down and rebuilt because rust had been found on the infrastructure.  

 

Plants had also begun to die after the water pump suffered a technical glitch in September 2019. 

 

The plant wall was originally installed by Nedlaw Living Walls in 2004. 

 

The renovation process will consist of two stages. The deconstruction phase, which involves the tear-down of the 18-year-old infrastructure and the construction stage, which will involve installing new stainless steel and additional waterproofing. 

 

The plant wall renovations are expected to cost approximately $130,000, which Woods says is a significantly lower quote than other plant wall installation companies. 

 

The new plant wall company in charge of rebuilding GH’s plant wall is New Earth Solutions, a company started by graduate students from the University of Guelph.

 

New Earth Solutions is a green infrastructure construction company that creates indoor plant walls to help lower energy costs and improve building performance. The company’s mission is to improve the health of the building’s environment through a connection to nature and improved air quality. 

 

Lucas Bernadsky, an employee at New Earth Solutions, says renovations are expected to be fully completed by November.

 

Currently, the plant wall is empty and covered with black, wooden boards that will serve as infrastructure for the plants. 

 

The plants that will be used for the wall will be “teenager plants” as they are not quite fully grown and should be ready to be planted in the next couple of weeks. 

Close-up of plant wall renovations.

The wall will feature over 1000 plants from 100 different species of tropical plants, such as tropical ferns. GH’s four-storey plant wall will weigh 7,784 kilograms once the plants have been attached.  

 

The plant wall will not just look pretty as Dylan Robertson, also an employee at New Earth Solutions, explains the plant wall will provide many health benefits for staff and students.

 

“Studies show plants increase productivity, for example higher test results for students”, says Robertson. 

 

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture found that plants improved employee productivity and attention due to the air-purifying qualities of plants.  

 

GH’s plant wall is incorporated into the ventilation system of the university and processes 40,000 cubic feet of air every minute, according to the University of Guelph-Humber’s website. 

 

Robertson says the plant wall not only helps people in the building, but also improves the health of the building itself. 

 

Plants help the air quality of the building and can even slow the spread of viruses by increasing the humidity in the air, says a United Kingdom study from the University of Birmingham. 

 

Robertson says a common misconception about plants is that the leaves clean the air, however that’s not the case when plants are grown in water instead of soil. 

 

“Plants don’t actually clean the air, it’s the root zones on the plants that clean the air.” 

 

Plants grown in water, such as the plants featured on the plant wall, create better air quality by removing the contaminants in the air. 

 

The plant wall also lowers the energy costs of the building by purifying the air inside of the building. 

 

Mitchell Cowburn from New Earth Solutions says, “30 to 40 per cent of a building’s total energy consumption comes through heating and cooling.” 

 

Cowburn says, as the building brings in fresh air from outside, the air is either heated or cooled. “Dirty” air that has been heated or cooled is pushed back outside, using a large amount of energy. 

 

However, with a plant wall, the plants act as a natural filtration system that purifies the already heated or cooled air and creates “outdoor air” inside, saving energy costs.  

 

According to New Earth Solutions, the plant wall is also a biophilic design, which aims to connect people to the natural environment.

 

Robertson illustrates the importance of interacting with the environment. 

 

He says, “humans have an innate desire to want to connect with nature… that’s our primal desire… And so planting a plant wall in a building in close proximity improves …their health, their productivity, and their comfort level in a space. It relaxes people.”  

 

Guelph-Humber students say that they have been missing the positive effects they felt from the plant wall. 

 

Sara Khurram, a third-year early childhood studies student at GH says, “the wall would relax me every time I walked past it. There’s something I can’t put my finger on, but it was very comforting, just knowing it was there.”  

 

Students will be able to enjoy one of Guelph-Humber’s most iconic features again when they walk through the front doors come November.